Rebecca Solnit, Thelma Young Lutunatabua - 'Not Too Late, Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Optimism'

Rebecca Solnit, Thelma Young Lutunatabua - 'Not Too Late, Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Optimism'


The cover for 'Not Too Late'

This book is akin to Noam Chomsky and C. J. Polychroniou’s Optimism Over Despair: On Optimism, : On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change and Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin’s Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet, two books that soberly surveys and, at times, deeply digs into what can be done about the most severe threats to humanity.

Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua have edited and written a book to fan flames of discontent; young people are more prone to cause change than older ones, but that’s no excuse for inertia. We know that human and animal life are on the precipice of either dying or living: the IPCC state that it’s now or never to stave off the annihilation of human life due to the ongoing climate catastrophe.

A slew of different writers have gathered to write the different reports and essays in this book, from climate scientists and to human-rights lawyers and Indigenous-rights experts.

Rebecca Solnit, from the introduction of this book:

We are deep in an emergency. But it is not too late, because the emergency is not over. The outcome is not decided. We* are deciding it now. The longer we wait to act, the more limited the options, but scientists tell us there are good options and great urgency to embrace them while we can. An emergency is when a stable situation destabilizes, when the house catches fire or the dam breaks or institution implodes, when the failure or sudden change or crisis calls for urgent response. It’s when it becomes clear that the way things were is not how they’re going to be.

*The word “we” is both problematic and necessary, so at the outset I want to acknowledge that not everyone is part of any version of “we”’ This book was put together with young people and newcomers to the climate movement in mind, with an expectation that most readers would be in the US and global north. Even there, the differences matter—between indigenous and settler, rich and poor, people who have lost homes and lives to the climate crisis and those who think of it as largely in the future. But there’s also the “we” that is all humanity, all who are impacted, and all beings alive now and yet to come. So, take this “we” with a grain of salt and allow some latitude for the necessity and inadequacy of the categories that make up language.

Thelma Young Lutunatabua, from her ‘Nothing Is Inevitable’:

Nothing is inevitable, and that’s crucial to remember in this fight. It’s no surprise that so many of the tactics the climate movement is using to tackle fossil-fuel Goliaths are taken straight from playbooks used to bring down dictators. If we can get at the fossil fuel industry’s pillars of support, the legs that prop them up, they will tumble. The Serbian activists who helped overthrow Slobodan Milošević have been spreading this methodology for years with the simple truth, “If people withdraw their support, the ruler cannot rule!”

This echoes the words of Ursula K. Le Guin:

Le Guin echoed in her 2014 National Book Foundation lifetime achievement acceptance speech: “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”

Some of the sections of this book are interviews. For example, Solnit speaks with oil-policy analyst and investigative journalist Antonia Juhasz, and discuss how fast the oil industry will end. It’s not a question of whether it will end, just how fast it will happen. The question is mainly: will we make them stop killing us or will they kill us slowly or quickly?

The book isn’t wishy-washy about where humanity is in relation to all existing life on Earth: we have currently have the chance to stop the complete annihilation of humanity. This is also where the book is at its most positive: it’s a sobering clarion call against what youths often face: a mix of the Cassandra metaphor (warning others about impending doom and being disbelieved) and the Stockholm syndrome (believing the fossil-fuel industry are doing what they can, that they’re empathetic humans who are in the same boat as the rest of us, so why should they send everyone toward their deaths).

Make no mistake, the book is packed with fact. From Joelle Gergis:

As a climate scientist, people often ask me what is the single most important thing they can do to address the climate crisis? My answer is simply this: recognize that you are living through the most profound moment in human history. Averting planetary disaster is up to the people alive right now. When you realize that the 2020s will be remembered as the decade that determined the fate of humanity, you will tap into an eternal evolutionary force that has transformed the world time and time again. Recognizing you are part of a timeless tug of war for social justice electrifies the present moment in a way that brings meaning and purpose to our lives.

Farhana Sultana, professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment, effectively points out climate coloniality:

Coloniality maintains the matrix of power established during active colonization through contemporary institutional, financial, and geopolitical world orders, and also through knowledge systems. I argue it continues its reach through climate in climate coloniality, which is experienced through continued ecological degradations that are both overt and covert, episodic and creeping—for example, pollution, toxic waste, mining, disasters, desertification, deforestation, land erosion, and more—whereby global capitalism, via development and economic growth ideologies, reproduces various forms of colonial racial harms to entire countries in the global south and communities of color in the global north. Thus, climate coloniality occurs where Eurocentric hegemony, neocolonialism, racial capitalism, uneven consumption, and military domination are co-constitutive of climate impacts experienced by variously racialized populations who are disproportionately made vulnerable and disposable. Legacies of imperial violence from active colonial eras live on, not only exacerbating environmental degradation but also increasing climate-induced disasters. As frequencies and strengths of climate-fueled natural hazards such as tropical cyclones grow, the structural violence of colonialism is further experienced and vulnerabilities entrenched. Slow but compounding violence intensifies vulnerabilities that maintain climate coloniality and extend it into the future. Some lives and ecosystems are rendered disposable and sacrificial, fueled by structural forces both historical and contemporary. The racial logic of climate tragedies and cumulative impacts are ever present.

Similarly, Jade Begay, an indigenous-rights and climate-policy expert, shows how indigenous peoples have been forced into dependence on others and what that brings:

Removing a peoples’ means of providing for themselves is a cunning way to suppress and control them. George Washington famously led the burning of Haudenosaunee seed houses. The United States encouraged the slaughter of buffalo to destroy the ability of the Plains Nations to provide for themselves. And in California, settlers methodically destroyed the oak trees that the people depended upon. A state of dependency was intentionally created, with the Nations having to look to their colonizers for survival assistance.

There are many different views on the climate catastrophe described in this book. All of them carry power. Even though some white people living in affluent areas of the world magically might believe they won’t be affected if the sea level rises by a few meters, it doesn’t take more than a glance at scientific research to know that we all are, truly, in the same boat. Even though Bangladesh may first be swept away, it affects all of us. If we don’t act, what does that make us? And, to paraphrase Martin Niemöller, who will save you when it’s time?

From a discussion between Thelma Young Lutunatabua and Joseph Sikulu:

Thelma: What would you say to those who are feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world and uncertain about how to get going on their climate journey?

Joseph: Drink some kava. (Laughs) Yeah, I think, know that you’re not alone—we all feel overwhelmed sometimes. Our way through that is by finding connection. We don’t have to go through it alone. Find connection and find love, and sometimes it takes a bit of work to find that community that you’re looking for. Reach out, just take a chance and step forward. We need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone sometimes to do that, because you never know what we’re going to be on the other side. Fenton: You do not have to do this on your own. So much of this story about individualism needs to be left behind. The future needs to be one that’s collective and communal.

This is a collection of stories from different peoples of different ages, who are living in different areas of Earth. This book is among those that are the most needed in this grim and stark period of time, as it’s no exaggeration to say that we’re standing on the precipice of our collective future or our definitive End.