Climate Repair: Healing Through Trauma

Part 3 in the series: Toward a Somatic Understanding of Climate Change, Trauma, and Transformative Healing

Em Wright
20 min readJun 7, 2021


Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Note: This is the final piece in a series. Catch up with Part 1 and Part 2.

What do you yearn for? What’s getting in the way?

These two simple questions have opened pathways within me to move, inch, acrobat closer toward whole-self healing. They’ve helped me access more aliveness in my body, expand into my full width, and take up space after decades of shape-shifting to give others more room. (Thank you to the skillful generative somatics practitioners who have been supporting me on this journey.)

What is so powerful about these questions is their ability to break through the hardened superficial crust made up of everyday suffering. They go deeper to engage the expansive fleshy insides of wisdom, truth, and history where trauma and intuitive healing live. These questions help reframe “me” problems to “we” problems. They ask us to keep digging to get to the source. Often, what we find are old woundings from childhood or ancestors’ lives that still need tending.

Amidst all the chaos of the climate crisis, many of us haven’t asked ourselves these questions. We’ve lingered on the surface, in the superficial layers. We’ve focused on the problem, or what we think is the problem: carbon emissions and point-source polluters (oil and gas production, transportation, agriculture, etc.). That’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s not the whole story.

The very framing of climate change as a problem based solely on the carbon balance (the quantity of carbon entering versus exiting the atmosphere) is the problem. We are treating the symptom and not the dis-ease. When there is a deep physical wound in the body, the doctor doesn’t stitch a suture on top and hope the bleeding will stop. They go to the source — peel back the layers, flush out the dirt, and treat the core wound. Carbon mitigation stops the bleeding. Adaptation teaches us how to live with long-term impacts. Neither of these heal the wound.

When we ask these two questions within the context of climate change, which many climate justice organizations are already doing, we find a new orientation toward a longing for dignity, safety, wholeness, justice, belonging, and liberation. And we uncover the values, myths, and worldviews that are getting in the way; specifically, patriarchal supremacy of humans over nature that bleeds into our relationships with each other and with ourselves.

This is the type of fundamental reframe needed for addressing the climate crisis. It deepens and complicates the story of climate change as a symptom of trauma and rupture. It opens up possibilities for integrated pathways toward planetary healing and collective wellbeing.

So if we know what’s getting in the way of our pursuit of justice and liberation, what are we to do about it?

We repair.

Climate repair is about healing our relationships to each other, to the planet and other beings we share it with, and most centrally, healing our relationship to ourselves — our inner connection to something greater. This is the triad of collective wellbeing. Through healing, we remember and restore worldviews, values, and stories that pre-date those of supremacy, that affirm our wholeness and multitudes, and reinscribe our need to live in reciprocity and love.

Here’s more of what I mean by climate repair.

Climate repair understands climate change as a systemic stress response from trauma.

As such, healing historical, intergenerational, racialized, and other forms of collective trauma is necessary to address climate change. Climate repair is a network of politicized healing pathways toward a resilient, sustainable, regenerative, resourceful, reciprocal, well, and liberated future. It is by definition trauma-informed and healing-centered.

Climate repair is an iterative process and a practice.

It is practiced through re-embodiment — literally coming back into our bodies and senses. It involves working at many scales at once — the self, household, community, workplace, institution, society, and landscape; the rhizome, plant, forest, ecosystem, and watershed. It needs space — lots of space — for naming harm, apologizing, witnessing, grieving, rebuilding trust, and healing.

Climate repair is not prescribed.

It is something each of us must navigate in our own way. We must develop a personal commitment to a collective vision of a wildly different future anchored in shared values. We must acquire a felt-sense, embodied knowing of what that vision feels like within the contours of our bodies. We must see ourselves in that future, breathe that air, feel the heart pulsing when we look around and know that we belong in our whole self and we are part of the future we created together. We must discern our own personal practice that will anchor us in this vision and in our interconnection with all other beings.

Climate repair is a way of being.

