A forest of burned and felled trees

The radical work of mourning: the power of grief in a time of extinction

Learn how taking time to dwell on loss can cultivate a richer sense of our planet and our place on it.

When we lose a loved one, we share rituals to honour their life and process their death. But when a plant or animal species is lost forever, how are we to mourn? What role can expressing grief play in galvanising hopeful action and deeper connection?

This event explores the surprising and moving possibilities for radical care, hope, and action in an unlikely place: the work of mourning. Our panel will discuss the activities of some of the many scholars, artists, and activists embracing mourning as a form of transformative ethical and political work in the extinction crisis. From artworks and public funerals for departed species to mass “die ins" hear how taking time to dwell on loss can cultivate a closer, richer sense of our planet and our place on it.

While grief and mourning are frequently associated with passivity and withdrawal, this event explores how the reality can be much more complex, interesting, and promising. Drawing upon evocative stories and lessons from researchers in cultural studies, philosophy, and design, we’ll discover the challenges and opportunities of feeling fully in the face of dramatic environmental change. 

Multi-award-winning journalist and radio presenter Natasha Mitchell for ABC Radio National Big Ideas will discuss these ideas with a panel of experts. This includes field philosopher and extinction researcher Thom van Dooren, scholar and practitioner of design Zoë Sadokierski, and researcher of climate emotions and activism Blanche Verlie.

This event was held on Thursday, 11 April 2024.

Joint Living on the Edge and National Museum Australia logos

This event is part of the Living on the Edge: Caring for Australia’s Threatened Places. This project is a partnership between the Sydney Environment Institute at The University of Sydney and the National Museum of Australia through the James O Fairfax Senior Fellow in Culture and Environment Program.


Natasha Mitchell (Chair), multi-award-winning journalist

Natasha Mitchell is a multi-award-winning journalist, radio presenter, podcaster, and audio storyteller specialising in science & society. She is host of the ABC Radio National’s flagship live events program and podcast Big Ideas, was founding host and producer of the internationally renowned radio show and one of the ABC’s first podcasts, All in the Mind, which won the Grand Prize and four Gold World Medals at the New York Radio Festivals, amongst other awards. Natasha hosted the ABC’s flagship daily social affairs program Life Matters, and was recently founding host and producer of Science Friction, awarded Best Science and Medicine podcast at the Australian Podcast Awards.

Zoë Sadokierski, visual communicator

Zoë Sadokierski is Associate Professor in Visual Communication and a co-director of the Visualisation Institute at the University of Technology Sydney. Her research explores creative ways to communicate complex issues such as species extinctions, climate futures and nuclear legacies. She has won multiple awards for her book design work, and her artist’s books and works on paper have been exhibited and collected in galleries and libraries around the world. She is author of Father, Son and Other Animals (Cordite 2024).

Thom van Dooren, environmental humanities scholar

Thom van Dooren, FAHA, is Professor of Environmental Humanities and Deputy Director of the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney. His research and writing focus on some of the many philosophical, ethical, cultural, and political issues that arise in the context of species extinctions and human entanglements with threatened species and places. He is the author of Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (Columbia UP 2014), The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds (Columbia UP 2019), and A World in a Shell: Snail Stories for a Time of Extinctions (MIT 2022).

Blanche Verlie, sociologist

Blanche Verlie is a Lecturer in Gender and Cultural Studies and a Horizon Research Fellow at the University of Sydney. Her research investigates how people understand, experience, and respond to climate change, and how we might do this differently and better. Blanche’s work focuses specifically on the ways climate change is felt, lived and imagined, such as the often visceral experiences of climate distress, and the unequal and unjust dimensions of this, as well as how this affective injustice can inspire regenerative forms of climate action. She is the author of Learning to Live With Climate Change: From Anxiety to Transformation (Routledge, 2022)

Header image by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

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