Choosing Life in the Face of Climate Crisis

Jul 2, 2024 4:14:00 PM / by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann


A few years ago, I was editing an issue for Geez magazine on climate justice. It was one of those watershed moments for me, when my anxiety and grief were at their height. I was walking around with a toddler on my hip and a chatty kindergartener, but all I could feel were the constant bricks on my chest. My doomsday scrolling had left me numb.

I was working on an interview for the issue with Joanna Macy over the phone. Joanna Macy is an environmental activist and a scholar of Buddhism, systems theory, and deep ecology.

I wasn’t asking the questions but was tucked in the next room with headphones recording the conversation. And it was a good thing I didn’t have to do the talking, because as her ninety-year-old voice traveled through the airways, I began to cry. “Of course you’re scared!” she said. “Look those fears straight in the eye. Don’t try to avoid them. Because something momentous is happening, not only for our climate, but to the whole industrial growth society of corporate capitalism. . . . But I believe this just had to come. Because it’s devouring our earth . . . and my own feeling is, the sooner the better. Every extracted mine, every new smokestack, every new factory—even if they’re renewables—all of them are mining earth, exhausting earth, and dimming our hopes.”

Macy had this incredible gift of being so clear about the devastation and immediate danger we were in, while also radiating hope and joy.

“It’s going to take a big toll because our natural survival skills have been weakened. But they’re not gone, and we are plugged into a powerful and resourceful living planet. . . . There is a lot we have to relinquish, but it’s fantastic! So take a deep breath and don’t close down.”

I heard the plea in her voice. I knew she was right. It is so easy to close down. I feel that desire in myself and I see it in those I love. The bricks on my chest want to force me under the covers. Or other days, I want to look away and pretend I can go on living as if this isn’t happening.

“I personally feel incredibly grateful to be alive in this moment, and to have lived this long, that I can take part in this immense possibility of transformation of our life on earth from a killing society to a radiant renewing society.”

I felt her words trickle through my whole body. That is the gratitude I want to live with. That is the imagination I want to cultivate. Are we, in fact, lucky to be alive right now? Do we stand at a moment that needs community and creativity and radical change? Can our lives be part of the magic that has to happen? Perhaps we face a wild and wonderful adventure as we continue to choose all sorts of forms of life in the midst of death?

I felt breath move through my chest, releasing just a bit of the weight that lived there. Yes, that is the moment where we stand. We don’t have another choice. No other choice but to lean into loving our neighbors and the watersheds that nurture us and welcome whatever is to come.

Then we broached with Macy this predicament that so many young folks are carrying about whether to have kids in this moment.

She paused for a minute and then spoke, “I’m grateful for those who choose mindfully, with clear understanding, to bear children into this time. Because we’re going to need those newcomers coming in through the passage of collapsing society, carrying the grief, and moving forward into a life-sustaining culture that can be born of this.”

More tears fell from my eyes. I’ve carried those words with me for the last three years, and each day I find them to be more true. My kids, as young as they are, don’t carry the same baggage that I do. The cultural addictions to capitalism, individualism, and white supremacy don’t look the same for their lives. Isaac and Cedar both feel the earth’s pain and want to act. They feel their bodies as part of the ecosystem. They easily remember the names of plants and toads and mushrooms. They already know so much I did not.

I give thanks every day for them. I am grateful to have taken the risks, to have walked toward our fears, and to have expanded our community.


As I write, I am reminded of words from writer and cultural organizer in Detroit Owólabi Aboyade. When Geez printed a piece about raising kids in a troubled world that asked these very questions, he pushed back hard.

Owólabi wrote, “For many who grew up in conditions of genocide, raising the next generation can be a sort of duty. The arguments against ‘overpopulation’ and the (white) doubts of ‘raising kids in a troubled world’ never meant much to me. My folks made it through invasion, capture, enslavement, fascism and did their damnedest to prepare the next generation to continue the family energy, and I am proud to do the same.”

He is not the first to call bullshit on our white naivete. It is not a new thing to worry about your children’s survival, but perhaps it is newer to many of us white folks. This is not the first crisis. This is not the first generation to face death. Through generations, folks have found it within them to choose life.


And there are infinite ways of choosing life in the face of death. It doesn’t have to be kids. We all find the life that calls to our bones. Perhaps we nourish life by putting pen to paper or hands in the dirt. Perhaps we help those who are dying to walk with joy, or a classroom of kids to sing a little louder, or by feeding the birds. Perhaps we have claimed the title of aunt, uncle, godparent, neighbor, or friend to a beloved child. All of it is necessary.

Having kids has been one way for me to pour out my love in celebration of life. It has not made the grief lighter . . . perhaps it has deepened it. But it has also expanded my hope, my joy, my longings, and my insistence on what is possible in this moment. Community and imagination are powerful forces and, gosh, do these kids know how to call upon it. Don’t look away from death, but in its midst, choose life. Choose life. Choose life.


This is an excerpt from This Sweet Earth chapter 2: Choosing Life in the Face of Death.

Topics: Excerpt

Lydia Wylie-Kellermann

Written by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann

Lydia Wylie-Kellermann is a writer, editor, activist, and mother. She is director of Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center and the editor of The Sandbox Revolution: Raising Kids for a Just World. Lydia's writing has appeared in Geez magazine, Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Geez Magazine, and various Catholic Worker papers, and she is a contributor to multiple books. She lives with her partner and two boys in Bangor, Pennsylvania.

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