Eco Grief Across Generations

Whitton Feer

The car whirred through the yellow aspens and the fragments of trees remaining from last year’s avalanche cycle. 

There was no cell service on Independence pass for podcasts or music, rendering the ride silent. My father Peter Feer, riding shotgun, turned to me, momentarily stealing my focus from the switchbacks. He told me that he was legitimately scared and haunted by the future that climate change will bring. I briefly engaged with him, until the conversation shifted. as we accepted that there was nothing new to talk about regarding our worldwide crisis. 

This worry haunts him, as I learned when we spoke via phone a month later. He was riding the L Train to the Blackhawks game in Chicago, a common stop for him as he travels for work as an Executive Coach. 

For Peter Feer, the constant climate news cycle is unescapable, as he feels bombarded with stories about our deteriorating planet. Just yesterday, he said that an iceberg the size of Rhode Island broke off Antarctica.

“It’s just gone forever,” he said. He is not equipped to deal with such sudden loss constantly at the back of his mind. 

Yet these problems and ecological losses will not affect him, as a younger generation will be forced to experience most of the impacts. This reality disturbs him the most, as he can no longer see children, or pregnant women, without thinking, “what’s their world going to be like? How’s it going to end for them?” This thought reoccurs in his brain, as he realizes that his generation and social class is largely responsible for climate change. 

“Are you going to blame me?” he asked, referring to the crisis that he will leave my generation to solve.

Feer has more to focus on than simply climate change. Balancing fatherhood, work, and health pulls his focus from the natural world, as he can only put so much effort into reducing his carbon footprint and setting an example for others.

This suppression of climate sadness is fairly common among members of my community, as we are all aware and disturbed by climate change, often acting to protect the planet, but not overtaken by grief about the loss of biodiversity and natural places. 

Many of us residing in the developed world have not yet experienced the symptoms of climate change that more severely affect undeveloped regions. Even with larger, more frequent fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters, wealthy populations have the technology and money to react and adapt to these changes. This ability to react reduces our need to grieve, as although we occasionally lose sacred places and people to this crisis, we have not yet experienced loss on a scale large enough to induce grief.

My thoughts on this topic are backed up by Colorado College geology major Helen Hadad’s experience with climate change. 

“I’m more worried than sad,” she said. 

She doesn’t think she’s affected severely enough by climate change to begin grieving. “It’s easy for me to think about it as an abstract concept,” Hadad said. But she is by no means disconnected from the issue.

Hadad’s father is an ecologist, who studies the effects that climate change will have on insects. This has exposed Hadad to climate change early on, but she hasn’t experienced the trauma necessary to evoke grief.

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