To begin with: I can’t claim to be unbiased or a disinterested observer (but, no one can). No one reads 108 books about climate change without deep investment, and most of the contributors in this collection I am already familiar with; if not in books, then in newsletters, articles, scientific papers, youtube series, podcasts, documentaries, or TED talks. All We Can Save is practically a roll-call of 2020 Climate Heroines (Katherine Hayhoe! Dr. Wilkinson! Dr. Johnson! Amy Westervelt, Dr. Marvel, Adrienne Maree Brown, Mary Anne Hitt, Rhiana Gunn-Wright, Emily Atkin, Varshini Prakash, Susanne Moser, Mary Annaise Heglar, Leah Stokes! etc.), and I was excited enough to read it before my NetGalley request was approved (so yes, I received a free electronic copy in exchange for a review; and then I bought a copy in actual paper because it’s really good and ebooks give me a headache).
There was really no chance I wasn’t going to love it, and, spoiler alert, I do. The editors have done a great job in compiling climate perspectives that centre black and indigenous women climate leaders, and address everything from climate grief and staying motivated, through advocacy strategies and how to talk about climate change, through specific highly technical solutions like regenerative ocean farming and soil conservation techniques. The essays are interwoven with fabulous poems, by poets like Ada Limon, Joy Harjo, Mary Oliver, Alice Walker and Sharon Olds. Nothing is going to make me more likely to buy a book, statistically speaking, than the combination of amazing poetry and climate action. Add in some feminism and I’m done for.
For Those Who Would Govern (Joy Harjo)
First question: Can you first govern yourself?
Second question: What is the state of your own household?
Third question: Do you have a proven record of community service
and compassionate acts?
Fourth question: Do you know the history and laws and your
Fifth question: Do you follow sound principles? Look for fresh
Vision to lift all the inhabitants of the land, including animals,
Plants, elements, all who share this earth?
Sixth question: Are you owned by lawyers, bankers, insurance
Agents, lobbyists, or other politicians, anyone else who would
Unfairly profit by your decisions?
Seventh question: Do you have authority by the original keepers of
The lands, those who obey natural law and are in the service of the
Lands on which you stand?
There’s a lot to love about this essay collection, and only one glaring disappointment.
To begin with, if by some chance you’re not familiar with at least half of the names in the contributors’ list, you’re in luck: you’ll get a beautifully written, elevator-pitch-length summary of their work, from Katherine Hayhoe’s advice on talking about climate change, to Rhiana Gunn-Wright’s work on the Green New Deal, Mary Ann Hitt’s work closing hundreds of coal plants, Emily Atkin’s climate journalism (see Heated), Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy, and more. If you want to know who is doing what on climate action and why, so you can figure out whose work to follow, participate in and promote: start here.
There were no bad essays, and many of them were just breathtaking. Pretty much every piece in Feel was a standout. Under the Weather (Ash Sanders) made me cry, and of course anything by Mary Annaise Heglar is wonderful (Home is Always Worth It).
Sarah Stillman’s Like the Monarch uses animal migration as a positive analogy for human migration and provides a beautiful counter-point to fascism and xenophobic rhetoric.
Heaven or High Water by Sarah Miller, previously published on Popula, is a hilarious and eye-opening first-person account of climate impacts on the Miami Beach real estate market. I didn’t necessarily expect to read pieces on mobilizing fashion models or the 1% to foster the revolution, but I enjoyed reading them.
None of this leaves a lot of obvious room for disappointment, but here it is, and it might not have been so glaring for me if I weren’t reading Care Work at the same time:
The book beautifully centres indigenous and black leadership, the importance of women, the need to build in class and income disparities and analysis, considers climate displacement from the global south, and in general considers thoughtfully and in depth every marginalized community but one: disabled people.
