Co-founder, Cassie Duncan, offers a raw and deeply personal account of how she’s processing climate grief, whilst providing a practical pathway for channelling this panic into a climate-conscious way forward, for us all.
In the days, weeks, months since our great nation started to burn alive, I have felt this deep, despairing pain. Like someone has wrapped my heart in their fist and squeezed it tight. The panic and pain fades momentarily, just enough to get the kids dressed and fed, to shower for work, to carry on in this world, but inside I am lost and desperate and helpless. Never far from tears. On edge.
In this feeling, I know I am not alone. We are all reeling.
I’m a city girl, I wasn’t in harm’s way, the fires have no direct impact on the immediate liveability of my life… yet. However, their raging destruction, the pain inflicted on communities and wildlife, the decimation of Australia’s rich and unique ecosystems has floored me. Completely.
I’ve donated, we’ve raised money through Sustainable Table. It is not enough.
This panic, this feeling, this nationwide and indeed global sentiment and empathy for what Australia is going through is incredible. But it will fade. Not because we are uncaring or fickle, but because life must go on, in the same way that we must put one step in front of the other after the death of someone we love.
However, this time we must find a way to hold onto this feeling somewhere inside us. To remember the despair, the pain, the helplessness. Do not forget the instinct, the urge to want to do something. Anything. And quickly.
This panic, this feeling, this nationwide and indeed global sentiment and empathy for what Australia is going through is incredible. But it will fade.
Collectively we must tap into it when we go to make important life decisions, when we’re choosing where to buy food, where to take our next holiday, how we’ll reduce our impact on the planet.
We cannot let go of this urgent, climate-conscious panic. Because if we do, we may lose our motivation to change, and change we must.
We can’t wait until tomorrow, or next month or next year. We’ve had 30 years of waiting until next year or next political cycle and now we find ourselves in unchartered territory. In an emergency. Our house is no longer figuratively on fire, it is.
There is a beautiful analogy about grief known as the ‘ball in the box’, this helped me immensely to process the grief of losing my mother. I refer to it now, in another significant phase of grief.
Think of a ball in a box. This ball is your grief. The box, your body. It begins as a giant ball in a box. Inside the box is a pain button. Every time the ball bounces against this button you feel the full weight of the grief you are experiencing. As time passes the ball shrinks. The pain button is still there but is triggered less often. However, when it does; your memories, your emotions, the love and fragility you had for that person, that thing, the fire, is still there.
In the coming days and weeks, whilst the ball is large and you’re still reeling; harness these emotions to motivate you to take immediate action, to make habitual changes (I’ve outlined five suggestions below). Then as the ball shrinks, use the moments when pain or grief or panic is triggered to reorient, to recommit to actions that may have slipped. Use these moments to expand on what you are already doing.
Our collective ball in the box must be these fires. If we are too quick to forget, if we don’t honour these feelings for the rest of our lives then it has all been for nothing. And this cannot be for nothing.
We have the tools to dramatically reduce our depletion and destruction of the world’s ecosystems.
Our power is immense and should not be underestimated. Governments act for the people (apparently). Companies do what will make them money, we are their enablers. We must not be complicit.
I know that our Governments wield the power to make large and sweeping change at a scale that we may not see at an individual level, and it is true that this is what we need more than ever. However, our votes, our opinions, how we live our lives individually becomes the collective, and collectively we can inspire change.
We vote. We eat. We influence our economies by choosing where to spend our money.
There is power in taking ownership of and responsibility for our precious planet. When you own your decisions and understand their consequences it is empowering and inspiring. Let’s collectively take control.
How? In a myriad of ways. There have been many articles focussing on the immediate, all worthy. We must donate and return to fire-affected communities when safe to do so. Spend our money there and support businesses doing it tough. But the shift must be more than that. More radical.
We have the tools to dramatically reduce our depletion and destruction of the world’s ecosystems.
Here are a few immediate and important actions you could take. The list is by no means exhaustive. It is a start and start you must.
1. Take control of your Super
Granted, it’s not a sexy way to begin a list, but for most, your Super is the biggest investment you will ever make (other than possibly a house). Collectively, this is to the tune of $2.9 trillion dollars in Australia – I can’t even wrap my head around how much money this is. But what I do know, is that if it is invested in the wrong way it could be very, very bad news for our planet and its people. We could literally be fuelling the fire.
If someone said, “Hey, I’ve got $70,000 of your money and I’m going to invest it in fossil fuels and animal cruelty would you be OK with it?” If the answer is a resounding “Hell no!” then do something about it. Today.
