I really liked this piece by Canadian climate super-force Cat Abreu about working on climate as an act of love, because I’ve long hated fighting climate change as a way of defining the discourse. I used to think it was because I’m conflict averse and wimpy as they come, but I think the truth runs deeper than my spinelessness—fighting feels like false framing. We come bearing flowers and dreams of a better life. (Lights incense, coughs, extinguishes incense.)
The truth is that working on climate change is not a fight: It is an act of love. Those of us who dedicate our lives to this effort, in whatever setting we choose to work (there are climate activists in governments and businesses everywhere), do it because we love our families, our children, the lake we swam in as teenagers, the communities we have seen suffer as weather gets more extreme and sea levels rise. We do it because we see the injustice and inequity and colonial ideology that both drives and is exacerbated by climate change, and we have to believe in a world liberated from these institutions of violence.
People see just about anything oppositional as a fight. But battling the status quo doesn’t mean you are fighting against something (fossil fuel jobs, pipelines, bechamel sauce) so much as fighting FOR something. And if you’re fighting FOR something, it’s because you love it, believe in it, care about it. In which case, you don’t need the language of battle at all. You are advocating, championing, building, supporting, cheering, encouraging, spelunking, twerking, positively vibrating with love.
We often default to war metaphor when talking about the climate crisis, both because our challenge is epically daunting, and because war is one of the few arenas in which humanity has mobilized at the scale and timeline needed to address imminent threat. You’d have thought pandemics would be a close second, but…not so much. Regardless, it’s easy to see why climate communication defaults to battle lines and battle cries—humans are wired to appreciate drama and story, winners and losers, big challenges to overcome, and the obstacles that must be defeated to win the golden chalice. Or, you know, ensure a habitable planet for our progeny.
But it’s not that helpful, is it?
A long time ago I wrote about my environmental psychology prof Dan Dolderman’s framing of the climate crisis as “everything you love.” I still love that language best. It’s not about fighting frackers or conquering corporations. It’s about loving this giant mass of rock and rubble, and all the weird creatures who live and grow upon it.
Of course, the warrior label is often slapped unbidden onto climate activists, who are accused of agitating, destroying, fighting against the status quo. But the framing of “I’m doing this because I love the world” needs to be our armor against these arrows.
How do you do this practically? By saying as much. By recognizing that those who’d label someone who wants clean water or green energy or foundational equality a fighter is someone who is threatened by what the shift to those things will mean for them. Even as they poke, we have to stay calm, and love. And strategize the hell out of the best way to reduce their threat response. And bring them over to the whole planetary salvation side of things in the language that will best resonate for them. Really fast. Easy, right?
A small note: This doesn’t mean giving in to defeat, or walking away from opportunities to push for change. It also doesn’t mean we can’t use the language of goals and challenges to inspire action. It’s just that instead of fighting to win we want to play to win. Peace.
How do you talk about what you’re pushing for? Are you fighting for climate? Advocating? Acting? Interpretive dancing? LMK PLS!
On normalizing climate talk in pop culture, Sally puts it perfectly:
Yes, it bothers me! And that’s too mild a term for the jarring dissonance I feel when this so-important topic is just…not there. I think that cultural products have a lot of influence in people’s ideas of reality, and this absence of the existential adds to the social mindset of climate disruption as ‘not there,’ since nobody seems to be acknowledging it except the weirdos. It’s so difficult to raise it, and talk about what to do about it, when the crowd confirmation says there’s no fire burning—even though wisps of smoke are starting to waft through even our privileged air.
Good gosh, Gregory Hines and Steve Martin tap dancing in white suits is the triple time step I needed right now.
My editor has been communing with nature this week. Pls forgeeve all my typoes. Hope you are happy and healthy and full of big love,
P.S. This is my newsletter for the week of July 31, 2020, published in partnership with YES! Media You can sign up to get Minimum Viable Planet newsletter emailed directly to you at https://mvp.substack.com/.
Sarah Lazarovic is an award-winning artist, creative director, freelance animator and filmmaker, and journalist, covering news and cultural events in comic form. She is the author of A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy.