This is the time of year when we talk about nice things. Hopeful things.
But honestly, I can’t get excited about hope when it comes to the climate crisis. It’s a monstrous mess. Multinational corporations worth billions of dollars have caused it while lying about their role in doing so. And people in the halls of power have aided and abetted them. The world’s emissions have continued to rise to the point that we now need to cut them a staggering 78 percent over the next decade to limit the damage to bad as opposed to catastrophic.
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” is emblazoned on the gates of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, but it may as well have been written about climate change.
I get that hope is a thing we’re all looking for amidst the worsening climate carnage, but I firmly believe hope isn’t the most useful thing to steer us away from a worst-case scenario. And I’m not alone. In a—and I can’t believe I’m about to write these words—viral Twitter thread, climate essayist, activist, and Hot Take podcast host Mary Heglar laid out the case against hope better than I could, noting it’s “stale AF and ending shit on a high note has fueled a lot of inertia.”
Her solution was to stop asking what gives climate activists hope and start asking “how can I help?” Which at the end of the day is the exact question we should be asking. The climate crisis will be only be solved through sustained, collective action over the coming decade. We’ve seen what the start of a public pressure campaign can look like globally with the climate strike movement, but it’s a start, not the end. And it’s hardly the only way into the fight for a future we can be proud of.
Earther reached out to a handful of activists to ask “how can I help?” Their answers are below, lightly edited for brevity.
Fuck hope. Long live action.
Bill McKibben, founder 350.org and author
“I think that some of the tasks for the year are, for obvious reasons, political, and that others involve taking on the financial industry that bankrolls gas, oil and coal. I seem to be concentrating on the latter tasks for the moment.”
Margaret Klein Salamon, founder of the Climate Mobilization
“Break the silence: Start talking about the climate emergency and the need for WWII scale climate mobilization — in a realistic, blunt, emergency-focused way, in your family, social circles, and beyond.
“Join the Climate Emergency Movement. There are a lot of organizations that have burst forth this year that are championing a climate emergency message and solution— Sunrise, Extinction Rebellion, Youth Climate Strikes, The Climate Mobilization, and more. Join us, support us, help us build power!”
Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright, policy coordinator at the Climate Justice Alliance
“One of the literary treasures of our time, Rebecca Solnit, offered us in her book, Hope in the Dark, ‘Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency.’ I would never presume to speak for Sister Solnit, but what I get from this quote is that Hope without action is like expecting a rock to float on water because you meditate.
“Sister Heglar was absolutely correct to take umbrage with questions like, ‘what gives you hope?’ If that question is not followed by, ‘how does your hope catalyze your drive to act,’ it’s not at all helpful and perambulates what is really called for at this moment, it fosters torpidity through an illusion of action. The people of Haiti have hope, the people of Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador have hope, the people in Hong Kong and France have hope, but they seem to realize that hope alone does not bring about transformational and structural change. Being hopeful can be risky, being hopeful without action is even riskier, and the biggest risk is the one not taken.”
Sydney Ghazarian, steering committee member for the National DSA Ecosocialist Working Group
“I think people are going to want to hear there is a quick, simple thing they can do: recycle, go to a march, talk about the science, etc. Those are good things, but it would be dishonest of me to say that’s enough. In order to ‘help’ we must address the actual problem, which is a growth-dependent, fossil-fueled economic system that has stratified power in favor of an elite few who put profit above people and the planet. The way ordinary people can and have overcome the injustice of our economic system and the 1% is through the Labor Movement and our power as workers to strike and halt the economy in its tracks. So, my unconventional answer is that you can help by organizing your workplace to address the Climate Emergency through ‘green’ collective bargaining agreements, advocating for a Green New Deal, endorsing ‘climate’ candidates, and building community alliances through strikes for the planetary good.
“The fight for our future must be an all-hands-on-deck effort, and another way you can help is by utilizing your social networks to bring more people into the climate movement. Organize your sports team, church, university, professional association, etc. to leverage its power to fight for climate action and a Green New Deal.”
Elizabeth Sawin, co-director of Climate Interactive
“When people ask me about the ‘best’ action they might take to address climate change, I talk about the things we all need to do together and the things we can each uniquely do. Together, there’s voting and otherwise supporting strong climate candidates at all levels and supporting, with your dollars or your two feet or both, the grassroots organizing movements that push politicians to do better. This opens up systems change opportunities, and ensures you have compatriots when the going gets tough.
“But don’t forget to also look for the things that you uniquely can do, the conversation only you can have with your uncle because he trusts you, the art that only you can make that might inspire someone else to act, the community conversation you can convene so beautifully because you know so many different types of folks. Also, you uniquely can leverage your expertise in healthcare, or museums, or teaching, or farming towards climate protection. Because climate touches everything, you don’t need to drop everything to work on climate, you just need to figure out what it means to do what you do in way that also reduces emissions or builds resiliency.”