How to Become a Climate Revolutionary in 2021
If you want to make climate justice part of your New Year’s resolutions, here are some things to get you started
Original art for The Phoenix by Laila Arêde
Future Human is partnering with The Phoenix, a newsletter by climate reporter and meteorologist Eric Holthaus. Every two weeks, we’ll feature new stories about climate science, justice, and radical change. As Eric says, we were born at just the right time to change everything. Subscribe here.
Our time here on this beautiful planet is so temporary.
If there’s anything that 2020 taught us, it’s that while time is fleeting for everyone, it’s the way society is structured that determines how fleeting it is and for whom. The overlapping tragedies of Covid-19, police brutality, and the climate emergency don’t fall equally on everyone, and it’s up to us to change that system to ensure everyone here gets the chance to thrive that they deserve.
That’s the heart of climate justice.
Our window for the revolutionary repair of our planet’s atmosphere and biosphere — caused by centuries of excesses brought by capitalism, patriarchy, misogyny, imperialism, and racism — is bound by physics. We can (and should!) argue about the best ways to get to a zero-carbon world as quickly as possible, but we can’t argue with the fact that current global policies will deliver a planet that’s incompatible with a safe future for billions of people who did the least to cause the climate emergency.
You can’t change all that by yourself.
On this first day of 2021, though, you might decide you want to be a bigger part of the new system — one built to live in accordance with the planet we all share rather than in opposition to it.
This is what we’re fighting for: indigenous sovereignty, regenerative care of the land, shelter, equity, joy. All the basics that people need to live a good life. A vision for a bread and roses future for everyone.
Getting started with that journey isn’t hard. The point is only that you show up. We need everyone to be a part of this transformation in their own way.
At the same time, becoming a climate person isn’t easy. But it’s some of the most important work in the history of the world. You don’t get to give up, but you do get to ask for help.
If living your best life includes making the world more life-sustaining for every creature we share this beautiful planet with, the rest of this post will help you get started.
Resolutions are a chance for revolutions
The same thing is true today that was true yesterday: We need to rebuild the whole system to have a world with justice. This is generations-long work. It didn’t start with us, and it won’t end with us. But every single day, we can build a bit of that world in our own lives.
On January 1, 1804, Haiti became to become the first independent Black republic in world history. In 1893, Frederick Douglass gave a speech on why Haiti’s revolution was so important — because it showed for the first time on a grand scale that marginalized people can overturn the system that was built to harm them.
The Haitian revolution was very violent — it exposed the violence of slavery for the world to see. The climate revolution is already violent — every day, all around the world, people are being deprived of their ability to live because of the choices of the people who prop up this broken system.
With our carbon emissions and our apathy, all of us are at least partly complicit in that violence. But we know now that a good life is possible for everyone while simultaneously having a zero-carbon world. And if that world is possible, we have a responsibility to fight for it. You don’t have to be a willing party anymore. You can choose to work for revolutionary change.
Let me be clear: 2020 wasn’t just a “bad year.” It was what happens when the people in power have spent centuries exploiting others to ensure their own comfort. The uncontrolled coronavirus epidemic wasn’t inevitable, just like the climate emergency wasn’t inevitable. Another world is possible. It won’t happen magically. We have to demand it.
It’s important to remember that today is just another day, and the work that we’re doing began long before we were born and will continue long after we’re gone. It’s also important to remember that today, like every day, can be revolutionary.
Your individual revolutionary acts probably won’t change the course of world history on their own. But added together with billions of others, they will.
These three tips will help you become a climate revolutionary
Part of my mission at The Phoenix is to tell the story of what we’re fighting for, not just what we’re fighting against.
And one of the most important things we’re fighting for right now is rich descriptions of what a different world looks like.
Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness — and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling — their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
1. Let others help you
Nivi Achanta, who founded the Soapbox Project, also recommends joining a peer group, like the Work on Climate Slack group, to form a community on the way. The All We Can Save Project is currently forming reading circles and raising money for grants to help jump-start women-led climate projects.
But most of all, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help.
2. We each have a special skill; offer it
As Mary Annaïse Heglar writes in this masterful essay, being a climate person means figuring out what will get you out of bed and what makes you live and putting that energy to work for systemic change. There’s no secret single thing you should or shouldn’t be doing. Being a climate person means you do what you’re good at, and you do your best. If everyone did that, it would be enough.
Almost every profession now has a dedicated faction devoted to incorporating climate justice.
Lawyers have Earthjustice, teachers have the Alliance for Climate Education, medical professionals have Climate Health Now, mental health providers have the Good Grief Network, farmers have The Land Institute, economists have the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, political folks have the Environmental Voter Project, activists have the Sunrise Movement, and climate organizers have the Breach Collective.
We’ll need all types of folks and all types of groups. We need mom groups, we need business groups, we need housing groups, we need faith groups. We need everyone.
If you don’t see a group that fits you, ask around. If you’ve asked around and can’t find anything, you’ve probably found a few like-minded friends. Start something new with them.
3. Live in accordance with your values as best you can
There is no difference between individual action and systemic action. For too long, climate activism has been pictured as solar panels and electric vehicles and veggie burgers and voting once every four years. What we need isn’t more things to do or shaming for not living our lives the “right” way.
What’s worse, trying to memorize the litany of best-practice green tips is a recipe for burnout. There’s no amount of recycling that’s going to get us out of the mess we’re in.
Instead, each one of us should try to live in a way where we are actively creating revolutionary change every single day. Some days, revolutionary change looks like getting out of your house to take a walk. Some days, you might be having a hard talk with your parents about racial justice. Some days, you might be teaching your kid how to read. Some days, you might be telling a friend you love them.
To me, that feels much more empowering. The zero-carbon tasks will take care of themselves if we build a world where people deeply care about themselves and others.