October 8, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Claire Barber | Photo by Sierra Romero
My windowsill overflows with books about drought, extinction, activism, and climate change. But more times than not, the truth is that it takes months for me to muscle through the subject matter, to get through the dread and grief of our current reality and read more about it.
Launched in paperback on July 20 of this year, “All We Can Save,” edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson, is a climate anthology with an intention of providing a stage for female/gender minority activists and scientists. The book features digestible short essays and accounts from folks on the front lines of the movement. The stories are ideal reads for headlamp-lit evenings and the essays ripe to spark heartfelt, deep campfire conversations.
This book’s genius is its ethic of community.
“We believe the climate movement is only as strong as the relational web between us, which needs to be nurtured,” Johnson and Wilkinson write. By contextualizing the climate emergency within concept of community, climate grief subsides and the reader finds empathetic partners and fellow changemakers in between the words.
Here, the ethic of community is not found by sugarcoating or avoiding the difficult points. Instead, this anthology highlights the systemic inequalities inherent to climate change and climate activism.
“Rarely do we see or hear Black voices as part of national conversations about climate policy, the green economy, or clean energy — even though 57 percent of Black Americans are concerned or alarmed about climate change, compared to 49 percent of white folks,” writes Heather McTeer Toney in her essay, “Collards Greens Are Just as Good as Kale.” Toney wraps up her essay by highlighting powerful, Black female climate activists who, despite historical exclusion, have persisted.
Community becomes powerful through acknowledging and working to address pain, inequality, and hardship. While “All We Can Save” makes clear that our climate emergency is dire, the reader avoids climate “doom and gloom” burnout because, simply, the book provides hope. While pain and suffering do exist, this anthology starts to create a roadmap and support system for gender-minority and historically excluded climate activists around the world.
It should also be noted: the anthology’s layout is lovely. Jubilee Saito’s sketches adorn each chapter, accompanied by short, poetic verses. Saito’s minimalist art provides space for rest and contemplation as you progress through the anthology. The reader is reminded that there is still so much simple magic at every corner — and that climate activism gives us an opportunity to unlock a diversity of beauty and emotion.
But most importantly, this book awakened me to the cognitive dissonance and removal I have felt from the climate emergency at large.
This summer, I worked for a government land agency in rural Colorado. After days working in the field with smoke-filled skies, most climate books and articles brought almost unmanageable amounts of dread and anxiety. I couldn’t read more than a couple of pages at a time without my heart thudding heavily and fast in my chest. With “All We Can Save,” that all changed.
It became clear to me that I had the privilege to put down my books, to set aside the information for a while. “All We Can Save” makes apparent that we don’t have the room anymore to put down our books and bury our heads. Instead, the collection is a radical re-transformation of how climate data and solutions can be presented: inclusive and framed in a positively transformative light.
The climate reality we have now is hard, unpleasant, and full of inequity. “All We Can Save” reminds us that the future we can build is full of opportunities for connection, understanding, and reconciliation — a climate future of hope.