This Book About Climate Change Will Give You Hope
(Bloomberg) -- Before 2020 collapses under its own weight, it’s worth noting some of the positive things that came out of the year. A book that was published this fall, All We Can Save, is something that will help us navigate a nerve-wracking future. Against a backdrop of the trickling, everyday dross of internet life—not to mention destabilizing pandemic and populism around us—this book is what the late short-story author Raymond Carver might have called “a small good thing.”
All We Can Save is a collection of essays, memories, poems, and even advice memos written by 60 women, most enmeshed professionally one way or another with climate change — scientists, researchers, activists, journalists, former government officials, writers, and more. A fine expression of the project comes in one of many interstitial quotations dropped in-between the short essays. It's a statement from Heather McGhee, a political commentator, author, and board chair of the group Color of Change: “Inequality and climate change are the twin challenges of our time, and more democracy is the answer to both.”
Readers of Bloomberg Green are used to climate change as a business, investment, policy, technology, or science story. All We Can Save complements that approach with something sorely missing: Shared interior monologues about the empathy that binds people to each other and to history. The contributions are each about what it feels like to be a descendant, child, mother, friend, colleague, leader, or ancestor at the onset of the what should probably be called obvious climate change. The book’s title comes from a line by the late poet Adrienne Rich: “My heart is moved by all I cannot save.”
It’s refreshing to hear the expertise of, to cite one example, Indigenous people applied directly to modern questions of governing, business, agriculture, and more. The world’s largest companies have been tripping over each other for 15 years to claim the mantle of “sustainability,” when the oldest human communities have quietly been experts on it for millennia. “The great contribution that Indigenous peoples may be able to make at this time is to continue providing the world with living models of sustainability that are rooted in ancient wisdom,” writes Sherri Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset. Half a book later, Régine Clément, the head of Creo Syndicate, an investing group for rich families, bridges the old and new by asking, “How can we use the mechanics of capitalism as it currently exists to transform it?"
There are hat-tips to national politicians, any of which shrinks in substance to, say, former U.S. regional Environmental Protection Agency administrator Heather McTeer Toney’s account of how when doors close and meetings start, “there was no room for petty division.” There are a couple repetitions of names and ideas, which can be interpreted charitably as happy shoutouts to shared parts of a community. One contributor, former U.S. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, was recently named to become President-elect Joe Biden’s national climate advisor.
Books are finite, and even a work of 60 contributors running to 419 pages leaves out voices. Editors Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, who respectively hold doctorates in marine biology, and geography and environment, have turned their book into an All We Can Save Project, with a new newsletter, to extend their ideas and work on behalf of women climate leaders.
All We Can Save is basically a community bound between two covers, and a gift to any who wishes to join in. Johnson and Wilkinson have set a high bar, but this movement-forging book format is replicable by anyone else who also believes these two things: how modernity shouldn’t undo itself; and how it’s self-evident that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
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