Climate “Change” is Climate Trauma
The escalating climate emergency has already begun to transform our social and economic realities.
Climate chaos is wiping out lives and ways of life.
Fire in Paradise.
Drought in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Floods in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.
Creating local and cross-border climate refugees and agricultural crises.
The unraveling of our biosphere is too big for me to fathom, so I turn to metaphors.
I call it climate trauma.
Climate trauma can be compared to other kinds of trauma.
Trauma is not always a one time incident.
Just like racism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, ableism and other kinds of oppression, trauma can take the form of ongoing micro-assaults that drain our sense of belonging.
Insidious mini-terror moments that destroy our safety.
Even worse, we may not be able to get others to take our perceptions and distress seriously.
A Lake Trauma
For years I lived close to an urban lake where I went swimming almost daily, 6 months out of the year.
She was a living being to me. A friend.
Immersed in my friend’s world, I swam beside ducklings and shy turtles, beneath burly-orange and ethereal-blue dragonflies and swooping swallows.
I swam above tadpoles, minnows and an out-of-place koi.
After swimming I socialized with the mallard duck community, and laughed at the fern-footed coots.
Memories are there.
Funerals and burials of two of my parakeet-friends near the lily pads. Beauty next to beauty, transforming lake visits into bird-friend visits.
Carrying a goose to the park rangers to remove a fishhook from her foot-web.
Holding my breath as two rangers untangled the fishing line wrapped around a heron.
Hearing stories of fishing lures lodged in turtle throats.
Human recreation undermining other species’ basic needs.
For years I observed my beloved lake change without realizing the significance of that Change.
Drought years when the grass was left to brown.
The duck community dwindled. I missed particular ducks.
One fall the aloof Ruddy Ducks that I adored from a distance disappeared and never returned.
Each summer, fewer coots came to feed and breed.
Egrets and otters showed up instead.
The orange dragonflies vanished as the toxic blue-green algae arrived, shortening the swim season with each subsequent summer.
I could walk around my friend, but I could no longer immerse myself in her beauty.
I grieved hard. I organized other lake people to urge Parks & Rec to restore the lake.
I adapted, biking far away to swim at another lake when I could. Until it too, succumbed to blue-green algae.
The park rangers and I spoke about the lake’s changes in terms of drought, algae, feral cats, human encroachment, and otters.
We talked about individual problems, looking for natural causes. Surely this was part of a natural cycle?
This loss was not a one-time, dramatic trauma.
It was almost invisible.
Until it was not.
Now I see the pattern communicated by the lake’s presences and absences.
The old lake was not evolving naturally, it was dying. Because the climate was dying.
Why couldn’t I perceive what my senses told me about the lake, years ago?
But maybe my animal body could.
Grief, rage and protest at the loss of my lake-friend.
Each grief a baby grief foreshadowing the Great Grief.
Why couldn’t we all perceive what our senses told us, year upon year?
As a white person, conditioned into oblivious privilege, I am well-practiced at denial.
As a country with a disavowed history of racism, genocide, where we worship numbing capitalism, we are susceptible to dissociation.
Well-practiced at denial.
Collective denial is pervasive, persuasive.
It’s not just me and my lake: many of us in hindsight recognize the indicators of climate crisis that appeared in our neighborhoods over the years:
Droughts, dying forests, drastic changes in insect, bird and mammal populations, wildfires, toxic algae blooms in lakes and rivers, extreme temperatures, storms, debilitating pollen levels.
The chronic illness in our human bodies.
Why else couldn’t we detect what was in front of us?
Because it was deliberately hidden from us.
Covert Corporate Abuse
Corporations actively worked to keep the truth from us while they harmed us.
Climate trauma is abusive family dynamics.
Behind closed doors, hidden from outsiders, violence robs us of our birthright to feel safe and loved.
A betrayal of what family is supposed to provide.
In many abusive families, denial allows abuse to continue.
The harm that is generated stays with family members indefinitely, as Post Traumatic Stress.
As new generational cycles of abuse.
