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In the five minutes I took to calm down, I almost posted a reply. I almost emailed. I almost posted again. But I waited.
I let the internal cry settle. How can this be? morphed into I need to understand. I read the article three more (very uncomfortable) times. Then, I called by phone.
You see, I love the Earth. I feel grief and fear around our ecological crisis, and I’m in wholehearted solidarity with the youth demanding action on climate change. The article that I had just read harshly criticized Greta Thunberg. It denounced her actions, perspective, and entire generation. It had been written by a conservative thinker, and I could have simply shrugged, clicked away, and ignored it as wrongful thinking from someone on the opposing side. But, it had been shared on Facebook by a friend of mine, someone I have loved, respected, and disagreed with for over 20 years.
By way of our friendship, I had slipped out of the echo chamber. Social media allowed me to see something I wouldn’t “Like.”
On the phone, I told her, “I saw that article you shared about Greta Thunberg.” She laughed, sort of sighed, and said, “I thought of you.”
We’ve always been able to talk about our disagreements, because we share a passion for understanding other perspectives. What beliefs lie under our differing opinions? How can someone I like so much think something like that? So, we dove in. I asked her to check on my interpretation of the author’s beliefs.
Did he really say it’s our right and our responsibility to exploit the earth’s resources for the progress of humankind?
“Yes,” she answered. This was indeed the perspective of the writer. It was my friend’s perspective, too.
My perspective? I feel a kinship with all who live on this Earth. I love the water, I love the wild creatures, I love the spacious expanses of wilderness. Exploit what I love? It doesn’t make sense. Grieve for what I love as fires, extinction, mining, pollution, and more spread far and wide? Of course. She heard me. And, surprisingly, she was not at all offended.
She’s uncomfortable with talk about the Earth as “sacred,” yet despite our differing religious and spiritual perspectives, we found we could both speak of loving kinship with life on this planet.
Love. I’ll come back to that.
I asked her about the next belief that I thought the author of this article held: Did he link the youth outcry about climate crisis with the changing cultural conversations around trauma and gender? He seemed to connect all of these to weak (and weakening) character among our youngest generation.
“Yes,” she confirmed again. Unexpectedly for me, that was the most important thing to her about this article. She can’t stand the “hysteria” with which privileged people bemoan environmental and emotional issues while so much of the world is impoverished, in desperate need of economic development. Why should we be distraught and guilt-ridden about “lost childhood” due to climate anxiety, when so many fellow human beings have no access to clean water, education, and medical care?
Okay. To an extent, I can relate to this. I’ve rolled my eyes a time or two when hearing complaints about “luxury problems.” But at the same time, I believe that this generation expects a gentler, more respectful approach to trauma recovery and gender identity not because they’re “weak” in any way, but because we, the generations who came before them, needed that ourselves. Now, we’re insisting on it for our children. My friend called it “hysteria,” but I’d call it “passion.” I believe there’s good reason for it.
Do these outcries mainly come from the mouths of people who are “privileged?” Maybe. Maybe people who have their basic needs met and are reasonably safe can more often turn their attention to longer-term, larger-scale issues.
I asked her, “Would it make sense to be ‘hysterical’ if you believed that, in the next three to 20 years, climate crisis would lead to famine, social unrest, violence, and infrastructure collapse?”
”Yes,” she thought. If the timeline were that short, then it would. But she felt pretty sure that we’ll figure this all out in time. At that point, we entered the complex territory of climate science, which neither of us truly understands, but both of us agreed we’d like to understand better.
Back to love.
Our phone call reminded me of what had hit me—and hard—when I watched “Frozen II.” I’d recently seen it with my five-year-old, purely to delight her, but it did its work on me. It was a moment of what Michael Meade calls “mythological acupuncture”: The story stuck me right where I needed to be stuck.
As Anna runs, egging on the giants of the Earth, she is determined to destroy a grand edifice of her forefathers. She’ll tear it down to right a wrong—to restore flow, to honor her driving sense of love and loyalty. She knows that when she takes it down, her beloved home will be destroyed. A deep chord was struck in me.
