You’ve heard the expression countless times: “Think globally, act locally.” It’s typically a sort of aspirational admonition, a reminder that our choices matter, but lately I find it rattling around my head as a literal description of our times. Who among us isn’t thinking globally these days, as this seemingly unstoppable virus courses through cultures and countries with no regard for boundaries? And in response to this global threat, most of us have been instructed to adapt a daily routine of acting locally — actually, it isn’t quite local. It’s something more like micro-local.
When the space you previously called home becomes your entire universe, you inhabit that space in new ways. Maybe the kitchen is now your office and your gym and your school and your restaurant of choice. Maybe your empty nest is full again. Maybe you are restless and looking for any excuse to get out and about, or maybe you’re content to while away the days examining the patterns on your curtains in a whole new way. Whatever space you’re in and whatever you’re doing with your time there, you are both a micro-localist and part of a global movement.
As we tackle COVID-19 together, we cannot lose sight of our role in addressing climate change. This week, we marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and I had the great good fortune to speak with Varshini Prakash, cofounder of the Sunrise Movement, and Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day (and a mentor of mine who played a pivotal role in launching Grist). You can read some highlights of our conversation below, and find the full thing here.
I also had a chance to pick the brain of Jenny Offill, author of the recent hit novel Weather. She reminded me, among other things, that “there are so many people trying to envision new ways to live, ways that are less destructive and less precarious.” Hayes and Prakash are two leaders on that front.
Once upon a time, “think globally, act locally” was a fresh concept, not a tired cliche. Today it has a whole new relevance. Keep up the good work on the home front, don’t hesitate to reach out, and please share this newsletter with anyone you think might find it worthwhile.
— Chip, Grist and Fix Founder
Fixers in conversation
Varshini Prakash describes the effort to take on the climate crisis as “an intergenerational, cross-race, cross-class fight . . . we need everybody who can be a part of it.” Prakash, the 27-year-old cofounder of the youth-led Sunrise Movement and a 2018 Grist 50 Fixer, took some time this week to compare notes with Denis Hayes, the coordinator of the first Earth Day.
In 1970, Hayes was an idealistic 25-year-old himself. He went on to help lead a burgeoning environmental movement that captured the imagination of everyone from schoolchildren to labor unions, making tangible gains in the 1970s including the creation of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. As we talked, he reflected on the tactics activists used during that era and on how the movement evolved and changed as the 20th century wound down and the next millennium began.
Hayes and Prakash agree that climate solutions and economic recovery can — and must — go hand in hand, and that this is an all-hands-on-deck situation. “We only feel alone because we are in our thoughts and in our brains, and talking to ourselves in our small insular communities,” Prakash said. “But the minute we take our heads out of the water and look at who’s around us, there is an immeasurable community of people who are ready to take action in this moment. And we just have to find them and give them the tools to get out there and go.”
You can read more of my discussion with the two of them on our site.
Your reading list
It’s been called “the right novel for the end of the world,” so I couldn’t help but think of Jenny Offill’s Weather, which was published a couple of months ago. Full disclosure: I haven’t finished the book yet (my son keeps asking for help with his math homework on the couch and my daughter wants me to weigh in on her social-studies project in the dining room). But that didn’t stop me from reaching out to Offill with a few questions about her take on preparing for the apocalypse. Here’s what she had to say:
Q.You couldn’t have known, but your book feels so apt in the current moment as we all go about trying to lead our daily lives in the face of a looming existential threat.
A.Weather is largely about anticipatory dread, those moments when you know something terrible is coming down the pike but you don’t yet know the shape of it. This pandemic moves much more quickly, of course, but that feeling of uneasiness and confusion seems to be present in both these emergencies.
Q.What led you to write a book about the climate crisis?
A.I was inspired to write it by a decade of conversations about extinction with my friend, the novelist and conservationist, Lydia Millet. She has worked for the brilliant Center for Biological Diversity for over a decade and through her stories about their work to save endangered species I learned about the climate piece of the puzzle. Then I read and read until I scared myself silly. Finally, I decided I wanted to write my way into understanding it better, in particular why I could know about it abstractly but not yet feel it emotionally.
