What if climate change meant abundance?

What if climate change meant abundance?

In the northern hemisphere, spring has begun whispering its call, unraveling all of the feelings that often come along with it: Joy. Light. New beginnings. Possibility.

This setting has served as the backdrop against which I have read many articles hinting at joy as a motivator for climate action. One refreshing article penned by Rebecca Solnit entitled, “What if climate change meant not doom - but abundance?” opens with, A monastic once told me renunciation can be great if it means giving up things that make you miserable.

We know the climate crisis is no wellspring of joy. We also believe that, collectively, the narrative around climate action can be so technocratic, so PR-laden with purported win-win solutions and, thus, lack the heart and soul so many of us crave as we try to chart a new course to a climate-stable future in a world we truly want to be a part of.

Solnit challenges the idea that climate change is inextricable with scarcity, pondering on the question of, “What can we give up in order to gain?”

“Much of the reluctance to do what climate change requires comes from the assumption that it means trading abundance for austerity, and trading all our stuff and conveniences for less stuff, less convenience. But what if it meant giving up the things we’re well rid of, from deadly emissions to nagging feelings of doom and complicity in destruction? What if the austerity is how we live now — and the abundance could be what is to come?”

Rebecca Solnit

I don’t know if it’s just me but I sometimes catch myself thinking, “What can I get out of this?” rather than “What can I put into this?” I know I am prone to cause harm to others and myself when I am stuck in the, “What can I get?” camp rather than “What can I give?” It is a stressful, rat-racey way to live.

Living the question

I have found another way to ask myself “What can I give?” The late-poet Mary Oliver elegantly defined my North Star in her poem “Spring.” In it she writes, There is only one question: how to love this world.

I do my best to live this question. When I do it well, I am: consciously collecting all of the produce waste and dropping it off at my neighbor’s covert compost system, taking the time to walk the neighborhood with my son and point to all of the birds that have returned, planning ahead so we don’t have to make last minute convenience-based online orders, taking good care of my clothing, showing up to an immigrant welcoming committee meeting with full attention rather than numbing out by scrolling on my cell phone because I am too tired from burnout.

I also often find myself falling short of my aspirations, engaging in activities and behaviors I’d like to give up: buying energy-intensive frozen packed food and eating meat that probably came from a factory farm…

When I am honest with myself about the behaviors that take me closer to the person I want to be and the world I want to create (or, alternatively, further from the person I want to be and the world I want to create), I am able to better emulate those behaviors (and let go of the ones that do not). I am able to create joy. I am able to better connect with myself and others. I am at home in myself.

Reframing climate change

As Solnit emphasizes in her article, the world we live in with fossil fuels is the bleak one. It makes us poorer, corrodes our politics, kills more than 8M people a year. This is what creates despair and anxiety, she says. In the Global North, many of us try to avoid seeing and thinking about it, and adopt a numbing, willful obliviousness. So too, many of us are heeding the call and tuning into the intrinsically abundant world we want to protect and want to live for. These are the stories we try to highlight with our project. These are the futures we long to imagine.

Such projects need participation, defense and expansion; we need to cultivate and amplify this knowledge until it’s how the world works and how we understand the world.

To accomplish that, we need a large-scale change in perspective. To reframe climate change as an opportunity — a chance to rethink who we are and what we desire.

To put it another way, “What if this is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”, as movement leader Valarie Kaur noted in her viral speech. While her speech wasn’t about a just climate transition, the sentiment rings still true. We are here today, illuminating pathways in this dark tunnel as we try to get to the other side. There is Hope. Joy. Possibility. still to come.

Imagine with us

When I think about the world I seek to create and the world I want to leave behind, my body lights up with a charge unlike any other. We invite you to lean into this and imagine with us what life will be like on the other side and what it requires of us to get there. We invite you to envision joy and peace at the center.

Stay tuned for more on this subject as we develop a participatory initiative that invites us all to envision and work for this world to come. In the meantime:

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

Mary Oliver, Don’t Hesitate

Ready to tune into climate abundance?

In the spirit of abundance, set aside 30 minutes to go through this exercise. In a journal or other medium, reflect on the prompts that speak to you.

  • Imagine a world without money. What would your world be “rich” in? What would you use as a measure of success or well-being?

  • If you had plenty of time in the day, what would you spend more time doing?

  • What are some things you feel you should be doing but have not yet? Are you eating in a way that nourishes your body and your spirit? Are you treating your body in a way that nourishes you and your spirit? How are your relationships with yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your oddkin? Are you contributing to your community, to society, in a way that fills your spirit?

  • Are their objects or habits that you feel weighed down by? Name them. Where does the weight come from? Are you ready to let these go? If not, what is holding you back?

  • What are some of your favorite non-material gifts? What non-material things do you have in your life that are most meaningful to you?

  • What brings you the most joy in the world?

  • What fears keep returning? What dreams keep returning? How do these relate to one another? How have your fears stopped you from doing things you feel compelled to do? What, if anything, holds you back from pursuing your dreams? What 5 small steps can you take to overcome your fears? What five small steps can you take to bring your dreams closer to reality?

  • What makes you feel most connected to yourself, others, and the world at large? What gets in the way of you feeling most connected to yourself, others, and the world at large?

  • Are there certain ways you personally engage in activities that contribute to ecological harm? How can you look directly at this reality without judgment, without taking blame, or making excuses? Imagine a world where you no longer had to participate in these kinds of activities? What would be different about the world to allow this to be true?

Article by Whitney Richardson. Whitney (Turtle Island/USA) is a member of the story team and a founding board member of Climate Creativity. She is an intersectional environmental justice researcher whose work explores connections between human rights, nature’s rights, political ecology, colonialism and resistance movements.

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