On emotion, and who gets to write the climate narrative.
|Aug 23||Public post|
It’s not just the Amazon that’s on fire, it’s Feminist Climate Twitter. And I love it. The fire was partially started by this fantastically incisive Amy Westervelt piece on literary bro climate appropriation and its desire to cleave to epic narratives at the expense of, you know, the truth:
“There have always been a lot of women covering environmental stories, but the breakout stars, the loudest voices, have tended to be those of white men. More recently they are specifically literary white men, for whom climate change is the ultimate epic saga, in which all of humanity is both villain and hero. “We” had a chance to act on climate decades ago and blew it, the story goes, and now “we” must rise to the challenge and save humanity. If we don’t—and we’re unlikely to—”we” will have only ourselves to blame.”
This white literary male climate narrative tends to heap blame at the foot of humanity, on a collective ‘we’ that has never existed. We had it coming, they say, failing to take into account that the people who have had the power for hundreds of years are not the people who will suffer most. These writers frame the climate crisis in the most clichéd of narratives: we’ve done bad, but with a little collaboration and a few tweaks, we can kick this climate change nonsense and still make it to that N+1 reading. Conveniently, this narrative always leaves most of the entrenched power structures, inequality, and polished brogues in tact. Conveniently, this narrative always leaves out the fact that the “we” that got us into the mess was mostly the same “we” that is writing the story, facts be damned.
A complaint levelled at women and discussed at length in Westervelt’s piece is that we bring emotion and anger into the climate discussion. But making up epic stories about the arc of our human experiment in the name of storytelling is emotional narrative fallacy of the highest order. The emotion that women bring to the discussion is the opposite of a sweeping story. Instead, women often ground their stories in the emotion of the personal, which is actually the number one rule of climate communications — make it human, personable, relatable.
I think what I bristle at most is the assuredness of voice, this strident solutionism. Jonathan Safran Foer is sure that if we just stopped eating meat we’d fix this pesky problem and be home in time for a nice tofu dinner. Yes, we do need to banish the beef. But we also need to fix the entire system that allowed us to destroy earth and equilibrium in the first place. Without that, we’ll be eating tofurkey on a scorched planet.
The women climate writers and scientists I follow on Twitter are thoughtful, practical, and occasionally emotional … and that’s what makes them wonderful. Seeing their vulnerability, fear, and poetic reflection on the current state of the planet helps me a lot. And it gives me strength. Speaking of strength, back to Westervelt and another key point:
“When I started learning more about climate change and what’s coming, I started running. You know, so I’ll be ready when the apocalypse comes.”
A few years ago my friend Carla said something similar about starting to work out so she could take on the fascists when the shit hit the fan (spoiler alert: the shit has hit the fan and she is jacked). I was equal parts surprised and impressed at the time. But I now hear this sentiment pouring from the mouths of kick-ass women all over the place. It comes from the opposite place of the elite writerly climate savant who thinks the world will be saved through tofu and geoengineering. Indeed, the women who give voice to these deeply physical and passionate commitments know from systemic inequality, as Westervelt explores in the piece. They know that it’s OK to be scared, to rage, and to practice their jabs, because this is no time for measured.
I was on a high last week, alive to the fact that being outside with friends, dancing, making music and drinking honeyed Slivovitz is the way to be. I came back to too many Twitter GIFs of a burning planet. It cued up the usual haze of everything is awful. But the raging ladies of Twitter made me realize that everything is beautiful and awful at the same time. And that I should take up kickboxing.
Woman, man, or cat, how do you rage against the dying of the Amazon? Let me know!
I raged against the ridiculousness of Elections Canada’s insane partisan climate announcement, which they summarily walked back/embarrassingly recalibrated, to little clarity.
Reader and IG friend Erin made a cameo in my latest YES! Magazine comic, on fixing stuff, or spending all my time trying to fix stuff.
Mary told me what kind of a baked good she was: “I am a “tid-bit”...a cinnamon tid-bit to be precise. These are crispy sugar and cinnamon pieces of leftover pie crust. My mother always made sure there was extra crust trimmings.”
Sarah G. on Stuffism: I'd say my stuffism is maybe half made up of lust for new things that's driven by social media and the like. I feel a bit guilty about it, but I try to satisfy my lust by buying second hand. It's still capitalism, but at least it's extending the life of something that was unwanted, and I'm not giving my money to The Gap. Is Goodwill any better? I dunno, but sometimes I've got to stop driving myself mad with ethical dilemmas and just live.
The other half of my stuffism, though, is appreciation for the unique character and usefulness of old things. This half can feel like a cage of guilt over throwing anything away, no matter how useless or used up or unwanted. "I can't get rid of that, I grew up with that!" - said over a cracked coffee mug that my mom used to like that sat on my counter in a state of limbo for months. I struggle to distinguish between age and value. I'm also hyper aware that everything around me involved natural resources and labor, and I want to be respectful of these things and take care of them. Juliet Schor calls it True Materialism - a deep valuing of material goods because of the fact that they are made from finite resources. I'm proud of the fact that my house is furnished with entirely second-hand goods, but it's also just a bit more maximalist than I'd prefer, and sometimes I've taken on stuff from my family because it made me so sad that they would otherwise throw it away. Or even, "don't give it away, a stranger wouldn't appreciate it like I will!" Ugh! My grandparents were avid antique-ers and ran stalls at what they called swap meets, but I think were just flea markets. I definitely inherited a love/appreciation/desire for old stuff from them, as well as a bit of hoarding tendencies. Do you have any advice for breaking overly sentimental attachment to every. damn. little. thing?
I love this idea of True Materialism. Focusing on really appreciating things. Like rainforests and Slivovitz!
Have a wonderful week!