This summer I walked 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from Dunsmuir California (near Mount Shasta) to the Canadian border. It was the completion of a goal I set decades ago when I walked the Washington portion of the PCT the summer after my sophomore year in high school. In 2018, I walked 1500 miles from Dunsmuir to the Mexican border, so I’ve now walked all of the trail except for three sections blocked by wildfire.
When I reached White Pass in August, my wife Sharon picked me up and took me to the Sahale Learning Center in Tahuya, Washington to spend a week at the Human Relations Laboratory (HRL) for some personal development.
Why did I take a week off from the trail to attend HRL? I had attended one in 2019, and it had a powerful impact on how I see myself and how I relate to others.
I went once again because I wanted more experience with people who can speak from their feelings and who know how to create a place that is emotionally safe enough for others to learn to do the same.
HRL participants set our own goal for the lab, meet in plenary sessions (with drumming, singing, and movement in addition to teaching), meet in small groups led by experienced leaders who use questions to help us identify experiments that inform what really going on inside and dive deeply into our psyche, and spend free time developing our creativity or simply making friends. A soak in the hot tub and an evening of music, drinking, and creative expression in an informal speakeasy called The Swamp are some of my faves.
This was the fifty-second annual HRL. While the early participants are now elders (or dead), the lab this year was notable for the infusion of a new generation of participants with a powerful yearning for both connection and personal healing.
Both Sharon and I were a bit disappointed that I was unable to tap into my feelings at the Human Relations Lab. I was envious of those who wailed in their group or spoke from their hearts in the plenary sessions. At the closing of Lab, I said I would keep attending until I learned how to speak from my heart.
I don’t know what the wailing was about, but during plenary, some expressed climate grief with sobs.
So, I talked with two of the young participants, Sydney and Kelen. They told me that in college they had learned about climate impacts, but not climate solutions.
I shared the good news that climate solutions are available, but climate policies are needed to accelerate adoption of the solutions. I then explained the carbon fee and dividend and gave them my Citizens Climate Lobby business card. They were encouraged by this good news.
I thought about them several days later as I ascended the trail in the mist from camp at Sheep Lake to Sourdough Gap.
From my career as a climate scientist and my years volunteering as an advocate for action on climate change, I was well aware of estimates of the impacts of climate change: GDP reduced by 37% by 2100, social cost of carbon of up to $3000 per ton of CO2 emitted, hundreds of millions of climate refugees. From a cost/benefit perspective, the decision to prevent climate change rather than simply adapt is obvious. But the world is still struggling to reach that decision.
For the first time in my life, I felt climate grief in my gut. Sydney and Kelen are in the first generation that will feel the consequences of our failure to adopt an aggressive climate policy.
Their generation’s climate grief is so strong that four in ten are hesitant to have children, and six in ten are very or extremely worried about climate change.
So, as I walked and recalled their fear for their future, I felt both grief and love for them. Compassion welled up in my body. I felt sadness in my heart for their loss. Their lives will be much more difficult than mine.
Those feelings intensified and expanded to include others — family and friends — until I reached Sourdough Gap. I looked down on the verdant meadows and forest below, and said to myself, “I’m trying to save this for these people I love.”
To capture the intensity of these feelings, I recorded a heartfelt video (https://photos.app.goo.gl/cfjkvMfnjZgHD77z6) of myself expressing my feelings at that time. As I walked beyond Sourdough Gap, I treasured the feelings in my body, and vowed to use this epiphany to connect my heart with people on climate change.
If you’d like to read more about my PCT trip, I invite you to check it out at steveghan.wordpress.com.
Steve Ghan is a lifelong backpacker and advocate for action on climate change. https://steveghan.wordpress.com/
Main image: Steve Ghan.