Q.How did you feel coming out on the other side of it? Any modicum of hope?
A.I think often of this quote by the writer Isak Dinesen who said you must write a bit each day without hope and without despair. In reality, I swing back and forth between the two, but I am much less doomy than I was when I started Weather.
There are so many people trying to envision new ways to live, ways that are less destructive and less precarious. I am excited by the work of the Transition Town movement and am inspired by the integrity and urgency of youth climate activists such as those involved in Extinction Rebellion youth and the Sunrise Movement.
Q.Grist has been in the business of using humor to make serious issues more accessible for years. What are your thoughts on why humor matters, and why it matters most when it feels least appropriate?
A.I think the earnestness of the traditional environmental movement has kept many people away from it. It can be daunting to try to live up to such high standards of behavior especially for those of us who are new to activism. I think the role of humor is to help us recognize the absurdity of so much of what we do (I am often ranting about some climate issue while driving aimlessly in my car), but also to underscore the importance of humility, something we tend to lack as humans.
We cannot win over people through self-righteous rants. We need to allow for what I call “Activism for Hypocrites!” Our best hope to mitigate and adapt to the climate emergency is through sustained collective action. Humor is like a welcome sign on the door: Come on in, I promise it will be more fun than you think.
- PARTY LINES. State and federal legislators around the country are joining the “future caucus” movement, which encourages young Republicans and Democrats to bridge political divides and collaborate on key issues facing millennials. Among their efforts so far: helping to pass ridesharing legislation in Colorado and supporting clean energy initiatives in Iowa.
- HITTING THE BRAKES. The city of Oakland is getting attention for rolling out a “slow streets” plan that will reclaim 74 miles of roadways — nearly 10 percent of the city’s streets — for pedestrians and cyclists during the coronavirus lockdown. The program is aimed at promoting safety and well being. Such strategies could become part of the permanent landscape in Europe, with cities like Milan committing to car-free streets as part of their COVID-19 recovery plans.
- FUTURES SHOCK. Oil futures dipped below zero for the first time ever this week. Although the industry recovered its footing relatively quickly, it also got hit from a different angle: Oxford University announced that it would divest from fossil fuels.
- YAY IS FOR APPLE. The founders of the Lost Apple Project spend their time scouring rural Idaho and Washington for abandoned pioneer-era orchards that are still bearing fruit. And they have hit the motherlode: the pair discovered 10 varieties thought to be lost to time. The latest crop, which includes the Streaked Pippin, the Sary Sinap, and the Butter Sweet, will become part of the group’s grafting and propagation efforts.
Your next move
- Send a meal to the front lines. In Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and other cities, local restaurants have found a noble way to stay in business: providing meals to health care workers. A nonprofit called Frontline Foods, which grew out of the pandemic, is coordinating a national fund in addition to 49 local chapters.
- Do some science. April isn’t just Earth Month — it’s also Citizen Science Month. And this April, it so happens that many of us are feeling more observant, and more in tune with our surroundings than ever. Participate in one of these community-based research projects.
- Plant a victory garden. Not much of a green thumb? That’s okay! In quarantine, you’ve got a clean slate. You can be that intrepid DIY hobbyist you never thought you’d be before a pandemic trapped you in your home. The Spruce has some simple steps for beginners, but all it really takes is some dirt (in a pot, in the ground, in your bathtub, if you’re not using it), some seeds, and a desire to see them grow.
Your weekend plans
One freakin’ minute.
Meditate for one minute.
That’s all I’m suggesting.
For one minute of one day this weekend.
Sit somewhere comfortable.
Close your eyes.
Ignore your kid and your dog and that weird noise the toilet has started making.
Breathe in through your nose.
Breathe out through your nose. Or mouth. Whatever.
Observe your thoughts.
But don’t judge them!
It’s OK if you think about coronavirus or your health or politics or Supertramp.
Or that weird noise the toilet has started making.
You aren’t trying to clear your mind.
Or do anything magical.
You don’t even have to call it meditation.
Just give yourself one minute to breathe.
And be still.
Think globally, act locally, be still-y.
Namaste home, save lives.