It is not a state to be reached or a goal to be achieved. A friend recently advised, “You can’t do your way into being.” We practice the values and vision we yearn for in our daily lives. In the way we get ready for our day and how we greet the person driving the city bus. It’s about the way we hold our business meetings and how we hold ourselves when a boundary is crossed. It’s a practice of relating to the land we live on, the nourishment we put in our bodies, and the community of people and plants and other species we live among — past, present, and future. It is what Steffi Bednarek calls a “re-ensouling” of culture and lifeways [1].

Climate repair demands accountability.

Without acknowledgement and accountability, not only will the wound remain, but it may fester…If the opposite of denial is truth, then truth is the predicate for a society of inclusion and belonging. — Stephen Menendian [2]

Accountability is not simply about oil companies apologizing for commodifying environmental destruction or the U.S. and other nation-states apologizing for colonization. Climate repair engages all four elements of accountability that Mia Mingus puts forth: self-reflection, apology, repair, and behavior change — and these must happen at personal, community, and collective scales [3]. It includes transformative justice processes that center those who continue to experience the most harm from the source of the crisis (the dominant-patriarchal value system): the Earth, other beings, and BIPOC communities. It involves a commitment to climate abolitionism, to engage in accountability toward liberation, not through punishment and replication of violence. It includes abolitionist climate justice, which Malini Ranganathan and Eve Bratman argue centers (1) “historical racisms, (2) intersectional drivers of trauma experienced and understood by residents beyond those narrowly associated with climate, and (3) an ethics of care and healing practiced by those deemed most at risk to climate change” [4].

Climate repair is re(-)membering: recalling and bringing together again.

‘Remember’ is a particular type of word. That means it’s part of my body. What happens when I remember is that whatever else I’m remembering, what I’m really remembering is that nothing is separate from me. — Alexis Pauline Gumbs [5]

While we address the urgent need to end emissions now, we must not let the urgency of the present and the “dominant culture of forgetting” distract us from the essential project of reckoning with the past — including accountability — and retrieving what we (or many of us) have lost [5]. The answers to how we build the world we need to coexist are already living and breathing within and among us. They include the lessons, stories, technologies, and visions of our ancestors for how to live in balance with Earth and kin. Indigenous communities have kept their wisdom lineages alive despite the tsunami of erasure from colonization and settler colonialism. Technologies of Blackness have thrived despite the violence slavery and agonizingly insidious nature of racialized capitalism. White folks and others participating in dominant White and Western societies have to do the work of accessing and re-collecting information from their distant ancestors through research, storytelling, and embodied listening. Pairing these retained and recovered knowledges with creativity and innovation from our present selves and future generations is the alchemy of transformation.

At this point, you might be thinking: this sounds great, but what does it actually look like? There are many pathways toward repair. Here are a handful that I believe we must follow.


I feel, therefore I can be free. — Audre Lorde

To re-embody is to soften so we feel more. It is to strip away and set down all the things that cause our bodies to contract, reducing access to sensations and restricting the flow of energy, creativity, and wisdom. Re-embodiment helps us notice when we’re sluggish and when we’re vibrating with aliveness. It dislodges trauma locked away in parts of our bodies, allowing it to loosen, breathe, and tenderize. It creates more choices. It allows us to feel what we yearn for in our tissues and practice making decisions that inscribe that feeling as cellular memory.

Re-embodiment is re-membering that we are made of the same elements as the sea and the stars. When we are embodied, we celebrate our intuition as proof and practice of being part of the natural world. To re-embody is to embrace our multitudes — both the many parts of our passions and personalities, and the ecosystems within us where millions of microbes collaborate and coexist to make us whole. Re-embodiment is an act of acknowledging that the boundaries of our bodies, where skin meets air, is more permeable than we like to think. When we walk through the forest, we breathe in the trees and fungi and soil and they breathe in us. We are members in the constant exchange of life on Earth; to re-embody is to re-activate our membership.

The path toward re-embodiment is clear. It is intuitive and available in every moment. All we have to do is choose it again, and again, and again. Embodiment, mindfulness, and spirituality traditions worldwide teach the path back into consciousness embodiment. These alongside the rapidly expanding field of somatics and ancillary fields offer boundless resources grounded in theory and praxis that are plentiful and diverse enough for everyone to find the container that works for them in a culturally appropriate and not appropriative manner. The direction is what matters; the specific route does not.

