It’s a daunting task to find the right words to fit our current moment in ecological history. Never before have the joint fates of humanity and the natural world been at higher risk. Never before has the discussion around climate action and our relationship to nature changed so rapidly in the face of such immediate risk. We grasp for poetry, prose, or politicians who can give us a sense of hope and security moving forward, but, increasingly, it feels that words are a shout into the void of our collective crisis.
Forgive me — I haven’t gotten off to a very empowering or inspiring start. Allow me to say, rather, that it is the greatest challenge of our generation to contextualize and combat the climate crisis – to put it into words that move masses, to pass effective policy, and to, one day, re-order our socio-economic and political structure in the hopes of healing our broken relationship with the land. We have been entrusted with a responsibility to notice what has been neglected, connect with what has been overlooked, and return to the roots from which we have grown so distant.
The arc of humanity’s course hasn’t always been bent towards destruction. Indeed, for most of our history, our relationship with the land was a reciprocal one, with an intrinsic appreciation for the beauty and value of nature and a sense of gratitude for what she has given us. How, then, did we stray so far from the path? At what point along our journey did we lose sight of our obligation to protect and preserve the natural world? Many forces can be argued to be at fault: capitalism, western religion, patriarchy, industrialization, and globalization to name a few. These institutions have rooted themselves in the bedrock of our human identity, and, although certain brave activists and intellectuals attempt to chip away at them or abandon them entirely, they have had an irreversible effect on how we identify ourselves and what we owe to the natural world.
This, therefore, is my thesis. To remind you, and to constantly remind me, how much we owe to the natural world. Indigenous cultures in North America, such as the Ojibwe and the Potawatomi, base their relationship with the environment on reciprocity; nothing is taken without permission, and everything that is taken is a gift that is owed gratitude, stewardship, and respect in return. It’s a simple premise, that we cannot take without asking and we cannot accept a gift without an act of gratitude in return. In native communities, this act of gratitude is often an offering of tobacco, a holy plant. The concept, a plant for a plant, a gift for a gift, is sacred in its simplicity. It is this concept that I cling to as we plunge deeper into our shared ecological fate.
Humans, for all their faults, have always been quick learners.
We must relearn this essential act of reciprocity, in whatever form it takes. Whether spiritual or physical, there is something we can offer the natural world in exchange for what it has given us. Gratitude and reciprocity are often forgotten as central tenets of environmentalism, but it is through these practices that we can heal our broken relationship with nature. This takes many forms; from cleaning up the parks and green spaces in which we play to paying a carbon tax, we are slowly relearning the practice of giving back in exchange for what is taken. The oldest and most essential of these practices is the planting of trees – thinking ahead for a future we may not be alive to see. The planting of a tree is an almost selfless act, as it asks an individual to give water, light, and sun to a being that will be standing long after we have fallen.
When I’m asked to describe how I feel about the climate crisis, many negative words spring to mind. Afraid, disappointed, and anxious, my mind often screams, terrified of our spaceship earth going down. But, more than any of these things, I am grateful.
Grateful for the opportunity to heal and to mend, and to relearn what we’ve so long ago forgotten. I am grateful for everything nature has given me so far and grateful to devote myself to the work of giving back to her. It is gratitude – deliberate, reciprocal gratitude – that will guide us as we look to save what has been overlooked for so long.
RESOURCES FOR RESILIENCY
To keep from losing hope and remaining grateful in times of crisis, I prescribe the following remedies:
- Community: there are groups in almost every town and county designated to bringing people together in appreciation for the natural world and the fight to protect her. In urban places, I urge you to seek the groups focused on preserving and maintaining local parks and gardens – access to natural spaces in urban communities is an essential aspect of rebuilding our relationship with nature.
- Local Advocacy: Often, it can feel like too much to try to carry the greater national and global fights of climate change on your shoulders. If you’re passionate about doing the work of outdoor advocacy but feel too overwhelmed to start, look to local groups working to protect and preserve the green spaces in your own community. It can be uplifting to see the effects of the work you’re doing in your hometown and to connect with other locals about what common ground you share and work to protect.
- Literature: so much of what we read about the environment these days is disheartening, exhausting, and depressing. There is an important place for this literature; it agitates us into action. However, to reconnect more peacefully and resiliently with this fight, check out the following books!
- Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer – a story of the nexus between indigenous tradition and scientific knowledge, and how we can bring the two narratives together to create a reciprocal relationship with the natural world.
- The Overstory by Richard Power – a gripping novel chronicling the lives of several different individuals as they had been impacted by and guided by trees, and how they ultimately came together in the fight against deforestation of America’s old-growth forests.
- We Rise: The Earth Guardians’ Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez – Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a 19-year-old climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful new voice on the frontlines of a global youth-led movement. In this book, he and his group the Earth Guardians share stories and resources to guide regenerative, restorative climate action and activism.
NOTE: THIS IS AN EDUCATED OPINION PIECE. As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to write your own ed-op on this topic.