Excerpt from Climate Resilience

Posted by – August 02, 2023
Categories: Ecology & Sustainability Excerpt New Release

When This Project Began

In the summer of 2020, California was ablaze with fire after fire, each seemingly more staggering in its devastation than the last. Over four million acres burned, and thick smoke hung heavy for months. In the San Francisco Bay Area, which is notoriously chilly and blanketed in fog from June through August, temperatures surged past record highs and lingered in the triple digits for days at a time. 

I have a particularly poignant memory of running errands in San Francisco on a Sunday in September. After hiding out in my apartment from the surging pandemic and smoke for weeks in an attempt not to inflame my chronic asthma, I found that the city’s parks were packed with thousands of people seeking relief from the suffocating heat in their homes. I looked down at my car’s dashboard and the temperature read 103°F. I glanced at the Purple Air app on my phone, which I’d come to check dozens of times each day, and the air quality index hovered near 300, considered to be very unhealthy for the general population. As my own lungs burned, I recalled reading that breathing in air with an AQI of 300 for a day was roughly equivalent to smoking fourteen cigarettes. 

Certainly, seeing the residents of San Francisco gathered under trees and near the water on this sweltering day should not have been a surprise. After all, the majority of San Francisco’s housing lacks air-conditioning, having been built for the city’s typically moderate coastal climate. Meanwhile, many of the cool refuges that folks typically seek out during extreme weather, like libraries and museums, were closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Even those with air-conditioning in their homes were out of luck; the region’s investor-owned power supplier, Pacific Gas and Electric, was implementing sporadic power shutoffs to minimize the possibility of electric lines sparking fire amid the extreme conditions (and therefore mitigating their own potential liability).

And still, it was a poignant visualization of the impossible choice that San Franciscans were faced with: to endure the smoke outside, risk heat exhaustion at home, or seek relief somewhere air-conditioned indoors and potentially be exposed to Covid-19. (Notably, for many of the region’s residents, who were unhoused or incarcerated or conducting work deemed essential, there was no choice to be made between heat, smoke, and virus.) It was a stark reminder of what it can look like when climate- related weather events compound upon one another and cruelly collide with the crises that don’t burn as bright but are constantly simmering, like woefully inadequate energy and community infrastructure, housing, and healthcare. 

This project was born during a fiery summer, a pandemic, racial uprisings, and myriad other ongoing calamities, in a moment when it felt positively palpable that we do not have time to focus on a single issue at a time but must build community resilience at the intersection of climate change mitigation, adaptation, and justice all at once. I sought the wisdom of leaders around the so-called1 United States who have always known this to be true and have been doing this work in a deeply holistic, intersectional, and intentional way for years, oftentimes carrying the torch of generations before them. I began with these questions: What might climate solutions look like that simultaneously strive for a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation to changing conditions, and justice for those most impacted by climate change and structural oppression? Amid a sea of siloed and shallow so-called climate solutions focused on scale, speed, and investor return, which solutions are most rooted in relationship, compassion, humility, trust, and long-term thinking? What does meaningful climate action and collective care look like from folks who have been here before, who have devised loving and innovative ways to meet the needs of their community members in times of crisis and shortage and oppression? This book emerged from those conversations. 

Why Climate Resilience 

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report confirmed that the climate crisis will continue to worsen until at least 2050, even if radical action to slash greenhouse gas emissions is taken today.2 Unprecedented storms, floods, and heat waves are expected to become more frequent and intense, coral reefs are projected to face almost complete die-off, sea levels will continue rising, arable land and fresh water will become increasingly scarce, and an estimated one billion people around the world will be displaced. Halting the expansion of fossil fuel projects and drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly among the world’s wealthiest, is absolutely imperative. And as humanity confronts the possibility of extinction, it is becoming increasingly evident that we must also learn how to keep one another safe as extreme weather becomes harsher and more prevalent and as basic necessities like food and drinking water become more unpredictable. 

It is also becoming increasingly obvious that efforts to decarbonize will continuously fall short if we collectively fail to address the root of rising greenhouse gas emissions and the constellation of interrelated ecological and social crises that compound their impacts. Tethered to a growth-at-all-costs economic system of capitalism that forever demands more, more, more, all the renewable energy infrastructure currently being built only covers a fraction of new energy demand.4 Corporations, which are legally beholden to prioritize their share holders’ bottom line, focus far more on marketing their peripheral environmental and social impact programs than on making meaningful changes. Substantive climate legislation continues to be undermined by politicians who are paid by the fossil fuel industry. And most global resolutions fail to spur action from the nations who emit the most greenhouse gases and refuse to potentially threaten their own global power and dominance—the same nations responsible for settler colonization and imperialism. Therefore, successfully evading climate catastrophe means truly confronting the cis-hetero-patriarchal paradigms of conquest, white supremacy, and endless accumulation underpinning this apocalyptic era. 

Fortunately, countless women, two-spirit, nonbinary, and genderqueer folks around the country are already inciting a revolutionary shift in their communities, tapping into ancestral wisdom and centuries-old lifeways to resist the systems driving the climate crisis and to advance comprehensive climate action strategies grounded in compassion and care. They are demonstrating that, if we work thoughtfully to center liberation and healing in our climate solutions, and we allow those most impacted to lead the way, not only will our planet begin to cool again, but we also will all emerge that much more whole, safe, and free.