In my early twenties, I picked up a short book by American novelist William Styron while in the queue at Waterstones. I bought it, tragically, because the cover was nice.

The book, titled ‘Depression’, was a lengthy essay recounting the author’s worst episodes in his long struggle with the mental health condition.

I’d not read anything by Mr Styron before, and I haven’t since, but there was something very compelling about that little book.

At the time I was still very much under the thumb of my own depression and anxiety. Growing up in the golden age of emo, I was acquainted with floppy-fringed boys in terrible jeans singing about how sad they were, but less so with the ramblings of elderly American novelists on the same topic.

At one point in the book, Styron says: “In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent.

“The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come- not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute.

“If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow.

“One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.”

Needless to say, the book is a heavy read. Revisiting it now, I still think it’s a striking and accurate representation of a condition that is often incredibly difficult to put into words. But what brought this book to mind recently was not, in fact, depression – at least not directly.

What actually reminded me of Styron’s essay was… a tweet.

It was written by somebody called Lewis Bassett, who was sharing a BBC article about the unprecedented wildfires currently devastating the southwestern coast of Turkey.

The tweet said: “As a 20 year old active in climate politics, this is basically how I imagined the world would be in my 30s.

“Still hard to accept this is actually happening though.”

I empathise.

The term “climate grief” has been around for a number of years, and definitions vary, but it can be summarised as a feeling of great loss in response to the current and expected destruction of landscapes, wildlife and people due to climate change.

One of the first observed instances of climate grief was in scientists studying the 2016 mass death of coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which left two-thirds of the reef bleached and the species composition of its marine life permanently changed. The event is thought to have been triggered by rising water temperatures.

I’ll admit, when I first came across climate grief I thought the term sounded slightly twee and over the top, something that the “plastic bag dance” strand of Extinction Rebellion might talk about.

But over time, “grief” has come to feel like an increasingly appropriate description.

During the past year, a sense of prickling dread has accompanied any watching of the news. If we cast our minds back over the various non-pandemic stories of 2020-2021, we find wave after wave of extraordinarily destructive weather events.

Last year kicked off with record-breaking Australian wildfires that destroyed roughly 11million hectares of land (more than five times the size of Wales). Thirty-four people died, while nearly three billion animals were either killed or displaced by the fires.

In February, Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis left communities in Wales and England underwater. At the time, Natural Resources Wales estimated around 800 homes and businesses in Rhondda Cynon Taff alone had been flooded, with many residents having to be rescued from the upper floors of their homes.

Three people in Wales died, and a further four in England. Records were again broken; the rivers Taff and Usk were at their highest levels for decades, and some areas of the UK experienced an entire month’s worth of rainfall in a single day.

May to November saw an Atlantic hurricane season that, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, produced the most tropical storms on record, and the second most hurricanes on record. Once again homes and lives were left in ruin.

November also saw the release of United Nations data suggesting around 1.5 billion people worldwide were suffering severe water scarcity or drought as a result of climate breakdown, rising demand and poor land management.

The volume of fresh water available per person, they said, had dropped by more than a fifth in twenty years. Other data demonstrated that 70 per cent of the world’s farmland was owned by just 1 per cent of farms, mostly owned or controlled by big retailers and investment funds; researchers warned their intensive agricultural practices would continue to increase poverty, migration and the risk of… pandemics.

There is the matter of the Covid pandemic. While debate continues on the precise events leading up to the spread of the virus, what has been undisputed for some time is that the climate crisis will lead to increased disease spread.

Deforestation, intensive farming, rising water temperatures and rainfall can all contribute to the spread of infectious diseases and the transfer of viruses from animals to humans. As the housing crisis intensifies here and across the world, with more people forced to share increasingly smaller spaces, pandemics will become more difficult to contain.

I’ve not named all of the terrible ecological catastrophes that have happened since January 2020, because there are just too many.

Thinking about how quickly things seem to be spiralling, about the profound human and animal suffering behind each headline, and the repulsive indifference shown by those with the most power to stop it - hello to Branson, Bezos and their weird little trips to space – all put a stone in my stomach.

Honestly? It has for a while. Grief, I think, is what I feel. For what’s happened, and what’s to come. What William Styron wrote about depression, about pain made worse by its accompanying hopelessness, feels startlingly relevant.

It’s important to say that the climate crisis isn’t inevitable. Mitigating its effects will take enormous changes to the ways we travel, trade and farm, yet these same changes have the potential to greatly improve our currently eroding quality of life. Better public transport, energy efficient homes, rewilding and a democratised economy are all key to both problems.

Achieving these goals will, by necessity, require upsetting the private sector. When the planet is burning, businesses cannot, and should not, expect to grow exponentially. The profit motive cannot have any part in the provision of food, shelter and health. The “usual” way of doing things has to go, because these are not normal times.

Am I confident that the current Welsh Government accepts this? No. Am I confident that the UK Government accepts this? Absolutely not.

But the continued and growing campaign for a Green New Deal gives me hope. Even Extinction Rebellion, for all its plastic bag dancing madness, gives me hope. People anywhere demanding better, and caring enough to invest their time and energy in trying to improve the world, gives me hope.

Otherwise I’m back to Mr Styron and his stubborn bed of nails – and as much as I like that book, I’d rather not live in it.

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