The news can be a little overwhelming these days. Did I say “a little”? “A lot” is what I meant. Last week, after only a few minutes of scrolling through my newsfeed, I got a sudden urge to throw away my phone. Instead, I turned it off and said to my son: “I need a break. I’ll go and water the planet.”
“The planet?” he raised his eyebrows. “That’s ambitious.”
What I meant, of course, was “the plants.” But as I was watering tomatoes and peppers in my balcony garden, I started thinking about California, Oregon and Washington and the amount of watering our planet requires to fight recurring wildfires all across the world, which are becoming more extensive and destructive as a result of climate crisis.
The start of 2020, which now seems like a lifetime ago, was marked by wildfires in Australia. Spurred by the worst drought in decades, the fires reached an unprecedented scope and intensity levels. Dozens of human lives lost, more than a billion of animals impacted – an incredible loss by any measure, even more so in Australia that is home to 244 species not found anywhere else on the planet.
Last year, August was dominated by news of Amazon wildfires. This year, Brazil saw a significant increase in fires causing devastation to the Amazon rainforest, often referred to as the lungs of the planet.
Now my Facebook feed is filled with images from western U.S. that look like scenes from Blade Runner 2049.
I often wonder about our collective failure to address climate change in a meaningful way. From a rational point of view, it’s hard to understand why we refuse to tackle an issue that is a matter of our survival. We could blame it on inability to imagine our own demise, but the danger is no longer hypothetical. The future we’ve been dreading is already here. It could be because the people who need to make the most changes are least affected by the climate change right now. Or the immensity of the problem is so overwhelming that it is easier to turn away and pretend these cataclysmic, supposedly once-in-a-lifetime events that now happen with increasing frequency, have nothing to do with each other. Or maybe because those who benefit from the system that is exacerbating climate change have convinced us that these problems are imaginary or unsolvable or that the cost of solving them is higher than the cost of the problems themselves.
The answer is, of course, all of the above. And even when we make halfhearted attempts to talk about climate crisis, we still frame the conversation within the current economic system built on extractivism, colonization, consumerism and exploitation of nature and people. We keep arguing whether we can afford to act on climate or count the number of jobs created hoping we can win the numbers game. Or we bank on so-called green solutions and technological innovations, as if we can solar panel our way out of this crisis.
In the last few years, there’s been a shift in the environmental movement – a growing recognition of the knowledge and expertise of Indigenous peoples who have been guardians of the land for many generations and have maintained close connections to it. In Indigenous worldviews, the world is a marvellous system of life where we are all connected, animals and plants are our kin, we depend on each other and our survival is closely tied to theirs.
Once upon a time, we all knew it too. But then we wrote a new narrative – one that positions humans apart from nature. We see it either as a resource to be consumed or wilderness to be protected. As we continue to build walls to protect ourselves from the natural world, we are further severing our connection to it. That’s why we can keep destroying the planet without realizing we are destroying ourselves in the process.
We won’t get out of this mess by tinkering along the edges. A major shift in our narrative is required: we need to rethink our position within the natural world and to each other and then get to work transforming the entire system. Upholding Indigenous rights and allowing Indigenous people to take the lead is our best hope at this point.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Inuit activist, human rights advocate and author of The Right to be Cold, when talking about climate change at the Alliance for Healthier Communities conference last year, said: “Fall back in love with nature, fall back in love with the planet.” And it made a lot of sense to me. Love is the entry point for many people into the environmental movement. But instead of leveraging that emotion, we try to be objective at any cost and focus exclusively on facts, numbers and reasoning. Even the word environment is devoid of any feelings and brings to mind sterile surroundings rather than a living, breathing, intricate system of life.
I don’t want it to sound “new-agey” with all the love/go back to nature talk or ignore a whole myriad of issues we are facing today. The multiple crises we are experiencing right now – pandemic, racism, economic and social inequality, climate crisis and loss of biodiversity – they are all interconnected and all point to the need to re-imagine the way we live, distribute resources and power, interact with each other and the natural world. A number of organizations have put forward principles of a just recovery and are working to advance a better future for everyone. I hope this re-imagined future will include remembering our place within the web of life and, in the words of Sheila Watt-Cloutier, falling back in love with the planet.
Love, of course, opens us to the pain of climate grief that comes with realization of irreversible changes and losses. There are many days when I feel helpless and hopeless. On those days, I try to channel my love of nature into this blog – my tiny contribution to re-writing our story. Or I pour it into my garden – an attempt to re-build connections to the rich web of life, an invitation to wildlife into a predominantly human world of an apartment building. I know it’s a drop in a bucket, not nearly enough to water the entire planet. But on days when I am overwhelmed, I can at least focus on tending a little piece of it on a concrete ledge in the middle of the city.