This was originally published in the Generation Green New Deal Newsletter.
A year ago, we all likely had some sense of new pathways we wanted to chart this year. But the pandemic toppled so much certainty we held with our lives, and many things were blown off course. From the more mundane aspirations to the profound, 2020 has made looking ahead deeply difficult. Perhaps last year you were supposed to travel, get that promotion, move to a new city, or spend more time with your family. Perhaps it was supposed to be the year of even bigger climate marches, and more in-depth community organizing. This pandemic is similar to climate change in that it has impacted everyone all over the world, thus creating a unique connection. While at the same time, everyone’s experiences and stories are completely different. No two pandemic stories are the same, just as no two climate stories are the same.
Both a pandemic and a climate crisis make planning for the future difficult. How do we design our lives around ever-increasing hurricanes or wildfires? With climate anxiety on the rise, more and more people are struggling with the weight of blurry horizons. This year has been as if we were sailing, and a massive storm came in, cloaking the sky. How can we find the stars or other signifiers that will guide us to where we need to be? Joe Pinsker recently wrote in The Atlantic how “Not having things to look forward to is a kind of social horizonlessness.”
Something I deeply appreciate about the movement for a Green New Deal is that it is so much more than just a piece of legislation, it is also a vision of a country we want to build. We know full well that we cannot return to business as usual, so where do we look to? The Green New Deal recognizes the interlocking issues of climate change, inequality, migration, and gender justice (to name a few). If you’re feeling rocked by the waves of 2020, and are looking for some hope for what lies ahead, I urge you to read the proposal for a Green New Deal (if you haven’t read it recently) and then find the local group you need to to help it come to life. This can be a guiding path for where we can put our energies.
Grace Lee Boggs said, “You don’t choose the times you live in, but you do choose who you want to be, and you do choose how you want to think.” We know that even if we move off fossil fuels now, we are still locked in for decades of unforeseen catastrophes. The pandemic has taught us that we must be more resilient – to sway with the change, but not to snap. We will have to keep on building those muscles because even after the vaccine is distributed, the reality is the climate crisis will ensure that each year will be different from the last. We all need to be working to find the people, practices, and beliefs that help us stay steady. In 2017, Daniel Hunter compiled a guide with 7 behaviors that we can use to “be in shape for the long haul.” Whatever it is that works for you, start building a practice now to help build hope, flexibility, and care into your life.
The famed Hawaiian traditional navigator Nainoa Thompson has written and spoken about the practice of wayfinding in the Pacific. Long before Europeans invented the sextant and other tools, Pacific Islanders were using their own advanced wisdom to chart their way through the vast expanse of the Pacific. Thompson once noted how when it’s cloudy and you can’t see the sun, moon, or stars, then you must rely on the ocean waves. “If you can read the ocean you will never be lost,” he says. To learn how to read the ocean is an advanced skill that takes a whole lifetime and deep mentoring to obtain. For me as a land dweller, I feel that the ocean I exist in here is my community. A key thing I hope we carry forward this year is our sense of care. It’s been incredible to see all the local mutual aid networks that have been ignited, as well as all the traditional systems of care that have done their duty to make sure people are supported.
If there’s anything I know to be true, it’s that we will only survive the climate crisis if we break down our notions of individualism and lean into the importance of our communities. In Kristin Ghodsee’s recent article on the enduring optimism of the famed physicist Freeman Dyson, she noted how “The key to the future, he seemed to indicate, hinged on understanding the roots of altruism.” How we treat those around us will be the determinant for our future. This is what we must hold to. Ask yourself how well you are at ‘reading’ your community. Do you know when to drop off food, even if you aren’t directly asked? Do you know when to show up to help repair something broken? Are you willing to give wholeheartedly? Do you know how to ask for assistance when you need it? It is our community who will deliver soup when we are sick, and it is our community who will help clear out our floors after a flood. Whether it’s a pandemic or the climate crisis, it is those in our circles who will truly ensure we thrive.
Going into 2021, I’m under no pretense that things suddenly became better once the clock struck midnight. I want to honor all that has been lost and given this past year, but I also know I need to be ready for the journey ahead. So I’m grounding myself in deeply understanding the world I want to build, while also ensuring I am doing my part to nurture those around me. This is how I’ll keep on sailing ahead.