Until we grieve, we'll never protect the earth

misty trees photo
CC BY 2.0 Wandering Angel

We'll protect what we fall in love with, that's the premise behind this video on the stunning beauty of pollination.

And from anthropomorphizing endangered species to fostering a visceral, emotional response to mountaintop removal, we've seen plenty of ways that activists are harnessing that principle.

But this isn't just about encouraging love or making us feel all gooey about the earth. As anyone who has ever loved and lost knows, the almost inevitable flip-side of love is grief. Until we start to truly grieve for the devastating losses we see all around us, I find it hard to imagine how we'll create the kind of cultural shifts we need.

Extinction Witness, a project created by my friend Megan Hollingsworth, seeks to actively encourage that grief. Here's how Megan puts it:

We are in the midst of an unparalleled mass extinction of species that directly correlates with ongoing cultural assimilation and genocide. Awareness of this great dying is on the rise, yet even those of us well aware now for decades have yet to fully grieve and accept our losses.

We have been protecting our hearts from the greatest loss we have ever known and, in doing so, we keep enacting the same behavior that brought on the loss. The perpetuation of a known harm is called madness. Madness protects us from heartbreak by keeping us invulnerable to love. Madness is basically fear. Love is feeling. Love is sorrow, anger, and joy.

Extinction Witness' inaugural project, Virgin, is highlighting the role of "big trees and whole women in the interest of restoring both to Earth." Through two short films, Wildfire: A Love Story (posted below), and Virgin: Passionate Women Restoring Forests, Megan intends to both engage people more directly with the process of grieving, and also channel that grief into specific actions. Wildfire: A Love Story is being used to drum up support for a memorial grove at Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California. Meanwhile Virgin, which looks set to be released later this year, is drumming up support for TreeSisters, a global network of female activists who are aiming to reforest the tropics in the next ten years.

I confess as a pragmatist and atheist, I've always found myself gravitating to the rational, utilitarian arguments around environmentalism. Pollution from fossil fuels is economically ruinous in the long term. The oil industry is destroying our health. The rapid growth of renewables is an economic opportunity almost beyond compare.

Yet I am painfully aware that we are emotional creatures. And we form emotional relationships not just with each other, but with the world around us. (We even form emotional connections to our bloody iPhones!) So it's incumbent upon all of us who give a damn about sustainability to get to grips with what this crisis we are facing really means - and that means opening ourselves up to a whole world of hurt.

Wildfire a love story from Megan Hollingsworth on Vimeo.

[A previous version of this article had the founders last name wrong. It has now been corrected. With apologies.]

Tags: Activism | Conservation | Endangered Species | Extinction