There are some super funds that are bound by charters that prevent them from investing in fossil fuels, animal cruelty and human rights abuses – to name a few. It’s not just about having a ‘green’ portfolio as part of a more damaging charter, it is a company-wide approach.
DISCLAIMER: I am no financial advisor. Please use your judgement and make decisions independently and seek financial advice.
2. Invest in food, it’s what gifts us life
We are yet to fully understand the true scale and impact of these fires on our food system. We know our farming communities are reeling and already were prior to this. Prolonged drought, water mismanagement and price-squeezes from large retailers who profit from building marketing campaigns focussed on a race to the bottom… ‘down, down, prices are down’ sound familiar? Surely a genuine way to support our farmers is not to undermine the value of the food they produce, $1 milk I’m looking at you. Farmers are, indeed, stewards of much of our land – a role that is assumed, not paid.
We may not notice these ‘shocks’ in our food system immediately, we may indeed be shielded from this as our food supply is propped up by cheap imports, reliant on fossil fuels and ecological destruction to remain cheap.
We must ask ourselves, is this where and how we want our money to be spent? Will we build a local and resilient food future by undercutting local farmers and building a food system evermore reliant on fossil fuels all in the aim of convenience and availability?
So, what now? Seek out a farmers’ market, buy into Community Supported Agriculture, grow some of your own food so you appreciate just how hard and vulnerable to the elements farming is. Look for regenerative and organic farmers who are at the forefront of drought-tolerant farming techniques and ecologically sensitive farming.
If we know our growers, if we’re connected to where our food comes from, we are more likely to strive to protect it. And in times of hardship we are more likely to be connected to the people on the frontline, so we can lend them a hand, a hug, some cash or merely a sense of community. By investing in our farms, we keep our regional economies buoyant.
For those of us who have the means (which is most of us in Australia), place a little more value on where and how we purchase food. By doing this, we open up pathways for everyone to eat a little better. The commoditisation of our food system impacts everyone – people, animals, the environment. Nutritious food is a basic human right, let’s keep it that way.
Most of us eat three times a day. That’s three times a day we have the power to change the world, this is no exaggeration.
3. Reduce waste, we’re running out of space
Put simply, waste is anything that ends up in landfill. Consumerism is a huge driver of waste, with single-use plastic and fast fashion being two of the major culprits. For context, Australians throw out 6 tonnes or 6,000 kgs of clothing textiles every 10 minutes (War On Waste 2017). In addition, plastic is also made up of fossil fuel derivatives like crude oil, coal and gas, so it represents a double whammy in our fight against climate change.
Consume mindfully. Ask yourself if you really need the item? Can you source it second-hand, borrow it from a friend? Or if you must purchase new then seek out ethical brands and quit fast fashion.
When buying food, use your own containers, take your own bags, seek out bulk food stores, carry a reusable coffee cup, say no to straws, find packaging-free and natural alternatives to personal care and cleaning items. Again, start somewhere, no one expects you to be perfect from day one.
4. Reduce your reliance on fossil fuels
This one is HARD. I oscillate between wanting to travel while we still can, whilst also wanting to avoid air travel because of its horrendous CO2 impact. There is no easy answer where this is concerned, however, now more than ever, if you live in Australia then please consider planning domestic trips to regions who need your holiday dollar – #RoadTripForGood is a great place to start. Rediscover train travel, ride a bike, catch public transport – it all makes a difference. If you must travel, offset your flights with a credible offset program.
Switch to green power at home, install solar panels if you can. Use fans in summer and put on a few extra layers of clothes in winter. Every little bit helps.
5. Look after yourself and each other
Self-care during times of grief and environmental tragedy is doubly important. It is ok to switch off the news or disengage from social media if the state of the planet is overwhelming you. Exercise, meditate, give your body and brain a break. Then mindfully tap back into what motivates and gives you energy, in a climate-conscious way.
We must harness compassion for all of humanity and our animal kingdom. Many people will find themselves displaced by disaster, climate change refugees if you like. Let’s open our hearts and our doors. We have seen people do this in abundance during the fires, there are many more examples where this sort of compassion is warranted, asylum seekers are just one of many minority groups who would benefit from a kinder approach.
These fires have once again illustrated the resilient nature of us Aussies. We are bound by mateship, we are bound by a shared passion for this lucky country we were so blessed to find ourselves living in. Let’s move heaven and earth to keep fighting for what we love, even if it means radical short-term change. Surely, we owe it to our children, our rich ecosystems and to generations to come.
I’ll end with a cartoon because it sums up why we must move beyond arguments about climate change.
There is no argument to be had about transitioning to a liveable future.
Australian fires @mtmarthafb
Climate change cartoon @joelpettcartoons