As a type 1 diabetic and a single mom to a disabled teen, that does sting. Worse, it didn’t have to be that way: many of the leaders they discuss struggled with health issues or disabilities of various kinds (Adrienne Rich had arthritis, Rachel Carson died of cancer, Audre Lorde had cancer and vision loss, Mary Oliver struggled with PTSD, Octavia Butler was dyslexic, etc.). Greta Thunberg is autistic, for heaven’s sake, and calls her autism a superpower. Chances are good that a bunch of this book’s contributors have disabilities or chronic illnesses, but you would never know it from the text. Both All We Can Save and Care Work discuss Octavia Butler’s Earthseed books, but only Care Work acknowledges and discusses that Lauren Olamina was disabled, and it was her disability that made her an effective leader:
What I’ve not often seen discussed is how Lauren Olamina, Butler’s Black, genderqueer teenage hero who leads her community out of the ashes and founds a new spirituality that embraces change as god, is disabled. In the book, she is called a “Sharer”: someone with hyperempathy syndrome. She feels everything everyone feels, and it’s often overwhelming in a way that reminds me of some autistic and neurodiverse realities.
To me, Butler’s Parable books are a Black disability justice narrative. Lauren often struggles with her non-normative mind, but it also gives her Black disabled brilliance. Her hyperempathy makes her refuse to leave anyone behind. It allows her to innovate, co-creating a resistance community and rebuilding it when it is destroyed.
For years awaiting this apocalypse, I have worried that as sick and disabled people, we will be the ones abandoned when our cities flood. But I am dreaming the biggest disabled dream of my life — dreaming not just of a revolutionary movement in which we are not abandoned, but of a movement in which we lead the way. With all of our crazy, adaptive-deviced, loving kinship and commitment to each other, we will leave no one behind as we roll, limp, stim, sign and create the decolonial living future.
I am dreaming like my life depends on it. Because it does. And so does yours.
To Survive The Trumpocalypse, We Need Wild Disability Justice Dreams, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha; included in Care Work as Cripping the Apocalypse
There were so many natural opportunities to bring up disability and disability justice, and they were all overlooked. One of the essays, At the Intersections by Jacqui Patterson, discussed in passing one person with hearing loss and a few others with AIDS, as people who need care and assistance because of climate change, which is valid and true, but nothing in the book discussed disability or chronic illness in terms of leadership or contribution–despite Greta, despite the disabled writers quoted. I hope the editors have future editions in which this can be remedied, because as true as it is that disabled people are often overlooked in emergency response planning and exposed to much higher mortality risks from climate impacts and should be included on that basis, it’s also true that disability justice has a lot to offer climate activism.
As just one example, what would climate activism (and environmentalism and conservation work more generally) look like if we could release our cultural vice grip on cure as the only valid goal or outcome? Thinkpieces on the futility of our work, given that we’re past the point of being able to return our world to the pre-industrial condition of 1550 or pre-colonial condition of 1450, and the grief and difficulty of loving a broken world, allowing yourself to care about environments that don’t look like they used to, etc., are as common in green publications as kentucky bluegrass in a Canadian suburb, and about as worthwhile. Do you know who has grappled already with knowing that some things can’t be fixed, can’t be cured, and yet are worth loving, and offer lives worth living with lots of joy and community? Disabled people. Ask them (/us).
To restore a house that’s falling down or a tallgrass prairie ecosystem that’s been devastated is to return it to an earlier, and often better, condition. In this return, we try to undo the damage, wishing the damage had never happened. Talk to anyone who does restoration work–carpenters who rebuild 150-year-old neglected houses or conservation biologists who turn agribusiness cornfields back to tallgrass prairie–and they’ll say it’s a complex undertaking. A fluid, responsive process, restoration requires digging into the past, stretching toward the future, working hard in the present. And the end results rarely, if ever, match the original state….
…I circle back to the ideology of cure. Framing it as a kind of restoration reveals the most obvious and essential tenets. First, cure requires damage, locating the harm entirely within individual human body-minds, operating as if each person were their own ecosystem. Second, it grounds itself in an original state of being, relying on a belief that what existed before is superior to what exists currently. And finally, it seeks to return what is damaged to that former state of being.
But for some of us, even if we accept disability as damage to individual body-minds, these tenets quickly become tangled, because an original nondisabled state of being doesn’t exist.
Eli Clare, Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure
Or not, but, you know, you’re suffering needlessly, and this will affect your work. Disability justice advocates have expertise and relevant skills for climate work, and it is such a shame that this otherwise very comprehensive collection didn’t take advantage.
If I could have given this 4 1/2 stars, I would have; I wanted to round it up to 5, but dammit, they left out my kid.