It’s now clear that global destabilization was knowingly perpetuated in secret by corporate abusers.
CEOs who smiled in public for decades while stealthily destroying our only home.
Learning of this reminded me of the unacknowledged child sexual abuse that happened in my childhood home;
as in so many homes;
as in so many religious institutions, gymnasiums, hospitals, residential schools and detainment camps.
Greedy oil men who willfully prevented honest discourse and timely action.
Now while towns flood or burn, while crops drown and asylum seekers–climate refugees–are caged!
Now we are expected to be consumers instead of participants-with-agency.
What are we encouraged to consume?
Numbing products, distracting info-streams, produced by border-exempt, earth-
swallowing energy companies.
Why couldn’t we detect what was in front of us?
The biological response to threat and trauma is fight/flight/freeze/appease/dissociate.
Dissociate is an intelligent survival strategy when you cannot run or fight
(Where on earth will you go?
How can you fight a threat you cannot locate?).
Climate trauma evokes, subtly or starkly, our personal and community trauma histories:
The ways we have met loss, unease, rupture, dislocation and harm before;
The genetic or narrative trauma memories we have inherited;
The specific neurobiological survival strategies of fight, flight, freeze, appease/fawn or dissociate/hibernate we have used to navigate trauma;
The strategies of resistance and resilience we have inherited from our communities of identity or blood;
All these memories reverberate as we gaze (or avert our gaze) into the chasm of ecological collapse.
Climate trauma shows up as increased political polarization.
It shows up in our habitually dissociated institutions. Government and media foisting forgetfulness upon us.
Our habit of turning our eyes away from oppression and suffering sets the tone.
Dissociation is business-as-usual in North American consensus reality.
MeToo# for a Violated Ecosystem
Climate trauma calls for trauma healing.
To heal any kind of trauma:
Silence must be broken;
Harm must be named;
Embodied safety must be cultivated.
This time we must do it together.
There is no way to do it alone.
Will the Earth finally have its MeToo# viral eruption, terribly late–hopefully not too late?
Will we speak up for her in time?
Will we denounce and dethrone her corporate assailants?
Maybe, maybe not.
As climate trauma becomes obvious to more of us, our familiar trauma survival strategies will intensify.
We react to shock and loss with our/our ancestors’ most practiced fight, flight, freeze, fawn or denial responses.
Biological survival 101. It is only natural.
At least we still want to survive!
But our usual survival strategies will not save us this time.
We need to thaw out.
Can we wiggle our frozen fingers and toes awake?
Can we stop holding our breath?
Take a sip or gulp of air…
We need to connect.
Can we call upon our allies, our ancestors, and the land we live with?
Can we ask for courage and help?
We need to find our people.
Can we heal trauma’s disruption of safety and belonging?
Can we begin virtuous cycles of community building and action that instill a bodily sense of safety.
When we practice embodied safety, we inspire:
mutual reaching out;
Can we be in solidarity with the Earth?
Can we name the truth:
Yes, its that bad.
Yes, the unspeakable has happened on our watch.
Yes, cruelty is happening right now. Obfuscation.
Courage and resilience are also happening right now, both locally and globally.
Can we gently cradle one another’s confusion and grief?
Can we get ready to co-create?
Resources for Resilience and Resistance
Below are some links to explore if you want to create-in-community with others responding to climate unraveling.
There are overlaps and differences in both philosophy and tactics.
Some are about climate crisis mitigation.
Some are about adaptation or rebuilding.
Some will resonate with you.
Listen to your earthly-body.
What does it say “Yes,” “No” and “Maybe” to?
Maybe you’ll create your own movement.
Find your people,
Love each other.
Thanks for listening.
Blessings to you.
First Peoples’/Indigenous Resources
Our History is the Future (book)
Our History is the Future (video)
(starts 6 minutes in)
Principles of Tsawalk, an e-book by Umeek (Eugene Richard Atleo) weaves together indigenous and Western worldviews into an alternative framework for responding to global environmental and political crises.
Preparing People for Climate Change in California