Remembering Linda Zhang

In July 2020, in the middle of the Covid pandemic, a young high school graduate in my town took her life because of climate despair. Linda Zhang was her name, I never met her but I wish I had. In reading about her and speaking with her parents, it became crystal clear to me that Linda knew a lot of the information that I know. The burden of the science was too much for her to bear. On the day of her death, she sent an open letter to the NY Times.

“despite what we all know, the world still considers environmentalism to be something noble, something additional, rather than something necessary”. She felt lonely not having anyone understanding her for ”being the only one who sees the world for what it really is: a train wreck waiting to happen” if there were no drastic changes in how we live. Yet “it is all of us, slack-jawed at our screens, choosing what is easy over what is right.” She no longer wanted to be “reciting poetry even as the world is burning”.

Linda’s parents are setting up a foundation in her legacy, The Linda J. Zhang Memorial Fund for the Environment. You can donate by clicking here.

I’ve been grappling with environmental despair for many years. Action has been my antidote to environmental anguish for some time. I’ve been an Orangutan at PepsiCo headquarters to bring attention to their use of climate destroying palm oil, I’ve participated in “Radical Lunch” actions in lobbies of climate killing banks like JPMorgan Chase, I’ve even been arrested while working to get NYC to declare a climate emergency.

This year, Linda will be my inspiration to work even harder on behalf of our biosphere. I will donate a percentage of my earnings to Linda’s foundation and I will strive to educate others on the intersection of climate and grief. The information that caused Linda such deep concern is not going away anytime soon. As a matter of fact, it is likely to get worse until we all take serious action.

Here are five resources to help you with this journey.

Chappaqua Acts for The Environment is a Facebook group that I and others have co-created. I curate content there designed to educate others on our environmental predicaments. You don’t have to live near Chappaqua to benefit from this information.

Krista Hiser, PhD is a college professor focusing on climate communication. Krista is motivated by a quote from David Orr who said, “students deserve an education relevant to the future they will inherit.” Her blog on Medium is focused on teaching climate in higher education.

Brit Wray, PhD is currently writing a book about eco-anxiety and climate grief. Her newsletter, Gen Dread is another gem that I highly recommend.

Joanna Macy is a wise elder, eco-buddhist scholar and creator of The Work that Reconnects.

Jess Serrante is a fellow activist and friend who studied at length with Joanna Macy. Her group, Radical Support Collective, is doing good work in the world. Jess’s mission as a coach is to support climate leaders to be nourished by their life and work rather than burning out and to do work that truly lights them up.

Courageous climate conversations must include both anxiety, which is a result of fear, and dealing with grief, which comes from love.

Without acknowledging these elephants in the room, we won’t get to where we need to go.

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