The Taj Mahal in early morning smog, December 2015, Agra, India.

Grief and the Environment

. . . though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

—Haldir of Lothlorien, The Fellowship of the Rings

I’ve had a large helping of grief the last five years, though it was broken down into many smaller griefs: my father’s death, the dissolution of my marriage, the end of a long friendship, my brother’s death from brain cancer even as the tumor was shrinking.

All these sharp griefs have dulled.

What’s neither dull nor sharp, but powerfully present and deepening, is the sense that environmental degradation is now the norm.

It seems a little silly to say “is NOW the norm.” As if I’d forgotten nuclear tests and the extinction of the passenger pigeon and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As if I’d never read about desertification of the Sahel or the Colorado River Delta drying up. As if I didn’t know that oil refineries and mines poisoned the people living around them, who were mostly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

After all, we’ve got wolves in Yellowstone, right? And whooping cranes are making a comeback. And there are about a million environmental organizations, and the environmental justice movement seems particularly inspiring…

But the fires, and the hurricanes, and that weird wind in the Midwest whose name I can’t remember, and the Antarctic about to break…

Even if we meet the emission goals that will keep global warming under 2 degrees Centigrade, these climate events will not stop. I don’t think I’ll ever spend another cold November in Colorado. Or a slowly warming spring in the Midwest. Daily temperatures run up and down like a recurring low-grade fever, but always up a little more.

Those are relatively small things that I can get my mind and my words around. Small pools of grief among all the larger devastating ones.