Yet the path toward re-embodiment is not easy considering the conditions in which we have lost connection to our bodies (which you can read more about in my posts here and here), including workplaces that expect us to leave emotions at the door and refill our dried-out energy wells with the sludge of caffeine and fancy “wellness” perks. Returning to our bodies requires bringing into sharp focus the amount of time we spend being overstimulated in our days, existing in a “virtual reality” outside the present-tense moment (as Tara Brach calls it), compared to how often we are sensualized, which Sebene Selassie describes as bringing our full awareness to whatever we are doing.

Grief, shame, and trauma can all become unleashed within us once we start to feel again. It can be scary and uncomfortable. It’s important to acknowledge these strategies have helped us survive in an extremely complex, constantly activating, and harmful world. The task is to stay with it, to allow the emotions to move through us, and find each other on the other side. Steffi Bednarek writes:

“Grief is the primary way in which the heart softens. It eases the hardened places within us and helps us to remember what we have sacrificed. Grief is suffused with life force and has a distinctively subversive quality… If we allow the grief underneath our numbness to touch us, we can bring our exiled humanity back home and become more intimate with the state of the world. I see this act of reclamation as a form of soul rebellion.” [1]

Self-work // self-healing

Self-work // self-healing involves reflection, healing, and reconnecting to our whole selves. It requires upturning the table of all the “shoulds” and expectations that have kept you in your appropriate place to keep the dinner party civil. It’s about pleasure activism, expansive joy, rest, radical love, and unapologetic embodiment. It’s a never-ending journey of questioning and edge-finding and holding your inner child in your own two hands and telling them that you’ll never abandon yourself again. It’s about getting to know your own patterning/conditioning and thanking it for protecting you through all the traumas. It’s seeing that patterning you thought you had “healed” show up again in moments of crisis and not wrangling that safety strategy to the ground, but setting it down because you’ve practiced for these moments and you’re ready to choose another option.

To be clear, self-work // self-healing is not commodified ‘self-care’, water steeped with a couple rose petals and poured into a bottle to sell for $29.99 as “Love Yourself Spritz.” Nor is this a call for bypassing. We cannot simply turn inward, address our childhood traumas, and expect for things to be ok without bringing that work into the world. Individual healing must be paired with collective healing and systemic repair.

Self-work is also not about shame or punishment. As Andréa Ranae wrote poingently in a recent newsletter:

“Acknowledging our participation and responsibility does not necessitate that we shame or punish ourselves and others. Actually, our acknowledgment opens up an opportunity for us to plant seeds for new ways of being with each other and cultivates a more just and peaceful future for us all.”

The personal is political, as so many feminists and activists remind us. Self-work is not de-contextualized. It is deeply contextualized. It is not about retreating, but re-engaging. It’s not an invitation to check out, but to check in. Self-work is about building capacity to be imperfect and gaining skillfulness to hold ourselves accountable when we mess up. It demands that we dismantle the (internalized) supremacy culture that naturally grows into its own inner beast when living in our society. It’s a lifelong journey. It’s generative. It’s sexy. It’s queer. It’s ugly. It’s the beautiful sack of stardust of being human.

The truth of healing is that we hold the potential within us. All that we need we contain. And yet, we need the right container. We need supportive conditions that allow the healing to happen without constantly draining us to empty. We need the space to be able to pause. We need public and private investments in money and time to support these spaces. We need to make healing more possible for more people.

One step in that direction is inviting our whole selves into public and work spaces. Too often we’re expected to leave parts of ourselves out of these spaces, including needs, boundaries, and desires. We know that this separation is part of why things aren’t working. We need to re-imagine what these spaces look like to be more open, inclusive, and to grant full permission to be authentically ourselves when we’re with others and at work. (Unapologetic self-promotion: this is part of my work at We Become.)

Container-building also means creating systems of care. Mental, emotional, and spiritual health support are an important part of self-reflection and healing, but are well beyond the means and capacity for many people, especially BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities who have been historically and systemically excluded from access to resources. Where systems have failed them, these communities have forged intricate and innovative mutual care networks. Policies, funding, and programs need to learn from these communities, reduce barriers to access, and engineer structures built on the premise that care and healing are human rights and integral to systems change.

