Harnessing my “Superpower” in the name of Climate Justice
Cramming for the Apocalypse
This is a guest post by , the creater of . As usual, check out the list of climate change news at the end of the article.
“[The climate challenge] is about transformation and the stakes for humanity are greater than my heart and mind could barely fathom,” said Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson–marine biologist, policy expert, writer, and former host of one of my favorite climate podcasts, that is no longer How to Save a Planet–in her amazing 2022 TED talk.
In her position, she often gets asked what one simple thing we, ourselves, can do to help the climate crisis. While that “ship has sailed,” she says, we do have agency over our future. But that agency must be channeled in the direction of changing society, our culture, and our ways of being that are, as she notes, transformational.
It’s a daunting task. It feels impossible. And it feels beyond anything any one of us can comprehend. And for so many, that is a large part of why we’re experiencing climate grief or climate anxiety. But Johnson has a suggestion.
“I find the best way to cope with this is to avoid dwelling on the terrifying scientific projects and instead pivot quickly to solutions,” she says. “Now the climate movement and media all too often ask each of us to do the same things–to vote, protest, donate, spread the word, lower our carbon footprint…Yes, it is good to do those things. I do those things.
However, all too rarely are we asked to contribute our special talents, our superpowers. And what a failing because that would actually enable the rapid change that we need. So where do we each begin? Here’s my best answer, a Venn diagram.”
Behold, her Venn Diagram:
There is something beautiful in the simplicity of this diagram. That simplicity doesn’t mean it’s not transformative, though. By definition, it is meant to be transformative. If every person who cared about and worried about the state of our planet and the people on it took this diagram to heart and took action accordingly, now that would be transformative. It shows us that we all are climate activists if we channel our superpowers in the right direction.
The diagram implores us to ask ourselves the following questions: What are you good at? What is the work that needs doing? What brings you joy? Where all of these intersect is your climate action.
I learned of Johnson’s Venn Diagram not long into my project to build skills for a changing planet and write a book about it–Cramming for the Apocalypse. I had only started building the skills, but the seeds of the idea took root a few months before as I thought about my own climate anxiety and the paralysis that all too often goes along with it.
I saw this project as a way to jump-start myself out of climate grief. To acknowledge it, but also to find a way to move forward. While the project is about building skills for a climate apocalypse, it’s also about working to build a better, more just, more environmentally connected society right now before it’s too late.
When I was introduced to Johnson’s Climate Action Venn Diagram, I realized that, without knowing it, I had made the choice months before to work within the nexus of my own diagram by writing a book about my skill-building process. I had apparently been onto something, but hadn’t yet thought about it specifically as climate action. Creating my own Venn Diagram made me see how I could actually go about doing that throughout the process, and be more intentional about it as a form of climate action.
So I went through and asked myself the questions prompted by the Venn:
What am I good at?
I’m a master at logistics management. Do you need an event planned, a project to get completed, or a spreadsheet to be tracked? I’m your gal.
As an extrovert from birth (just ask my parents), I’m exceptionally good at talking to and making connections with people.
I’m great at bringing groups of people together around shared interests or topics.
I’m a writer and a communicator.
What is the work that needs doing?
We have a climate anxiety crisis. As I experienced, the fear and grief from a dying planet are enough to create massive paralysis. We need to acknowledge that anxiety and find a way to push through it to take action.
We need more White folks like myself joining up with multiracial coalitions to take climate justice action. We need to learn from and follow climate justice activists from marginalized communities and communities of color who have already been doing transformative work.
We need to be better prepared as a society for the future of a changing planet.
We need to completely re-envision and change our society, how we live, and what we value, and take action to realize that vision for a better, more just, healthier future.
What brings me joy?
Writing. Writing is not only my job, but it is also how I process and make meaning of what’s happening in the world. It helps me find my place in the issues that concern me the most. And, it is the way I learn about topics that are new to me.
Connecting with people and creating community. I love going to coffee with my friends, connecting with a stranger over small talk at the playground, and, above all, creating a community that I believe is a part of my emotional and physical survival.
Learning new things. While I’m often terrified to jump into learning a new skill or go out of my comfort zone, I secretly love it. I’m always surprised about how much I like something that seems intimidating from the outside. I also use my writing skills to learn new things about the world and to be open to new concepts that might not appeal to me at first.
Talking about/interrogating issues of social and racial justice. I have dedicated my entire career to talking about, reflecting on, and facilitating discussions around social and racial justice. There are new concepts and ways of being and realizations about myself that I am still learning, and it’s because of these constant conversations.
What all of this leads to is my own climate action by way of the Cramming for the Apocalypse project. Through this Venn Diagram reflection, I realized that the book I’m working on, which is still the plan for the end product of this project, wasn’t the central part of my climate action. I realized that the journey was as important as the end product, maybe even more so.
What that journey entails is harnessing my superpowers, those areas that I enjoy, and channeling them toward action. I’m not only writing the book, but also a weekly Substack newsletter that is engaging with these topics that I’m working through on my own regularly, serving as an accountability mechanism. As a public forum, it’s also creating a community allowing others to engage with the concepts of climate anxiety, climate justice, and preparedness.
And of course, there’s all the work that’s going into taking the steps to prepare me for a changing planet. I’m actively learning new things, and I’m taking action to create a society we all deserve. I’m doing this through organizing my neighbors’ emergency preparedness plan, facilitating the creation of a babysitting co-op with other families, and convening groups of White folks seeking to take action on racial justice issues.
Not everyone is going to write a book or launch a Substack newsletter, or even create a babysitting co-op. As Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson notes, you don’t have to quit your job for your climate action or start an organization or do anything grandiose. The actions we can take can be small as well as impactful. I encourage you to create your own Climate Action Venn Diagram. Check out the resources on Johnson’s website and download your template and get creative. I especially encourage you to watch her TED Talk.
“This is what I know,” she says. “There are enumerable possible solutions. I know we each get some say in the collective future that we all have…This is an invitation. Find your role if you haven’t already. Encourage others to find theirs. Averting climate catastrophe, this is the work of our lifetimes.”
Climate News Around
Global: Delta Air Lines plans to make 95% of its fuel sustainable by 2050 (The Verge)
Global: Artificial Intelligence is booming in the tech industry, but so is its carbon footprint (Bloomberg)
Global: Can we turn CO2 into a valuable resource? (c&en)
Global: Scientists could emphasize sucking up CO2 from the air as an alternative solution (BBC)
Global: What can we do with Microplastics? (GreenBiz)
USA: California’s storm threatens possible flooding (Reuters)
China: Parts of the country were hit by high temperatures of 31.8°C (89°F) that smashed seasonal records (usnews)
EU: The countries agreed to promote a global fossil fuel phase-out ahead of the COP28 (Reuters)
EU: Man-made fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) have a super-global warming effect, far worse than CO2 (Politico)
Australia: A study shows that 2020 bushfires depleted the ozone layer by up to 5% (The Guardian)
Pakistan: How much should rich countries contribute to rebuilding the country from floods? (Financial Times)
UK: The government has given £20bn more in support to fossil fuel producers than those of renewables since 2015 (The Guardian)
Denmark: Crown Prince Frederik inaugurated the world’s first project that is designed to store CO2 at 1,800 m beneath the North Sea. It is expected to store up to eight million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030 (France24)
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