Thank you, you whisper in your head as you sit comfortably on the floor of Ada’s attic, with your wife and kids and six neighbors.
Thank you for letting her borrow mint from the garden. Thank you for fixing that squeaky gate.
You don’t think about your own home flooding for the third time this year. You’re up here, dry and safe.
Thank you for those long sidewalk chats, even though you found her strange at first.
Ada offers you dried mangoes from her emergency supply bag — you shake your head, but squeeze her hand and smile.
— a drabble by Claire Elise Thompson
Hello! Welcome to the first edition of Looking Forward, a new newsletter from Fix, Grist’s solutions lab. In every edition, we’ll help you get beyond climate paralysis by offering hopeful visions (like the fictional one above) of a livable future. And we’ll introduce you to the real, game-changing ideas and leaders of today that show there are endless ways to pitch in.
We’re thrilled you want to be part of this space — and we hope you’ll engage with us to share ideas, reactions, and stories of your own. Looking Forward is a community that we’re building together.
Because, at the risk of sounding a little too earnest on our very first day, community itself is a climate solution.
When friends and neighbors organize, they can spark entire movements and get governments to listen. When residents are put in charge of climate-adaptation decisions for their localities, the results can be profound. And when disaster strikes, communities helping each other can make all the difference.
“The people who are closest to you physically will become the most important people of your life when everything collapses,” says Christine Nieves Rodriguez, a climate activist based in Puerto Rico. She not only discovered this firsthand, but has made community resilience to climate disasters her mission.
Nieves moved back home to Puerto Rico in 2017. She’d left the island to pursue education and opportunity — but then a warning came to her, in the form of chronic shoulder pain. A physical therapist told her, “That pain that you’re feeling — it’s associated with feeling like you lack community.” Nieves knew, in her body, that her community was back in Puerto Rico. The pain was calling her home.
Nine months later, Hurricane Maria hit. It was the deadliest disaster the U.S. had seen in a century. Around 3,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands more were displaced. Some of the island’s residents went without electricity for nearly a year. Nieves and her partner rode out the storm in a tiny bathroom in their home, and when they emerged the landscape in their mountaintop town of Mariana was completely devastated.
But what made a difference, in their small community, was that people knew each other. And they knew the land. They knew how to get to each other without GPS. They knew who the nurses were, who the cooks were, who had repair knowledge. “All of that is known because there are grandmothers here. There are great-grandmothers here. There are people who have heard the stories from their grandparents and their great-grandparents,” Nieves says. “So there’s also that kind of collective memory.”
With the help of friends, Nieves mobilized to launch a community kitchen called Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana (Mutual Aid Project of Mariana). Ten days after the hurricane, the operation was feeding 300 people a day and distributing food to around 60 more who couldn’t leave their homes. People on the ground brought whatever food, money, and skills they could contribute. A local community organization provided the space. An artist painted the signs.
“The most reliable way of ensuring that you’re going to be safe, and that the people around you are going to be OK, is knowing each other’s strengths,” Nieves says. “It’s about relationships and getting to know each other.”
Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana has since grown into the nonprofit Emerge Puerto Rico, through which Nieves aims to spread community wisdom to build disaster resilience in the most impacted communities.
At least 85 percent of the world’s population has already experienced climate-fueled weather events. And the recent IPCC report, the U.N.’s benchmark assessment of climate change impacts, has made it clear that more intense and more frequent storms, wildfires, heat, and other weather events are going to be part of our lives in the decades to come, even if we take drastic action now.
There’s nowhere you can move to escape the climate crisis — but finding a deeper connection to the place you live now might be the next best thing. For Nieves, that meant moving back home. If you don’t live in the place where your ancestors did, she recommends finding out whose ancestral land you are on and what you can learn from longer-established residents. “Everything’s become so transactional around moving to a new place,” Nieves says. “You buy a house and you’re good. What about the memory of that space? What about the connection to the land?”
And in moments when you’re struggling to feel any agency, awash in terrifying news about the magnitude of the problem, remember that the simple act of meeting your neighbors can be a powerful form of climate action. “Just give food to people, to your neighbors,” Nieves says. They might be feeding you tomorrow.
- Read: More about Christine Nieves Rodriguez, who was recognized on Fix’s 2018 Grist 50 list of emerging climate leaders
- Watch: Nieves’s TEDMED Talk on her experience starting Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana and what she learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria
- Read: Disasterology: Dispatches From the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis, a book by climate scientist Samantha Montano about rethinking disaster preparation and response
- Read: A fictionalized account of a community that organized to grow food together in the aftermath of the pandemic (YES! Magazine)
- Read: A piece on investing in libraries as “climate-resilience hubs” — trusted community institutions that can offer guidance and gathering spaces in times of disaster (High Country News)
See for yourself
How are you and your neighbors preparing for climate impacts? Reply to this email to let us know how your community is thinking about resilience. And if this story inspired you to go out and meet a neighbor, tell us how it went!
Something else on your mind?
We want to hear your vision. Email us about the game-changing solution you’re working on or a topic you’d like to see this newsletter cover — or try your hand at writing your own 100-word drabble. Tell us what you see in our climate future (and maybe you’ll see it in the future of this newsletter).
On our horizon
- Nominate your climate hero to the 2022 Grist 50 list! We’re looking for scientists, entrepreneurs, chefs, clean energy wonks, artists, and more, who are driving bold, innovative solutions to the climate crisis. The deadline for noms is October 29 (tomorrow!).
- In addition to the Grist 50, Fix publishes a bimonthly digital magazine on climate and justice solutions; each themed issue takes on a single topic from multiple angles and perspectives. Our inaugural Climate Fiction Issue explores the power of words and imagination to move us toward a better future. The issue includes the 12 short stories that won our first-ever climate-fiction writing contest, Imagine 2200.
- We also publish essays and opinion pieces on a weekly basis, highlighting a wide variety of topics and voices — like 350.org leader Tamara Toles O’Laughlin on the connection between climate and racial justice, and therapist Ariella Cook-Shonkoff on embracing the painful feelings that come with climate change. Feel free to pitch us your big idea (as a completed draft, please!) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A parting shot
Behold, One Love Community Fridge in Brooklyn — one of hundreds of local mutual-aid networks and projects that arose during the pandemic, creating community infrastructure that can help neighborhoods be more prepared for future shocks.