Collective healing

We’ve experienced individual and collective trauma from centuries of separation from and destruction of Earth, our home, and the increasingly acute and present impacts of climate change. With collective trauma, we need collective healing. As much as we need to do self-work, we also need to cultivate a “much larger capacity to process painful experiences whilst holding the interconnected, non-linear complexity of life” [6]. We need to come together to grieve, to rage, to weep. We need to be heard and witnessed; we need to see and witness others. We need to activate the alchemy that is only possible in community and generate the expansive and unquantifiable healing that surpasses its source.

Collective grieving in particular has what some ecological psychologists call ‘we-creating’ capacities, “exposing our known, unknown and unacknowledged connections to others, and allowing for opportunities to reach across differences to connect with others” [7]. Grieving is an act of rebellion in which we “invite each other into heartbreak…and help each other to find out what lies on the other side” [1].

Partly why coming together in person or virtually is so effective in opening and healing us is that it enables our animal bodies to co-regulate — the automatic way our nervous systems communicate with each other [8]. It’s the way infants who are crying are able to come to a state of calm when their caregiver holds them close to their chest. There is resonance between our nervous systems that can downregulate our urgent and scarcity-driven energies toward balance and restoration.

So we need space, held skillfully, with care and with each other. We’ve just begun to more openly create space for acknowledging climate grief and the range of mental and emotional health impacts and experiences of climate change. Let’s do more.

Collective healing must involve reckoning with some of the deepest fractures amongst us from colonization and systemic oppression, racialized capitalism and settler colonialism. We must engage with and contribute to the racial justice infrastructure that is under ongoing construction, including centering BIPOC communities in healing spaces. Climate repair acknowledges that there is work at the individual scale (see self-work above) and in community, both in affinity groups of shared identities and in mixed groups. Important to this process is to affirm every body’s particular response to climate stress and threat without invoking shame — a tool of oppression — and still situate our experiences within the politicized social field.

Collective healing widens the circle of concern beyond people to land and other beings. Rituals and wisdom traditions worldwide anchor us in mutuality. We must create space for Indigenous communities to practice their lifeways and spirituality on their traditional lands as a central pillar of repair. For those of us who are not Indigenous, we must reclaim the relationships to land in our lineages, even if we must go far back to re-member, or define a new relationship altogether based on our intuitive inclination (and not appropriation of others’ cultural practices). Whatever pathways we take, we must fundamentally shift the dominant values and worldviews underpinning our global systems from supremacy to equality, from extraction to reciprocity with the fellow beings who share this Earth and the ecosystems within which we co-exist.

Reparations, abolitionism, and new economies

Reparations are a move toward taking responsibility for past wrongs. “Reparations are a societal obligation,” Nikole Hannah-Jones writes about reparations for slavery in the U.S. [9]. They are not punishment to those who contributed to harm or were complicit in it. Nor are they permission slips for future harm, as Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò clarifies [10]. Reparations do not make things go away, nor do they fix anything, but they are an integral part of the repair process. Climate repair requires reparations to each other, the Earth, the other beings we share this planet with for the systemic harm practiced against them.

Climate reparations to the Earth can come in many forms. Carbon capture and sequestration is a form of reparations, Olúfẹ́mi argues. Planting trees, restoring wetlands, giving more space back to nature to re-wild — we can understand all of these as reparations to Earth and kin. Anytime we are supporting the Earth in capturing more carbon and supporting more life, we are practicing climate reparations.

Climate reparations to each other involves much of what is already being discussed worldwide, starting with reparations to Indigenous peoples for initial and ongoing taking of their lands, rights, and ability to practice their culture. This demands far more than far than President Obama’s 2009 “Joint resolution to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the federal government regarding Indian tribes” — an inept apology which Layli Long Soldier, citizen of Oglala Lakota Nation, critiques in her poetry.

Climate reparations include restitution for chattel slavery in the U.S. by the federal goverment that “initiated, condoned and practiced legal racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans until half a century ago,” Hannah-Jones writes [9]. Reparations for slavery is not only about public and private institutions in America paying for the systemic theft of resources from the African-American community, Ta-Nehisi Coates explains [11]. What is also needed is a “policy for repair.”

