Good Grief


words by Willow Defebaugh

photograph by bastian achard

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

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Have you heard of ‘ecological grief’? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably experienced it. Nature once defined the term as “The grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.”


Ecological grief is arguably one reason people avoid informing themselves about climate crisis; we avoid anxiety-inducing headlines, in the same way that you might have been tempted to avoid opening this email. We are ill-equipped to process the immeasurable catastrophes that we are confronting, largely because they are unprecedented.


Thankfully, there are those who are willing to face it all head on. The 21 young Americans suing the government over climate change made their case before a panel this week that their fundamental rights to life are being compromised by the government allowing oil, coal, and gas development. A federal appeals court appeared conflicted in trying to decide if the lawsuit should be allowed to go to trial. “You’re arguing for us to break new ground,” Judge Andrew Hurwitz told the plaintiffs. “You present compelling evidence that we have a real problem…[but] can we act?”


Two democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, put forth their plans for tackling climate within hours of one another on Tuesday. Warren laid out her proposal in a post on Medium, which suggests that the U.S. become a leader in green manufacturing via a $2 trillion investment in research, technological innovation, and implementation.


The momentum we are seeing in a variety of sectors ranges from the commonsense to beyond previous imaginings. A new 3D-printed device that converts heat to electricity has set a new record for efficiency, and is cheap to produce en masse. Meanwhile, a circus in Germany has begun using holograms in place of animals in its shows. Even KFC is now exploring vegan fried chicken, to match consumer demands and the success of other chains that have started to offer Impossible and Beyond meat.


In Atmos Volume 01, we spotlighted a number of artists and designers who are reweaving what the future of fashion might look like. One such visionary, Diana Scherer, uses the root structures of plants to actually grow garments that have a gossamer, ethereal quality to them. Another, Suzanne Lee, helped launch Zoa, the world’s first bioleather material that is made from the same bacteria that grows kombucha.


Another artist, Deanna Witman, is using her art for a different purpose: exploring and holding space for ecological grief. Witman has taken to capturing the silhouettes of plants outside her home for a haunting series called “Index.” She tells Wired: “Each piece is a document, a record, an object, and a memorial. I’m interested in what is here now, as it won’t all be here at some point in the future.”


Both psychology and history affirm that avoidance doesn’t typically yield the best outcomes—so why should we think any differently when it comes to the feelings our present circumstances evoke? Grieve. Get angry. Emotion can be a powerful catalyst for change; inherent in the word itself is “motion.” The question is, will we use it to go forward?

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