Montreal

Meet the millennials grieving for the future of planet Earth

A group of 20 people, mostly made up of millennials, sit in a circle for a biweekly ecological grief circle: a space where they can talk about future of the planet.

Biweekly 'ecological grief circles' bring together Montrealers who are anxious about climate change

'I was really troubled by the fact that there were no forums to really discuss the impacts of climate change on our bodies and our minds,' says Anya Solovey, who organizes and co-facilitates ecological grief circles. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

On a quiet Monday night, 23-year-old Anya Solovey sets down four wooden mushrooms in the centre of a small room at The Yellow Door community collective in Montreal's Milton Park neighbourhood.

A group of 20 people, mostly made up of millennials, sit on the floor in a circle around the mushrooms and candles, sipping tea and talking in hushed tones.

They are here for a biweekly ecological grief circle: a space where they can talk about future of the planet, not in the scientific jargon of data sets and trends, but in the softer language of human reactions — stomach aches, headaches, anxieties, panic, despair and hope.

The mushrooms serve as talking pieces: whoever is holding one has the floor. 

Participants of the ecological grief circle gather around a bouquet of dried flowers, candles and wooden mushrooms. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

Solovey takes one and begins to speak.

"Let's start with a weather report. How have you been feeling the past two months?" Solovey asks, beginning the session with a broad question — a check-in to see how everyone is feeling.  

'I have to accept the uncertainty'

Solovey, who organizes these meetings, has had an interest in the environment since she was a teenager.

Now in her last year of environmental studies at McGill University, Solovey works in neighbourhood gardens around Montreal, teaching kids how to connect with the soil, the air, and the water.

But her proximity to nature, and to children who are learning about ecosystems, means that she is often emotionally spent, exhausted at the bleak prospects scientists have for the future.  

"Every year, I'm pummeled with new data. Every single figure, it's been a step back." Solovey told CBC.

"As a young person, I can't plan for the future. I have to accept the uncertainty and precariousness."

After a bout of depression last January, she decided to see if others shared these feelings of anxiety and helplessness about climate change.

The grief circle, she thought, could also become a place where like-minded people can share tools on how to emotionally process the environmental changes she was seeing through her studies and through her work in the gardens. 

She was not expecting the response she got: people began to show up in the dozens, even organizing offshoot groups.

'The doom-and-gloom generation'

Christian Favreau, 24, has been to every ecological grief circle since it started in January.

Until recently, he says he always had a clear idea of what his life would look like: he would work towards a PhD, become a professor and have two children — maybe even a dog.

"I've wanted kids all my life," Favreau told CBC. "My mother famously says that I'm probably her only hope for grandchildren."

Christian Favreau is one of the participants of the biweekly ecological grief circle. He says he quit his PhD application and moved to Montreal because he wanted to work on making the environment more inhabitable for his future children. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

Last summer, he finished his master's degree in English literature at University College London and began his PhD applications.

But all his best laid plans came to an abrupt halt when he read a gloomy report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last October, which said that preventing a half-degree rise in world temperatures in the next 12 years could mean life or death for the planet's ecosystems.

The report shook Favreau to his core.

"That report came out … and there was this shift."

Favreau gave up his PhD application, moved back to Montreal, and began to work part-time for Équiterre, a Quebec-based environmental NGO. He also began reconsidering whether having children was the right thing to do. 

We are the doom-and-gloom generation because we understand what's going on.- Christian Favreau, attends ecological grief circles

He struggled to find people eager to talk about the bleak state of the environment. 

"I would often bum people out for bringing it up," Favreau said.

"I think most people know we're pretty screwed. And that's what makes everyone uncomfortable. It's not this … epic story where humans save themselves."

Favreau's feeling of hopelessness, he says, is grounded in clear-eyed view of the current state of the world. 

"So much has taught me that we don't have the institutions in place for this," he said. "We are the doom-and-gloom generation because we understand what's going on."

At least in the ecological grief circle, Favreau says, others are also on the same page as he is.

"It's nice to just have that acknowledgment from other people that they're feeling this too and that it's a
conversation starter rather than a stopper." 

Favreau says he is still unsure about having kids. But one thing he does feel certain about for now is his mission.

"I want to feel like I'm creating a better world for the potential children I'm having."

Solovey, for her part, says she's worried for the kids she works with in her gardens.

"I'm really scared for them. I feel like they're going to be dealing with a lot of challenges," she said.

 "I'm struggling with figuring out ways of sharing the news with them in a way that's not devastating — in a way that's empowering … but our future really lies in their hands."

About the Author

Jennifer Yoon is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

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