Climate reparations must be made to people on the frontlines of climate collapse, from Miami to Alaska, the Pacific Islands to the Arctic Circle. To the mining and timber communities who were strangled by the grip of extractive capitalism. To the farmers and fishers whose land- and sea-based livelihoods stopped being sufficient to feed their families. To the peoples and nations across the world that have already been under the thumb of higher-emitting countries through climate colonialism [12]. Reparations must be made to honor what has been lost from our past and stolen from future generations.

The list could go on and on. There is so much to account for, it may be too much to actually address. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. And it doesn’t mean that we can’t change what we do moving forward.

We know the pathways to a wellbeing economy, a circular economy, and a regenerative economy. A friend of mine is working with BIPOC community leaders here in Seattle, Washington doing world-building work of excavating the extractive economies they have internalized and that exist in our local region. They are visioning and co-creating an ecosystem of regenerative projects that can move us through a Just Transition. We have the tools to adapt, to radically embrace emergence, to choose a different trajectory. Now we need to scale them.

“What does it feel like to live in a world without punishment?” Kai Chang Thom asked this question during the Embodied Social Justice Summit earlier this year. It’s easy to identify the villains in the climate crisis — oil and gas corporations, wealthier countries, more populated countries, the U.S. itself, etc. It’s convenient to point the finger, make them suffer, and wipe our hands clean of the problem. But we know that won’t work, both because it doesn’t contribute to systemic change and it replicates punitive systems, othering, and extraction that are themselves at the core of the dis-ease. As we repair, we must not repeat the patterning that has denied our interconnectedness with nature and each other, truncated our minds from our bodies, and detached our values from our breathing reality. Instead, we must courageously step into the uncomfortable and vulnerable space where we try to see each person in their dignity, as redeemable and worthy of love and belonging — including ourselves.

Co-futuring and co-creating

We can’t go somewhere we haven’t already traveled to in our minds and bodies. In the generative somatics lineage that I’ve been learning and practicing, we make a declaration of what we want to embody — the vision of our future, our yearning, the thing that makes more aliveness and wholeness possible. We practice centering and orienting to that declaration in our bodies. The more we practice, the more we retain that vision as muscle and cell memory, the more it becomes our lived reality.

As much as climate repair requests us to remember our past, it also demands that we collectively envision our future so that we can practice it into our present. Visionary fiction, African futurism, and Afro-futurism writers have been doing this for generations, including Octavia Butler and all of those who carry her legacy forward. Artists, dreamers, storytellers, guides, speculative designers, and more have also been engaged in this work. Whether sci fi and design calls to you or not, we all can learn from these lightworkers that beckon us to co-future a world rooted in a radically different set of values — including justice, interdependence, mutuality, love, radical sufficiency (more to come about this one) — than the ones underpinning our current systems of demise. Each of us needs to cultivate an embodied relationship to our shared future — to see ourselves in our own particular piece of a single puzzle expanding to infinity.

We also need to be engaged in the imaginative and bold act of co-creating the pathways toward that future. This is where our inner (and professionally trained) designers, engineers, architects, and builders come to play in the sandbox. This is where we get to embrace the iterative design process. We connect the dots from the future(s) back to the present and plant milestones in the sand to guide us. We prototype pop-up interventions and macro-system shifts. We re-center, reflect, and revise. We claim the opportunity in every moment, every interaction, every meeting, and every message to practice embodying the future we envision. This includes ensuring that the infrastructure, programs, services, and systems we design are healing-centered, trauma-responsive, restorative, regenerative, and rooted in the principle of targeted universalism, which is a design approach that “supports the needs of the particular while reminding us that we are all part of the same social fabric” [13].

There are brilliant examples of folks doing innovation-in-context work in the world, including Black Womxn Flourish and Design Justice Network. Whether you consider yourself creative or not, the truth is that there is a role for everybody in this process of co-creating the future we desire, the future we need. Deepa Iyer offers a beautiful map for finding your role in the social change ecosystem. Every one of us must find our role — on Deepa’s map or our own — and step into it fully, unapologetically, and open-heartedly. The future depends on it.

