The CEM core group discuss Love as part of our occasional series named Coming to our own emotional rescue. We welcome responses to these reflections, which we have in the past published as guest posts. If that is of interest then write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org , or leave a reply in the comments.
I see this post on love split in a few different ways – as I didn’t study any sort of and I don’t know how the ancients split out love with different names so I’ll keep it short. Maybe I’ll learn all those different types some day. Firstly for me, there’s a deep affinity with our living world that I would start with. This love came from a love shared with my wife – something I wasn’t really aware of until I met her. This love and connection to others human and non-human results in many other emotions, some of which we’ve posted about before. This is especially strong for me when I see others exploit or destroy for little else than greed, whilst we’re also complicit in some manner by our very existence in this. Then again, there’s certainly been a love within me since I was a child to try to make things better – maybe it’s because I’m aware I’m lucky to be here, with my mum managing to avoid civil war and ending up a refugee here.
This is certainly an emotion that gets tested on many fronts and probably on a daily basis because of the wicked problem of climate change. Whether it’s a love for or by others – due to their actions, inaction or ignorance, which could easily turn to anger, frustration, hate. Or it could inspire, energise, pick you up off the floor from fear, grief or sorrow. Love cuts both ways. Love for yourself is also a massive part of dealing with living in the Anthropocene – how to balance caring for yourself, keeping yourself healthy and sane, giving yourself a break from the morality police and guilt of our continued collective failure, but also not being self-indulgent in your privileged position.
It all comes back to love, doesn’t it?
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve tried to write this, to come up with some (semi-)original way of saying what I want to say. But with such a widely discussed and written about emotion, every line risks sounding like a cliche.
So, avoiding the poetic, the lyrical or the elaborate, it boils down to this: I, as a normal human being, love my children, my family, my friends. I don’t want ongoing destruction of the natural world, or further changes in climate to mean that the Earth becomes a hostile, violent place for them – whether that violence comes from other humans, or the climate itself.
And so, I see it as my moral duty to do what I can, for as long as I can, to influence what I can for the reduction of harm, for mitigation and repair of damages. It means I will never give up and say “there’s no point, we’re ****ed”, because frankly, things CAN always get worse – and better is always better, no matter how bad things may get.
Others have written on this topic, and I have drawn some of my thinking, if not any of their eloquence, from the following essays:
The Miraculous Hope of Climate Realists by Erika Spanger-Siegfried
But the Greatest of These is Love by Mary Annaïse Heglar
Loving a vanishing world by Emily Johnston
Of all the emotions in our series, I feel this one comes with the most baggage. When we considered ‘hope’ and ‘fear’ I used the piece as an opportunity to dip into other thinkers and writings (even if they did not make their way into the final blog). With love, I’m cautious. There is so much already written and the obsessions of popular culture don’t help . I like typologies, but struggle to navigate the numerous categories and subcategories of love offered by philosophers through the ages.
So, instead I’m going to pick out just one aspect that I have been contemplating of late. It’s sustenance – the act of maintaining, of sustaining (and how interesting that sustenance also means a source of nourishment and strength). Some state that love, more than other emotions, is something that continues, persists, endures. Or, it is as much an action as an emotion. Love requires commitment or work, and this might not always be easy. It also needs trust.
As climate activists, we are often talking about speed and urgency. We need to act now, faster. We don’t have time. We bandy around future dates (2038, 2050) but rarely think about how to sustain or keep going. When activists speak of commitment, it’s often about fielty to the big idea than ongoing work and relationships, full of ups and downs. Those trying to implement climate solutions are frequently drawn on one (shiny, quick) fix, buried if it fails. But a willingness to work through difficulties and ‘stick at it’ is what we all need to take from love for the long haul ahead.
Love and climate activism. We’re supposed to be motivated by love, love of this planet, and beauty and intricacy of it. And Christians will talk about God’s creation. In other religions too, probably, but most of them seem to get het up about “paganism” or what we might these days – following E.O. Wilson – call “biophilia”.
On my good days unfortunately, that love is always tinged with sorrow. I used to love nature documentaries as I was growing up. And I haven’t been able to watch them for decades. Because it’s like watching someone on death row who is talking about their hopes for the future. And you know, and you know that they’re going to get executed. And worse than that, you know, that you’ve contributed in non-trivial ways to that execution.
