("NATURE'S PERFECT HEART" by lovecatz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Introducing Orion's Winter 2023 issue on romance in the climate crisis

WHERE DOES YOU MIND GO when you hear the term climate change? Do you think about love?

I didn’t used to.

My mind would go straight to how we mitigate, adapt, and protect those most vulnerable. To carbon standards, clean energy incentives, and environmental justice.

What does love have to do with it?

Quite a bit, I’ve begun to realize. In fact, I’ve started to see love everywhere now in our ever-expanding relationship with climate change.

I see love smoldering under the climate anxiety and grief so many people feel for our beleaguered world. For the acidifying oceans, burning forests, and desperate orcas. And for the intricate construct of civilization itself, painstakingly assembled over four hundred generations, and now facing ruin.

I infer love when I listen to young people wondering whether to have children. Their concern about the impact of potential offspring on the climate, and the impact of the climate on their potential offspring, is freighted with love. By bringing a child into the world, are they harming the world? The child? By opting against parenthood, will they have more time, energy, and, yes, love, with which to nurture their communities and environments? Their dilemma is proof that the warming planet has begun to influence our most consequential choices, to transform our most intimate relationships.

Young people today are angry at the inaction of older generations. They feel abandoned and resentful. How does this affect the bonds of love between children and parents? The conversations at the dinner table? What is it like for parents to anticipate leaving their children behind to cope in a climate-ravaged future? It is a novel and potent form of heartache.

Read more from Orion’s Winter 2023 issue here and subscribe here. 

I wonder about the nature of romantic love in a world on fire. Could our existential predicament supercharge relationships? Like love during wartime, will our escalating climate crisis make romance sweeter, sadder, more intense and impetuous? Is fear or hotter weather an aphrodisiac? At what point does rising mercury lower libido?

The dating company OkCupid recently surveyed clients and found that 90 percent said that potential mates not caring about climate change was a “deal-breaker.” Could climate denial in America finally be vanquished by the irrepressible human desire for romance? Or do clients of other dating apps consider climate activism a deal-breaker?

Scientists predict a looming burst of severe wildfires in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, and then a gradual decline as hot, dry conditions reduce the number and size of trees in places such as Lake Tahoe and the Yosemite Valley. The fires will subside as the forests waste away; in other words, there will be little left to burn.

Will our love of nature diminish as nature itself diminishes?

Millions of people are already on the move because of climate change. They are leaving places that have become too hot and smoky, too wet and windy, or too politically and economically unstable due to these extremes. They are fleeing island nations sinking beneath waves and once productive ancestral lands that are no longer arable. How many of us will have to leave places we love, people we love, communities we love, to find refuge? How many of us will learn to love the new places to which we’ve escaped?

I feel love in the dedication of environmental advocates, especially my colleagues at NRDC. In their quest to avert climate disaster, they Never. Give. Up. I sense love in the activism of NRDC’s more than three million members, and in people across the country who march, organize, donate, and vote to protect our fragile world. They are standing up for our air and water, for our wilderness and wildlife, and above all, for one another. That is love.

I’m thrilled that NRDC and Orion are partners once again, and hope that you find the stories in these pages inspiring. Looking through the lens of love personalizes the climate crisis. It reveals the emotional substrata of human existence, the heightened stakes we all face on our climate-altered planet, and the vital role of storytelling in meeting the challenges ahead, beyond the horizon.


This piece is from Orion’s Winter 2023 issue, Romance in the Climate Crisis. Special thanks to the NRDC for their generous funding of this issue.

Manish Bapna joined NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) as president and chief executive officer in August 2021.