Fumbling Towards Repair

^^This is the title of a community accountability workbook written by Mariame Kaba and Shira Hassan. It’s an incredible resource for people looking to put principles of Transformative Justice (TJ) into practice. “TJ is a political framework and approach for responding to violence, harm and abuse…without creating more violence and/or engaging in harm reduction to lessen the violence” [14]. TJ processes have been practiced from communities in which state responses and systems have failed, and exacerbated violence and harm, especially in communities experiencing oppression.

I appreciate the name of this workbook because it so aptly captures the practice of repair as a direction rather than a destination. We stumble, mess up, and try again in earnest. When we engage with it, rather than blow through it or bypass it, it is an opportunity for healing, growth, and transformative change.

This is, in essence, what climate repair is all about. At its root is an invitation to lay down our arms of perfectionism and egoism and be ready to fail over and over again, and to keep trying. It demands trust that the process will lead us to precisely where we need to be, even if that ends up looking like a completely different manifestation of our values. It requires us to bring both rigor and compassion to our practice.

My own journey toward healing has been so spiralic, I find myself re-learning the same hard lesson and I wonder if I’ve done any healing at all. In those moments, I’ve been lucky to have friends who have held a mirror up to me and reflected back the growth that I’ve undergone, helping me find my way back to myself. If there’s one lesson I’ve surrendered to the most, it has been that I can only heal in community. Yes, I have what I need within me. And, the work I need to do requires being in relationship with others because the original wounds were caused in relationship with others.

Similarly, climate repair can only happen together, with each of us showing up in our particular juncture on the web connecting us and Earth. Climate repair starts with you, here, in this very moment. Will you come forward?


[1] Bednarek, Steffi. 2019. “‘This is an emergency’ — proposals for a collective response to the climate crisis,” British Gestalt Journal, 28 (2): 4–13.

[2] Menendian, Stephen. “Blog: From Tulsa, Texas, to Turkey: The Price of Denial,” Othering & Belonging Institute Blog, June 1, 2021.

[3] Mingus, Mia. “The Four Parts of Accountability: How To Give A Genuine Apology Part 1,” Leaving Evidence blog, December 18, 2019.

[4] Ranganathan, Malini and Eve Bratman. 2021. “From Urban Resilience to Abolitionist Climate Justice in Washington, DC,” Antipode 53(1): 115–137. doi: 10.1111/anti.12555.

[5] Alexis Pauline Gumbs in conversation with Prentis Hemphill. “Remembering with Alexis Pauline Gumbs,” Finding Our Way podcast, Season 1, Episode 7. October 19, 2020.

[6] Bednarek, Steffi. 2021. “Climate change, fragmentation and collective trauma. Bridging the divided stories we live by,” Journal of Social Work Practice, doi:10.1080/02650533.2020.1821179.

[7] Cunsolo, Ashlee and Neville R. Ellis. 2018. “Ecological grief as a mental health response to

climate change-related loss,” Nature Climate Change, 8: 275–281.

[8] For an excellent resource on co-regulation, see A Practitioner’s Guide for Integrating Five Element Theory and Trauma Treatment by Alaine D. Duncan and Kathy L. Kain, Penguin Random House, 2019.

[9] Hannah-Jones, Nikole. “What is owed,” The New York Times Magazine, June 30, 2020.

[10] Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò on Climate Colonialism and Reparations, For the Wild podcast, episode 216, January 6, 2021.

[11] Ta-Nehisi Coates in conversation with David Remnick, “Ta-Nehisi Coates Revisits the Case for Reparations,” The New Yorker, June 10, 2019.

[12] For more information on climate colonialism, see reference [6] as well as: Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò’s piece “How the Green New Deal can Avoid Climate Colonialism,” Pacific Standard Magazine, February 25, 2019.

[13] powell, john a., Stephen Menendian, and Wendy Ake. 2019. “Targeted Universalism Policy & Practice,” Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, University of California, Berkeley.

[14] Mingus, Mia. “Transformative Justice: A Brief Description,”



Em Wright

(they/them) educator | designer | somatic coach | climate x healing | | founder