We are living climate change. It is no longer an idea – it is here in the smog, the fires, the sweltering heat and the floods. And yes – it is terrifying. Knowing that – knowing that it was coming decades ago and that we were not doing enough to change it did not make it any easier to hear the UN’s decisive reporting, ominously described by the UN Secretary General as a “code red” for humanity. The takeaway – if you’ve not already heard it – no matter what we do today, we are looking at 30 more years of increasing temperatures. After that things might get better if we act right away and with the urgency that is required. Alongside the sadness for all the living things that are impacted by these massive changes – people, plants, animals and insects – was a deep sadness as I struggled to find a mooring for hope in a sea of bad news.
So that’s what I want to write about today – how to find hope, lightness and joy in an era of a rapidly changing and destructive global process. I wrote a few weeks back about how the space for joy and the complex emotions of life are vital for taking action on our dreams. So how do we find space for joy and hope when we are witnessing and hearing about such a tragedy that will accompany us throughout our lives?
So here are a few thoughts that I hope will help uplift you if you find yourself struggling to find the stamina to keep moving amidst such heaviness:
1) First I want to talk to you about joy and lightness. What if we imagine that we are here exactly at this time for a reason? That the things we love are special gifts that are keys to delivering this world from greed, fear, scarcity, and separateness. We are not simply witnesses to the destruction of the Earth – we are heroes sent to bring our love and joy to bear in a time of great need for humanity and the Earth.
2) As bad as human beings are at conceptualizing the impact we are having on the planet – we are also not so good at grasping how powerfully the natural world can heal itself. During Covid – we retreated to our homes, stopped flying and stopped driving and the sky changed color, the air became fresh and the birds sang. If nothing else good happened in our lives during Covid – we got to see one special thing – nature is powerful beyond our wildest dreams. This is not to downplay how much needs to be done to prevent further catastrophe – only to say that if we begin to head in the right direction, mother nature will lend a helping hand. We imagine that we are so powerful – that only gadgets and data, and more thinking, building and doing can solve climate change – yet we got to see that sometimes not doing is the most powerful action we can take.
(I am not advocating that we stay in our homes, stop buying anything and stop interacting with the world – only that the Earth is powerful beyond our wildest imagination – and that we need to be careful when we imagine that the only living systems are manmade. This thinking profoundly limits our ability to imagine what comes next.)
3) And lastly – I am relishing in the things that lift me up when the sadness can get very heavy – music, art, pattern making, friend and family, foraging for berries in the yard with my German Shepherd. These activities are vital and urgent. Joy is critical.
As I reflected on all this I watched a documentary on Netflix about the Italian Vogue editor – Franca. She reminded me how vital art is to express and connect with deep truths around us. Art is urgent. Franca didn’t care if people were grossed out that she did a photo shoot of the BP spill for Vogue. She wanted people to look at it, face it and reflect on it. She wanted the famous photographer Stephen Wiesel to make art about it.
A final reflection– as my partner, Drew pointed out – Why are you spending so much time worrying about these other places when you are in West Virginia – a beautiful place? It is beautiful right now in West Virginia. And this helped me to be mindful that I not spend too much time adrift in worries about other places – I do myself and those places no good. What is here is what I can impact – working on an apprenticeship program to train people in Princeton to make beautifully made, custom fitting womenswear, which radically reduces waste in the fashion industry, creates high quality jobs in my community, and helps small town people reimagine themselves as innovators. It is important to know what is going on around you – but where you are is the most powerful place you can be.
Go, fight, win.