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Berkeley Talks: Climate grief: Embracing loss as a catalyst for collective action

By Public Affairs

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three portraits of adults

From left: Indigenous scholar Yuria Celidwen, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute (OBI); Bayo Akomolafe, a global senior fellow at OBI; and Naomi Klein, a journalist, author and climate activist. (Photos of Celidwen and Akomolafe courtesy of the Othering and Belonging Institute; photo of Klein by Kourosh Keshiri via Flickr)

In Berkeley Talks episode 171, journalist and climate activist Naomi Klein joins Indigenous scholar Yuria Celidwen and posthumanist thinker Bayo Akomolafe, both senior fellows at UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, to discuss climate grief and why they see it not as a reason for apathy, but as an invitation to feel the loss deeply — together — and to use it as fuel for collective action.

“The moments that we face loss, and we really embody the grieving process, is the total moment of surrendering,” said Celidwen at the May 4 event, hosted by the Othering and Belonging Institute . “Realizing that arrogance that keeps humans in a hierarchical organization, feeling that they are somehow exceptional from and different from all others, that arrogance dissolves the moment that we realize we are powerless really to the process of life, to the process of spirit, the process of nature.

“That idea of bringing not only the possibilities of the mysterious, the possibilities of the stories, that not everything can be measured as Western sciences, but rather as how Indigenous sciences speaks about what we don’t know, what we can’t know, and how we can make meaning of precisely that unknowing, and resting in that unknowing by finding the right insight to the action that we need to do as a collective.”

“I was really struck, Yuria, that you said that grief is surrender,” Klein said in response. “Because right before, I was making a couple of notes, thinking about why so many people I know in the climate justice movement are afraid of grief. And I wrote down just now, ‘It’s because they equate grief with surrender.’

“But, what I meant was political surrender. I think there’s a fear that if we fall down, we’ll never get up. And that, if we let ourselves feel the depths of the loss, the depths of the fear, that we’ll just somehow never be able to be galvanized again. And it’s the opposite, really. That grief is uncontainable, including that surrender.

“I work with these students I mentioned, it’s not a course on climate anxiety or climate grief. It’s a course on climate feelings. And that’s the first thing I say is, ‘It can be rage, it can be just loss, it can be hope, it can be homesickness, there are so many emotions, and why do we prescribe just this one?’ But the main thing I want is just feel anything , feel it a lot, because I feel like what is the source of the hopelessness or despair — those are legitimate emotions — but it’s a deadeningness, really, that is what I’m most afraid of in myself and in the people I work with.”

Listen to the full conversation in Berkeley Talks episode #171 and watch a video of the conversation below.

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