Grief and Hope in Bjerströms Sweden
This blogpost is the first of a series of pieces reflecting on the communication of climate change, drawing on Erika Bjerström’s book Klimatkrisens Sverige (2020) to examine and illustrate key aspects of communication.Blog post written by Amelia Mutter.
Blog post written by Amelia Mutter.
“We all have different sore spots when it comes to our relationship with nature” writes journalist Erika Bjerström in her recently released book Klimatkrisens Sverige – Så förändras vårt land från norr till söder (2020) (Climate Crisis’ Sweden – How our country is changing from north to south). Bjerström’s book offers a unique take on climate change by focusing on the changes, both already apparent and expected, that will plague Swedish nature and its different landscapes. Her point about sore spots plays a central role, as each chapter focuses on a different region highlighting the transformations that are already altering the various natural environments that nature-loving Swedes hold dear. By focusing on these sore spots, Klimatkrisens Sverige takes a particularly personal and emotional tone as Bjerström marries her discussions of research and practice with emotional descriptions of the loss she feels personally at the changing landscape.
In interviews, she sometimes calls this book her “mourning song” and is not shy about conveying her own grief in her writing. One of her personal sore spots is the loss of the mountain landscape in the far north. This loss becomes palpable in her description of this change, where she writes “I realize that I am crying over the loss of a landscape, chiseled by humans and nature under thousands of years, a landscape where reindeer trails run like thin blood veins through the land and there the mountain has been polished round by wind and snow” (p. 24). Bjerström’s description of the changes to this area emphasize the point that many of the impacts of climate change are irrevocable, underlying the grief for a lost landscape.
Personally, I found Bjerström’s book incredibly difficult to read. As a sustainability researcher, my coping mechanism is to distance my work (and as a consequence myself) from the frightening prospects for the future of our planet. As a result, Bjerström’s unabashed sorrow makes me somewhat uneasy and leaves me questioning: what is the point confronting her readers with this level of grief? What role do emotions like sorrow, nostalgia, and loss play in science journalism?
Bjerström is not the first author to make the connection between climate change and grief. Geographer Lesley Head wrote an entire book entitled Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene: Re-conceptualizing Human-nature relations (2016) on the subject. In it, Head explores grief as one of many negative emotions connected to climate change noting that grief and climate change are inextricably entwined, but that grief can manifest itself in different ways. While in some cases it is evident that actors who are emotionally engaged, actors that are in fact grieving, are more likely to make the necessary decisions to combat the climate crisis, in other cases grief can manifest as denial. The former point could be one interpretation of Bjerström’s intention in incorporating emotional rhetoric in Klimatkrisens Sverige. By appealing to their feelings, she hopes to convince her readers to change their behaviors even if this requires them to feel negative emotions.
Talking about the book, Bjerström explains that “it is not (her) job to put people in a good mood but rather… to share the science on what is happening”. And despite the emotional spin, the book is indeed fact-dense relating to a myriad of researchers from across the country. It also goes beyond science and delves into the realm of the political, questioning both local preparations and national policies to meet the climate crisis. This could be another motivation for evoking grief: convincing her readers to be better advocates for climate policy. Klimatkrisens Sverige calls for more and better climate policies – both in terms of adaptation and mitigation – and particularly those that support industrial initiatives to reduce emissions. Bjerström explains this appeal through her interpretation that “we in Sweden are rather self-satisfied right now and think that we have really good climate policies”. However, the book makes it clear that we are not yet doing enough to counteract the climate crisis. By relating to the remaining challenges she contests the idea that Sweden is already a frontrunner when it comes to environmentally sound policy.
Ultimately, however, Bjerström avoids leaving her readers too despondent and eventually turns to hope in the final chapter of Klimatkrisens Sverige. This section breaks with the tone of the rest of the book to instead highlight best practices and incorporate an imaginary where Sweden does ultimately lead the way towards a carbon neutral future. In this section, Bjerström does her utmost to counteract any fatalism her readers might feel, swaddling hope in a blanket of industrial advancement. A large part of this chapter is composed of an interview with Svante Axelsson, who Bjerström deems “one of Sweden’s most optimistic climate experts”. Here, Axelsson paints a picture of Sweden’s future where “we enjoy our fossil fuel freedom. We have increased our competitive edge. We have better technology. We have better air in our cities. Better welfare. We have a higher GDP” (p. 221). Here, hope consoles grief by imagining a future where we have secured our survival and can even thrive. This is perhaps essential for readers to believe that attempting action is even worthwhile. However, this future does not manage to regain what will be lost, namely the Swedish landscapes we know and love. In this manner our sore spots remain at risk, emphasizing the need to experience grief on the pathway to salvation.
Head, Lesley. 2016. Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene: Re-conceptualising human-nature relations. London: Routledge.
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