This is what we must do, in some form, to save ourselves. We must tear down the edifices of our beliefs and our systems. The ones that have blocked the flow and caused the living, life-giving land to suffer. We must do so in the hope that what we co-create will serve us better—will serve life better.
We have to be willing to sacrifice what we’re used to. Why would anyone ever do that? Tear down edifices and sacrifice all they’ve ever known?
Love. Anna does this out of love. So Disney, right?
But it hit me, there in the theater, that this wasn’t love-is-magic or true-love-itself-will-save-us love. No. This was the-things-we-do-because-we-feel-love-will-save-us love. Only when we feel love do we do risky, unreasonable things. Why would anyone sacrifice their comfort and plenty more than that for something they don’t love?
If we don’t love the trees and the wild things for their own wild sake, why would we be moved enough to act when they are dying? If we don’t cherish clean water in a thriving ecosystem, why would we take a stand against it being poisoned? Why entertain the possibility of systemic change, when that equates to so many unknowns?
I can think of one other reason: Loving your own survival, or your children’s.
Even if I saw the ecosystem as a machine and didn’t love it at all, even if I thought we’d just broken it or neglected its maintenance, and that this might destroy my children, I’d still be ready to face change.
“You don’t think we’re just cold people who don’t love our children, do you?” my friend asked me.
“No. Not at all, I said. “If you don’t love the Earth, but you do love your children, and you still don’t think it’s time to get passionate about our ecosystem, then I think you must not believe we’re really in danger.”
If I were confident that my forefathers were on the right track, I would never tear down what they’d built. Elsa and Anna’s father didn’t tear the dam down, though he loved his children. He believed his father had done a good thing. Did our forefathers set up a good thing, here? Should we dig into more science to determine a solid “yes” or “no” to that question? Maybe. But, what’s hitting me now is this: we don’t make leaps or sacrifices because “the data suggests it would be prudent,” and we certainly don’t make leaps when history and data suggest they’re unlikely to make a difference anyway.
We make leaps and sacrifices because we can’t not—when what we love is on the line. So maybe, it’s not about more science, but about more falling in love with the Earth and each other. Then, even if climate change remains a “maybe” in some minds, the destruction of our kin begins to hurt.
What if my friend felt a deep love for this Earth, for the water, for the plants and other-than-human creatures? Maybe, if we want more protecting and respecting, we need less arguing, and more romancing.
I’ve witnessed people fall in love with the wilderness. My friends who lead plant walks, wilderness therapy, backpacking trips, river rafting runs—they get to see it happen within people all the time. So I know it’s possible. But to be honest, “spreading the love” sounded unimpressive when I thought I was supposed to believe that love itself would protect anything.
Now that I see it’s the extraordinary things we do when we love, I’m all in. In my dream groups, we talk about ancient myths and modern stories as “dreams of the culture.” If “Frozen II” is a dream of our culture in this time, there’s one other moment I must mention:
In the end, the landscape has changed forever, but their home survives. Elsa protects the kingdom with her magic. Is there any kind of “magic” like Elsa’s waiting for us? Some unexpected possibility that we don’t yet understand, that will save our sense of home, even when radical change happens? Something that will spare what we cherish, when so many historical “tearing downs” of social or economic structures have been devastating?
I don’t know. Maybe that’s the Disney take on a story more likely to have a dark ending as so many fairy tales did before Disney retold them. It’s a hopeful sign to me, though, that culturally, we dreamt this ending to “Frozen II.” It suggests that there might be another type of resource—a “sister” to the force represented by Anna, which dismantles the old ways. There might be a metaphorical Elsa-like presence that protects what we love so we can return “home” in a new context.
One other hopeful sign: This movie had wide appeal. Plenty of people I disagree with adored this movie. This reminds me that we have common ground. Common heart.
I was so deeply offended by the article that she shared. My friend was so deeply offended by Greta Thunberg. But neither of us were offended by the other naming what she loved. There is room—I feel certain, now—for us to name what we love, share what we love, and do brave, unreasonable things to protect it.