This species on its best days can be something remarkable. But so often we fall short of what we could be. And there’s never been a more serious time than this. But here we are.
I love the idea of the enlightenment. I love the idea of something approaching harmony, or sustainability, and all of these myths that we tell ourselves but I don’t love the lies, or the violence. And I know that these forms of violence are an integral part of what’s going on. And if you want to have your eyes open, you can see what’s going on. But most people resist having their eyes open.
Yeah, so love doesn’t thrill me. Love doesn’t energise me for this. Love doesn’t help in this. It doesn’t console or energise, which is why it’s been such a hard one for me to write about. I can write about fear or hate or sorrow. No problem. Love, what’s love got to do with it?
I think out of most of the emotions we’ve talked about in this series, love is a particularly hard one to articulate – possibly because it runs the risk of being (unfairly) perceived as saccharine. I don’t actually think this gives love any less validity, however – it’s clearly an important part of the emotional gamut – and arguably it is just as important to talk about the ways it can be misrepresented.
In discussions about climate change, it seems to be common to come across interpretations of care for the planet that centre around love. A lot of this is definitely well meaning, although some of it does stray into the hippyish realms of peace and love that we’re probably all aware of. I think there’s an important consideration as well here as to how women and those perceived as female within the climate movement can be viewed, as the archetype of Mother Nature, caring and nurturing the planet with love, does seem to be enmeshed into certain expectations and perceptions that take place. The problem with this, for me, is that these unconscious associations can breed complacency – love for the planet is valuable, but nothing is saved without action. I worry that sometimes that those who push for love and harmony over other emotional processes negate the other emotions that spur this action, such as fear, determination and rage.
This is not to say that there is no value to our love for the planet – part of the reason I became so concerned about climate change was because I realised how many things I loved would be lost, both within my lifetime and in future generations. There is a place for love in these contexts, but I think this needs to be a love that is radical, honest and even at times nihilistic – certainly not a love that is complacent.
I think we are all a bit obsessed by love, both in its presence and its absence. The ancient Greeks had at least five different terms for love, but in English we just use one. L-o-v-e. Yet those same Greeks, with all their love words, were subjugating slaves and women. That’s the intriguing sometimes sordid aspect of love, that it is readily inverted, made hypocritical, or ludicrous. It makes love dramatic for books and movies. There’s love for some which means fighting against others; love which slides to hate; or obsessive love that leads to downfall. Humans are loving creatures, but not simply.
Humans love planet Earth, and love on it. ‘For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love’ – words attributed to the astronomer Carl Sagan, although in truth they were penned by Ann Druyan, his wife. That’s love in the incomprehensible vastness of the universe that she was speaking of, which dwarfs us in space and time, making our lives but a glimmer. That’s love too in a context in which our tiny planetary corner, the only hospitable place accessible, is regularly imperilled. In the 70s and 80s, Sagan’s and Druyan’s shared concern – referenced in brilliant series like Cosmos – was the M-A-D non-lovely threat of nuclear annihilation. Does the risk of losing it all make us love it more?
If we can be said to love Earth, I think we can also love it inappropriately. I used to love hiking in Scotland quite purely, but these days I recognise more things like overgrazing and population clearances and the power of the lairds (land-owners). Will future generations come to love, and love on, their climatically changed landscapes and enlarged oceans, however ravaged they might be? I hope so. But I also hope they won’t forget about what happened on the land before it.
I’m still not sure how love factors into the motivation to be involved with CEM. It’s not like it’s easy to love ‘the climate’. Comparatively it’s probably easier to feel love for a field like Ryebank, which I now live near to, where I can sit in trees and contemplate life, the Earth, the universe. A neighbour told me that since the field became threatened, people go there more. Imperilled love. Can we have more love with less peril, please, if anyone is listening…
Our views are not individually or collectively our “last word” – our thoughts on these emotions are a momentary snapshot in time and always open to revision, reflection.
Some of the reading here may be of help in dealing with “big feelings”.
If you’re really struggling, and we’ve opened a can of apocalyptic worms, please get help – preferably from a professional. There’s zero shame in that at all. We’re living in a challenging time.
And if you do wish to write to us in response, it’s email@example.com
Robbie is a core member of Climate Emergency Manchester.