• Allison Priestman

Ecological Emergency. Our Children’s Future?

Jul 29, 2019 | ecopsychology, grief, personal, psychotherapy, Wild Therapy


It’s Saturday night the 27th of July 2019, late. I made the mistake of looking at my mobile phone before I went to bed, fatal; for any chance of sleeping tonight. I caught an article in the Independent, titled “High Likelihood of Human Civilisation Coming to End by 2050, report finds.” Reading the article, the Independent have used an inflammatory title; and it makes for disturbing reading.


It’s come back again then, that date and the worst case scenario prediction. For the past few weeks I’ve been thinking maybe I’m just catastrophising and perhaps I can let go of such a doomsday scenario happening so very soon. I had been sitting with it in May and June, after reading several articles; perhaps this is all going to happen much faster than we’d anticipated. And then I stepped back from that, perhaps even feeling a bit foolish and relieved.


I’m reading a lot of articles at the moment it feels really important to inform myself and not turn a blind eye, or blind ear, to what is cooking around us. Several years ago I came to the realisation that we have done such damage to our planet and destroyed so many life support systems, that the long-term viability for life as we know it on this planet is really limited – that we’re fucked. My understanding is that we are locked into several 2, 3 or 4 degrees rise what ever we do. That it’s just a matter of time when that will happen.


It seems strange to write that, very blunt and factual. The destruction of ecosystems, watersheds, extinction of species and climate change have been the defining features of my adult life. At 18, when I went to university to study for a biology degree, what was most important to me was immersing myself in the library, studying the latest news in scientific journals, about our collective destructive impact on the planet. During my lifetime the past 50 odd years has seen a massive increase in the industrialisation of our world, which has resulted in a massive crash in numbers, of almost all animals.It’s very painful for me that on my watch, -on our watch, this massive destruction has unfolded.


To quote from the Independent article-”using several existing studies, they hypothesise average global temperatures may reach 3C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. The effect of this would be to realise the “hothouse Earth” scenario in which the planet would be heading for at least another degree of warming. The reflective sea ice would melt, warming oceans further and raising sea levels rapidly. There would be widespread permafrost loss and large-scale Amazon drought and die back”. 2050 when I’ll be, if I’m still here, 82 years old.


I think the thing that I find most painful when I think about that possible scenario is – what about the children? What of their future? Why aren’t we all taking much more urgent action? As far as I’m aware if we continue with business as usual and don’t substantially cut emissions very soon, because of the complexity of the planets feedback loops, such a scenario is definitely possible/probable.


In late winter and early spring this year, I was really struggling with deep distress and concern about the destruction that we are wrecking on this beautiful world around us. For several months I felt in deep despair, hopeless and powerless. What’s been most helpful for me is reaching out and connecting with other people and hearing other parallel experiences of deep grief. What has also helped me this spring and summer has been a process of reflection, reading and deep inquiry into what is an appropriate response, what can I do and how do I make sense of the enormity and unfathomable massiveness of what’s unfolding around us. What is helping me is – allowing my grief, reading books, talking to people, going on an Extinction Rebellion day, attending an Eco-psychology conference.


I'm asking myself what have I got to contribute? What am I already doing that that has meaning, integrity and something to offer a collective resistance, and to a future with some hope in it? I’ve realised in looking around me- there are still incredibly destructive, industrial, capitalist, massive scale processes, that are destroying our planet that we’re still hooked into. But also there is a groundswell of creativity, inspiration and positive practical projects and grass roots activism. These have been slowly growing for a long time and are currently blossoming. I found Joanna Macy’s concept that there are many ways to bring about change really helpful. Campaigning, being involved in activism is one way. We also need to create new ways of doing things like transport, education, building, growing food, creating sustainable culture etc, that respects the earth.


Just as importantly -we need new paradigms, new ways of thinking about what caused this destruction and new ways of reforging our bond with the other-than-human and more-than-human. I’m slowly coming to the realisation over the last 6 months that I’m part of a collective shift in consciousness, part of what Joanna Macy and others have called the Great Turning. I think this is probably what gives me heart and hope. There are times when I feel incredibly excited, about how inspiring and beautiful some of the things that people are doing are. What’s vital is for each of us to step up. To do what we each can, with our unique strengths and perspective. To each play our part. We might not now be able to change the future of the climate on this planet. But we can give each of us and our children more time. Time to adjust, time to wake up to what’s really important.


I’m still learning about my part in all this. Hopefully this writing is a useful step. I’ve been thinking about my work as a body psychotherapist, wild therapist and trainer. With clients I’m encouraging them to listen to, open to themselves and find healing, also to listen and open to the other-than-human and more-than-human. To re-find the wildness in themselves and the beauty of the wild around them.


In my work as a trainer I’m interested to support and challenge other therapists to wake up to the nature of what it means to be human being – a domesticated animal. To make the intellectual and emotional connections of how disconnected we are with all other living beings.


Writing this has flowed in an urgent outpouring. What I haven’t yet found space to speak about is my deep grief for all the animals and other beings that we’re killing. We’re so human-centric! I feel I’m falling into that myself in leaving thinking about all the non-humans right to the end. I feel as if we’re just squeezing them out, we haven’t left the vast diversity of plants and animals this planet can support, any space to live.


I have a passionate enjoyment of walking, swimming and being outside. Just breathing and being with the sights and sounds of the other-than-human. I find it wondrous and exciting when the swift’s fly by or a dragonfly hatches from the pond. It’s such a sweet, pain edged joy, to revel in the wild that is still here.


These are such strange times to be living through. It’s hard not to be immobilised in the pain of our own powerlessness to make any changes. This time also holds the potential for us to wake up, to fully embrace what it means to be a human being. Can we reclaim our animal, visceral, sensual reality, can we reconnect to the awe inspiring, complex, diverse non human others around us?



Some links, that I’ve found helpful

  1. The Independent article https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-global-warming-end-human-civilisation-research-a8943531.html

  2. Jem Bendell, Deep Adaptation. Video https://youtu.be/DAZJtFZZYmM

  3. Tree Sisters Clare Dubois talking to Jon Snow. https://youtu.be/TJlBteEj0bo


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