7 Stages of Grief for the Anthropocene

Loss: Some of us have only known a life accompanied by facts of the climate crisis. Others remember decades of growing awareness around global heating and decades of inaction. In both cases, grief first grew out of knowledge—knowledge of what has been, what is, and what will be lost.


Sorrow: Our word sorrow comes from the German sorge, which means “worry.” Your ravaged homescape keeps you up at night. You look in the mirror and try to read between the new lines etched on your face. Note that there is no etymological bridge between sorrow and sorry. Moving through grief is not as clear-cut as our old-growth forests.


Rage: Confronted, sorrow shifts. The damage could be so much less if its products weren’t lining the pockets of the very few. A sticky “everything is fine” spun-of-your-daily-routines web pins your arms to your sides and makes you furious. Or maybe your sadness turns to anger when you hear of the human-made toxics found in every inch of the way from the North to the South Pole.


Bargaining: There’s plenty of advice out there if you want to save the planet: Take shorter showers. Use different lightbulbs. Ride your bike. Recycle, or maybe even reduce. No shortage of people want you to believe that isolated individuals can solve our environmental crises by changing their consumption habits.

Dread: But if you’re reading this, you probably also read the news for at least two minutes this morning—long enough to discern that, despite the good intentions of many, we’re still on a collision course with widespread ecosystem collapse. After wallowing through mucky emotions and emerging to take action, you find it disturbing that your hands still aren’t clean.


Despondency: Proffered solutions wither as you mentally chart progressively grim predictions. With snowballing dread, you wonder if the moment for a superhero to materialize has come and gone, if the credits are already rolling. Who knows what you should do now? If grief is loving an absence, you deflate to shrink-wrap yourself around it.


Engagement: But in vacancy lies also space. When you rise up from the tear-stained earth you see others working to be a part of something sane. In refusing to accept the way things are, you accept instead the old adage that everything you do, or don’t do, is political. Now the dirt of dedication streaks your palms—clean hands are for chumps. Sowing gratitude becomes a subversive act: full, we are a harder sell. This web is my home! you roar, spinning another strand.


Miranda Perrone is a writer, outdoor educator, activist, and cartographer whose work promotes socioecological change.

Illustration: “Charcoal Boys,” by Roger Mello

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Comments

  1. This is a visionary piece of writing.
    Reading it in Africa at the time of the Covid-19 shutdown, it reads like a prophecy.
    There is a growing number of activists who are taking the stand that Covid-19 is the result of African wildlife produce (lion skeletons, pangolins and a whole swath of other wild animals) have been instrumental in creating this pandemic.

    Perhaps there will be more voices now acknowledging the reality and relevance of the Anthropocene.
    Thank for the wonderful food for thought.

  2. Hello Miranda!
    This is a wonderful piece for your readers to consider. I’ve worked with grief here in Sonoma County for many years so I’m quite familiar with this territory . These 7 stages are definitely significant for any type of loss.
    I think what is missing is the denial piece that Elizabeth Kubler Ross originally talked about in her death and dying work. I’ve witnessed a lot of denial from folks during my grief ritual work, and that has kept them stuck in some places. When they could finally surrender to the truth, a wave of gratitude comes over them and a lot of energy gets released. To go beyond this context, I think denial is a significant part of the wounding in our country that has not been digested — particularaly around the genocide of the natives and the slave trade. We are still living with those legacies because we have not fully acknowledged this trauma for all of us.
    Keep up the good work!

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