Although humanity is now in a unique situation, our collective knowledge provides a lot of the tools we’ll be needing when faced with our greatest challenge so far, if we just use our perception, intuition and logic to find them. Psychology, for instance, has a lot to offer.
The Five Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced a hypothesis about the stages of grief she noticed many terminally ill had to face. The notion of these stages, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, has since them become very popular, and has been applied to facing different types of grief, for example when dealing with a substance abuse problem.
I now try to apply these stages to our situation: acknowledging the destructiveness of our commonly accepted ideology of growth, and its physical counterpart, namely our fossil fuel addiction.
- Denial – a strong feeling that our way of life can’t possibly be destructive to our surroundings, let alone being based on an addiction. Or if we accept the idea that it might perhaps cause some small problems, we still feel we have complete control over the situation and can solve all problems with ease. Examples: ‘This climate change thing is simply bullshit’, ‘Whatever we do is so small on this planet’s scale, it has absolutely no effect at all on the environment.’ ‘We’ll never run out of oil.’, ‘Scientists will surely find new technologies to solve all our problems’, and my personal favourite ‘This whole environmental crisis is just propaganda created by a conspiracy of our enemies, to gain profit or make us weaker compared to them.’
- Bargaining – This is the stage that we go through when we are trying to convince ourselves or each other that we are going to stop harming the environment in order to get something out of it or get ourselves out of trouble. Example: ‘I know flying is bad for the environment, but I really need my vacation. I’ll go just this once, and I’ll pay the voluntary tax and all. It can’t be that harmful, can it?’
- Anger – The anger stage relates to how we get upset because we have this addiction or are angry that we need to give up some of our luxury. Example: ‘Fuck this recycling shit, we did just fine before all this!’, ‘The hell I will give up my second car just because some hippies are telling I’m destroying the planet!’, ‘I didn’t build this society, what the hell did I do wrong to have to give up the stuff I worked for!’
- Depression – Sadness and hopelessness are important parts of the depression stage when dealing with a natural resource abuser. Most abusers experience this when they are going through the withdrawal stage quitting their addiction. It is important to communicate these feelings as a process of the healing. Examples: ‘This is the end of the world’, ‘We can’t possibly survive this’, ‘It’s all too late, we’ve destroyed this planet already’, ‘It would be better if humanity had never existed’
- Acceptance – With natural resource abusers admitting you have a problem is different than accepting you have a problem. When you admit you have a problem this is more likely to occur in the bargaining stage. Accepting that you have a problem is when you own that you have a problem and start the process to resolve the issue. Example: ‘We need a new model for a sustainable society, and we can do it if we just start right now!’
If you recognized some of your own reactions among these examples, I just want to say it’s nothing to be ashamed of; it just means you’re human. And just like Kübler-Ross stated in her original hypothesis: we are individuals, hence not every person goes through all the stages, or in this particular order. My empirical observations of my own reactions, as well as people I interact with, seem to show that these reactions are indeed common.
What stage are you on? Could consciousness of these stages perhaps help you complete them in a smoother and more conscious manner? I surely hope so!