Scientists ‘must be allowed to cry’ about climate change and the destruction of nature

A coral 'rubblefield' in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, that has been severely damaged by illegal dynamite fishing (Image: Tim Gordon)

A coral ‘rubblefield’ in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, that has been severely damaged by illegal dynamite fishing (Image: Tim Gordon)

The destruction of the natural world is proving to be heartbreaking for many sensitive souls.

So now scientists have said that it’s totally OK to cry when faced with climate change and the other ravages wrought by humanity.

In a letter published in the journal Science, three leading researchers said it is ‘dangerously misguided’ to assume experts can be dispassionate observers.

They said facing up to the obliteration of nature provokes ‘strong grief responses’ and said bottling up emotions could have a negative effect on their well-being.

Tim Gordon, lead author of the letter and a marine biologist from the University of Exeter, said: ‘We’re documenting the destruction of the world’s most beautiful and valuable ecosystems, and it’s impossible to remain emotionally detached.

‘When you spend your life studying places like the Great Barrier Reef or the Arctic ice caps, and then watch them bleach into rubble fields or melt into the sea, it hits you really hard.

‘If we’re serious about finding any sort of future for our natural ecosystems, we need to avoid getting trapped in cycles of grief.

‘We need to allow ourselves to cry – and then see beyond our tears.’

Dead coral skeletons on Australia's Great Barrier Reef after the most severe mass bleaching ever recorded (Image: Tim Gordon)

Dead coral skeletons on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef pictured after the most severe mass bleaching incidents in history (Image: Tim Gordon)

The letter calls on universities to ‘support environmental scientists, allowing them to address their ecological grief professionally and emerge stronger from traumatic experiences to discover new insights about the natural world’.

Co-writer Professor Andy Radford, of the University of Bristol, added: ‘The emotional burden of this kind of research should not be underestimated.

‘Grief, when unaddressed, can cloud judgment, inhibit creativity and engender a sense that there is no way forward.’

The letter-writers fear scientists suppress their emotions whilst contemplating grim sights like a melting glacier or dying coral reef.

They want researchers to learn from the coping strategies employed by members of the military or emergency services.

Dr Steve Simpson of the University of Exeter added: ‘Instead of ignoring or suppressing our grief, environmental scientists should be acknowledging, accepting and working through it.

‘In doing so, we can use grief to strengthen our resolve and find ways to understand and protect ecosystems that still have a chance of survival in our rapidly changing world.’

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