We've written about "drought fatigue" in this spot before, the concept of feeling so tired of hearing about the drought and the need to conserve water that you find yourself paralyzed and unable/unwilling to take greater measures to conserve.
It's the idea that the more we hear about something, even if it potentially will effect our lives adversely, the more exhausted and inactive we become. But is it laziness that keeps us from making lasting changes in our everyday environmental choices or is it something more profound?
Recent studies are starting to reveal that, while complacency IS a factor in many of us not making the changes necessary to make lasting environmental improvements, in many cases something called "environmental grief" comes into play.
A Washington State-based specialist on death and bereavement named Kriss Kevorkian claims that only when we as a collective society start acknowledging our "environmental grief" can we truly find motivation for change. Kevorkian states that although there is a defined set of stages of grief that people go through after they experience human loss, there is not a similar one for loss of our natural or animal world.
For example, we can all acknowledge the shock, grief, and trauma that follow after witnessing something as catastrophic as a fatal car accident or especially as large-scale as 9/11, but what if you witness something like a sea turtle entangled in plastic waste or if you observe the mass destruction caused by a wild fire to acres and acres of land?
Kevorkian spent a large amount of time studying the decline of the killer whale population and, over time, she began to feel a level of grief for the loss of these creatures that could be likened to losing members of her own family. At first she was hesitant to share these emotions, but eventually realized that this despair and anxiety about the environment and its creatures she was experiencing is a real phenomenon, estimated to effect approximately 200 million Americans who will be exposed to climate-change related events.
In 2012, the National Wildlife Federation generated a report calling attention to "environmental grief" and called for increased attention to this issue as climate-change related events and incidents become more and more commonplace. Particularly effected are the conservationists and scientists at the "front lines," but anyone who cares at all about the natural world around us is vulnerable to it.
One of the ways to combat this grief in our everyday lives is to make the small changes that we can do on a small scale-- "little wins," so to speak. But some scientists worry that, like standard depression, "environmental grief" can have a paralyzing effect-- feeling so overwhelmed that complete inaction is the result.
Acknowledging the problem is the first line of defense; taking baby steps in the right direction is the second. Our natural world is in peril, without question, but all hope is not lost. We at Water Gallery truly salute those conservationists dedicating their lives' work to our natural environment. It's emotionally taxing and mentally draining work and it takes a very special person to handle the incredible challenges of the work.