We live in a relentless era. A steady feed of disconcerting climate news fuels the debate around finding a culprit, and public discourse is so focused on pinning the onus onto someone that the virtue of grace is dismissed altogether. But what would a graceful climate discussion look like at best, and do we need it?
Apocalyptic images are featured on every other news illustration. One barren planet is on fire, the next is flooded. One account after another reports a sombre story: we’re headed towards a canyon with an anvil on the gas pedal. The climate crisis evokes sadness, anger and fear in most of us, and the rest are in denial because they can’t cope with these feelings.
This loop of negative sentiment is easy to get stuck on. With the weight of the world on our shoulders, it can be hard to lift our heads up to envision a better future.
It’s true that we need to change right now. It’s also true that all change isn’t in our power anymore – parts of the climate battle have already been lost. Greta Thunberg is right in screaming “how dare you?” How dare we dismiss our planet’s future? How dare we keep advocating for polluting industries? How dare we make our daily selfish choices and justify them as creatively as we do?
We need the truth, no matter how hard it is to face. But to handle the truth, we need other feelings too – besides this titlewave of nausea.
Mercy isn’t very hot in society right now. Instead of being forgiving, we focus on judging each other; those that are close to us and our enemies, imaginary or real. Social media is the perfect platform for ruthlessness: hostile and judgmental commentary thrives, while clemency withers. It’s simply easy to assume the worst of people, companies and nations.
But could there be some room for leniency in the climate discussion? Or do we not need it at all?
The climate crisis is the biggest threat our species is yet to encounter. Being lenient wouldn’t mean burying the issue, it could in fact influence the opposite. The thing is, there’s no time to hide the problem anymore, so we need to change tone – because all communication is about tactics. No-one wanted birds to die off, forests to catch fire and cities to flood. The climate crisis isn’t what we asked for, it happened in spite of what we wanted. Most of us want to salvage what’s left to save.
That’s why a strict approach to the climate discussion comes off so unreasonable. No-one will solve the climate crisis alone. Not climate-wise people, nor individual nations or companies. Those who look to individuals for solutions are as far off as those who think that the solutions only exist on the system level. Instead of bickering about whose responsibility this is, shouldn’t we try to find grace in the climate discussion?
Grace is searching for goodness. It’s understanding our shortcomings and that we all fail sometimes, against our best intentions. Cold showers and biweekly vegetarian meals alone won’t save the planet, but neither will dismissing them as virtue signalling. Climate activists require firms to change abruptly – with good reason – but the changes companies make often go unnoticed. Grace would be to acknowledge, embrace and commend these actions; celebrate the solutions, instead of settling for them.
There’s one solution to the climate crisis: making things happen and communicating about it. We already know what we need to do. Now’s not the time to wait for regulations and legislation. Now’s the time to do your part without bickering. It’s not ruthless to say there’s no space for freeloaders – it’s just the truth.
Amidst the climate crisis we all have three options: lead the change, follow the leaders or get out of the way.
Communicating your climate endeavors is not virtue signalling when the actions are significant. Communicating your actions may even inspire others to join. It’s safe to say no higher power is coming to atone for our climate sins, so we need to do it ourselves and hope we don’t die in the scuffle.
In the long run it’s easier to defend than to resist: hate is a great force for setting things in motion, but it doesn’t stand the test of time. Alongside hate we need hope, and grace. These will help us shape a horizon that we can’t yet see.
It takes more effort to be gracious with yourself, others and the big institutions than it does to curl up in hatred and blame. However, the emotional leap from judgement to grace is worth taking. A gracious eye sees the accomplishments beside the flaws. A success every now and then might do us some good, seen as how everyone’s just surviving from one crisis to the next.