Grief and Vulnerability as Humanistic and Anthropocene Virtues

Lisa Sideris
Indiana University

According to a much-publicized “2050 climate scenario,” the collapse of human civilization will be irreversibly underway by mid-century. Accordingly, today’s climate activists often define their mission in contrast to exhortations to “save the Earth” that galvanized previous generations of environmentalists, insisting that it is not the (relatively invulnerable and deathless) Earth that is at risk but rather human civilization. As such, climate humanism, as I call it, aims to create an inspiring “big tent” movement that requires no robust allegiance to “environmentalism.” Yet climate humanism foregrounds the human project in ways that render our massive destruction of nonhuman life harder to discern, much less grieve. My paper counters this mode of humanism by reclaiming categories of the “Earth” and the humanities—both defined in particular ways–as essential to our response. In developing this argument, I turn to the expressions of faith, grief, vulnerability, and the meditations on death and dying, that characterize movements like Extinction Rebellion and the grief-soaked climate reporting of Dahr Jamail.