The IPCC report just hollered a battle cry
Are you ready to start seeding change?
After my father-in-law first received his cancer diagnosis, he walked to the beach nearest his house. He sat on the sand, watching the waves pressing into a crest, then crashing onto the Earth. He watched that same water get collected back to join the larger ocean. A wave is only a shape until it’s not. Once the sound of water meeting sand calmed him enough to call us, his tribe, he presented us with a new normal.
As the worst news crested into a shared grief, he brushed himself off, told us he loved us and walked back home. It took him just a couple days to prepare himself for battle. He is a survivor. Like us all, he must fight to continue living. He wants to see his grandsons drive (something that has the potential to give this mama a heart attack), graduate university, maybe marry, have kids.
While these desires gave him the strength to put up with the terrible body-trashing of chemo and radiation, he also accepted that suffering is a part of life. His existence has been shaped by hardship. He sees my easy American first world problems and quickly reminds me that I don’t know what it’s like to be without, to be so cold being frozen would be a relief.
For him, the suffering of life has always been a companion. When he hears bad news, he almost expects it. And yet, that never stopped him from living a big life and working his ass off for his children to have every opportunity to thrive. His way of accepting a diagnosis and not giving up continues to pave an exemplary way to live.
Can a cancer diagnosis help us process the IPCC Report?
This week 270 authors from 67 countries assessed the global impact of climate change. Friends, it’s not pretty. The gloves are off. The diagnosis is that the people enabling and producing greenhouse gas emissions are a growing cancer on our planet. When you know you have an invasive illness, you understand that it needs to be stopped.
With a “narrowing window for action,” we can’t wait any longer to act. According to the IPCC report, “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”
So what the hell do we do?
I’m in process of reading the entire report, but right now, I have three key takeaways. The first is that we must go into nature, like right now. Carve out space to visit a place that reminds you what’s worth fighting for—a park, a beach, a mountain, a trail, a garden. Before you do anything else, please allow yourself time to grieve what has already been lost. As my friend Charlie Jonas, a grief counselor, told me the other day, we should all catalogue our losses. Write it down. Everything. What are we losing? What have we already lost? What hangs in the precipice?
This first step of tending to our mental health can help us ready ourselves for the work we must do. Just like a chemo patient steels himself for the coming nausea, body aches and sleeplessness, we can prepare ourselves too by meeting our grief. In a place that allows us to see nature at work, we might find a model we need to survive.
The second key takeaway is that we can’t sit back and wait for someone else to fix this mess any longer. When we get a cancer diagnosis, we generally don’t give up without a fight. We cling to life. We surround ourselves with our tribe. We make preparations. Some change our diet, our ways of living. We put ourselves in the hands of scientists who can hopefully use technology and medicine to save us. In effect, we gather troops and ammunition. Or a better metaphor, one we can start using more liberally, we plant a garden and start fertilizing it like hell.
The last takeaway is my favorite because it empowers us all. “Safeguarding and strengthening nature is key to securing a livable future,” says the IPCC report authors. Each of us resides on a tiny speck of land. Each of us has the power to strengthen and safeguard the land we call home. Each of us can gather our community to tend to the land beneath our feet.
This week’s action
Unfortunately friends, it’s not just about planting trees anymore, or purchasing carbon offsets—though these bandaids might make us feel a bit lighter. I know it feels like a lot, especially with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week. We’re going to need to support our kids. And to do that, we first need to allow ourselves a moment to gather our emotions.
We’ve evolved before. And we can do it again.
Take the time you need to welcome your anguish—it is what makes you realize how much you love this weird spinning ball in the sky. And then wipe yourself off, call in your tribe, and start planting seeds of change. Start by making a list of how you can lessen your dependence on fossil fuels. How long will it take? How can you find ways to afford this? How can you speed up this process? At the same time write down how you might commit to regenerating the land near or around your home. A solutions list will seed our future work.
A writing prompt
After you’ve made your lists, give yourself ten minutes a day to free write all the emotions that are coming up when you meet your grief about our changing climate. Write it all down. Release it all. It won’t release you from the pain, but it sure as hell will help you find ways into and through your despair.
Climate writing workshop
This month I’m planning to offer a free climate writing workshop via Zoom to help people express their thoughts and emotions on caretaking in a climate emergency. The tentative date is March 23 at 5:00pmPST. Even if you cannot attend this date, please email me if you are interested: email@example.com
One last thing
Go hug your kids. All is not lost.