Beyond Climate Grief

book cover imageBeyond Climate Grief

Jonica Newby

NewSouth, 2021

Jonica Newby, best known as a presenter for the ABC’s science show Catalyst, fell into depression a few years ago when the fate of her beloved alpine landscape in a warming world suddenly hit home.

After a break to rebalance she decided to use her skills to “science the shit out of it” to work her way back towards normality. As she did so, she met many climate scientists who were struggling with the same grief at the inexorable loss of their own special places, and with psychologists who could explain how best to deal with the emotional burden.

She began writing in October 2019 and was soon forced by the horrific bushfires of that summer to expand her project to include managing immediate trauma. This book is the result. To be clear, it is not about climate change or climate science (Newby knows, and we know, enough about that already) but about how we can best cope with the unfolding and seemingly inevitable collapse of the natural world we love.

Key insights and strategies

Newby begins by identifying the emotions as primary drivers of all we do and think, tracing them all the way back to primitive organisms attracted to anything beneficial and feeling aversion to anything dangerous. She also pins down just what kind of grief climate change brings upon us. It is “anticipatory” and “disenfranchised” grief, both terms reflecting the fact that it is grief for a loss we have not yet suffered. She likens it to the grief we feel when someone close to us is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

From there, Newby proceeds through the classical stages of grief, from denial to acceptance, showing how each of them may be processed most effectively. At the same time, she looks at how our emotional responses can support (or undermine) our practical responses to the crisis which brought on our grief. The aversive emotions (anger, fear, hate) are shown to be useful in the short term but destructive or unsustainable in the longer term, so she turns to the positive emotions (love, community, courage, compassion) as the foundation we need.

If all of this sounds far too abstract, as it may, it’s only because it summarises a book in a few hundred words. Beyond Climate Grief as a whole is challenging at times but warm and very human, as each of these points is brought to life through conversations with experts, everyday heroes and the author’s own family.

This is a timely book, as so many of us struggle to live well in the face of climate change. Newby’s solutions celebrate a kind of determined, willed, optimism as the best possible attitude to carry us onwards. As she says, “the only way to live a good and happy life under the weight of this fearsome knowledge is do what you can to create the future you choose.”

Further reading

Tyto wetlands

We stopped off at Ingham’s Tyto Wetlands for a couple of hours’ birdwatching on the way home from the Kennedy Track and I was surprised to find later that Green Path has never even mentioned them – surprised, even mildly shocked, because we’ve been visiting the park for longer than the blog has existed.

We will now make up for our neglect by posting a selection of photos from the last twelve years’ visits.

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Many Peaks trail revisited

I walked the Many Peaks trail again last weekend, almost exactly a year after my previous visit. This time, walking with friends, I didn’t stop so often to look at little wildlife, but we still took about five hours for the twelve kilometres or so. That seems, in fact, to be a reasonable minimum time for the route for anyone who wants to enjoy it.

The Wet is well over but there is still open water. The water birds, however, still have other options and are not in great numbers on the Common. That said, we did see Drongo, Magpie Geese, Egret, Peaceful Dove, Honeyeaters, Rainbow Bee-eater, hawk (probably Black Kite), Plovers, Scrub Turkey and other species.

The Tawny Coster is now so well established that it was one of the commonest butterflies but there were plenty of the usual Swamp Tigers, Blue Tigers, Crows (both Common and Brown) and others.

view of Many Peaks Range
Bald Rock from near Tegoora Rock

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Common names and Latin names

The science community tries very hard, as described in my post about Birdwing butterflies and their food plants, to make sure each species is uniquely identified by a single Latin name. So long as the Latin names are correct, however, we can have as many local vernacular names as we like without causing significant confusion.

One species, one Latin name, many common names

One species may have several common names, even in the same language in the same region, let alone different languages and different countries.

A smallish ground-feeding black-and-white bird, Grallina cyanoleuca, is a good local example, being known as a Magpie-lark, Pee-wee, Peewit or Mudlark. None of those names are wrong, and any doubts about the identity of the bird can be resolved by pointing to one or referring to the Latin name.

magpie-lark on lawn
Call me what you like – Magpie-Lark, Pee-wee, Peewit or Mudlark
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The Kennedy Track, Mission Beach

We joined Wildlife Queensland’s Townsville Branch recently to walk the Edmund Kennedy Track on one of their rare excursions out of the local area.

The occasion was a joint expedition with the Cassowary Coast branch to commemorate the anniversary of Kennedy’s landing in 1848, and it was combined with a visit to Ninney Rise and a very convivial dinner at the nearby Bingil Bay Cafe. (Yes, that’s a free plug. Anyone who makes a laksa as good as theirs deserves one.) The weekend will be written up on the branch blog in due course so I will focus on the Track.

View of Mission Beach
Looking North from the beginning of the track

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