When I was 12, nearly 13, I had a science project due; one of my first of secondary school. I loved forests so I decided to look at the effects of deforestation which led me to studies of Greenhouse Gases. It was 2004 and while people knew about “global warming”, it was not on the curriculum. It was a footnote to the public imagination, like the hole in the ozone layer. I spent weeks on the project and was pretty proud of my work. Graphs of emissions, and sequestration, and aerial photographs of slashed and burnt fields in the Amazon.
When it was all printed and cut out and mounted on green presentation card I cried. I cried for nearly an hour. There was just so much being lost and destroyed. There was just so much damage and I did not know what to do. I was the youngest in a big family, skinny and short, but nothing had ever made me feel so small.
Now eventually I stopped crying and turned in my project. But that would just be the first of many times in my life when my work, which forced me to look intently at our failings, would overwhelm me with a kind of grief.
Like grief, there are times of denial, trying to look away, and times of anger and frustration. But necessity drives anyone working in fields combating human self-destruction to keep looking and trying.
There have a number of studies now in Nature or Sustainability Science that point to the real and lasting psychological effects of facing ecological breakdown. As someone living with mental illness, how can I not take this research seriously? Can I keep pursuing the work I love when it worsens my symptoms and recovery?
So far I have found that there is no other way. Once you’ve looked you can’t take the knowledge or the grief back. To stop working to address environmental crisis would only increase my stress and anxiety not alleviate it. With that lack of alternative there is nothing to do but continue and treat each other with as much support and kindness as we can.