Mountaintop removal in Virginia. (Photo credit: iLoveMountains.org / Flikr)

Seeing the damage caused by a hurricane or a clear-cut forest can be emotionally painful.

Pennsylvania activist and author Trebbe Johnson says this sadness often causes people to abandon damaged places. But she suggests a different approach.

Johnson: “We face local problems like mountaintop mining, industrial and agricultural pollution, and we face the great overall challenge of climate change. So how do we live with this?”

In her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times, Johnson encourages people to mourn the damage, reconnect with the place as it is now, and then make something beautiful from – or for – that place.

Johnson says one group of people went to a Florida beach after the B.P. oil spill. They played music and made art from objects they found in the sand.

Johnson: “A couple came along, and the man said, ‘are you a musical group?’ And one of the women said ‘no, we’re just making a gift for a sick friend’, meaning the beach. And the couple said ‘thank you for doing this.’ It was like, they got it.”

Johnson says actions like these can build community, which helps people not only mourn together, but work collectively to prevent further harm.

Reporting credit: Ariel Hansen/ChavoBart Digital Media.