What We’re Fighting For Now is Each Other ♦♦♦♦♦
by Wen Stephenson
256 pages, Published October 6th 2015
So maybe you don’t really consider yourself an ‘activist’, but you understand and are concerned about climate change and its likely consequences, and struggle with what you could or should do to engage? If this strikes a chord with you, this book could be a thought-provoking read for you. It was for me. This book is going to stick with me.
It’s not a climate science book ~ this book is something different. While it conveys information about a scientific topic, it primarily shares stories about the motivations of real people involved in the climate justice movement with, it seems to me, the intention of ‘broadening the tent’ to bring more of the rest of us to an understanding of the urgency of the situation and the need for potentially radical (non-violent) action.
This book accepts scientific consensus about man-made climate change and spends little time restating the case. In fact, the preface is focused on “acknowledging the science and the sheer lateness of the hour…”, and strongly asserts that the time for taking action to prevent many of the worst consequences of climate change has passed, and that rapid change and chaos are now inevitable. However, Stephenson contends this does not mean it’s ‘too late’.
Even if you personally aren’t convinced about the science, or doubt the consequences will be as dire as feared, this book may still be for you.
I’d encourage you not let that deter you from reading this book, because it’s enlightening as an account of the special value of ‘movements’ of non-violent, civil disobedience. It increased my understanding of the types of people who are involved in activism, and their motivations, sacrifices, struggles, and significant impact. And it challenged me to reconsider my moral obligation, and how I’ve chosen to engage.
It’s surprisingly heavy on the spiritual lives of those in social justice and climate justice movements, and the importance of that in sustaining involvement for the long haul in efforts that may never have a clear ending. Some will feel there’s a bit too much focus early in the book on Thoreau and the process of personal awaking of the author, but I came away feeling that it was context that supported the story arc of awakening to a moral obligation, taking inspiration from history, leading and organizing in solidarity to resist an existential threat, and finding the moral or spiritual strength to persevere.
This call-to-action informs and maintains interest through a variety of conversations with organizers in the US, and stories of their actions, including 350.org, the Tar Sands Blockade, Keystone XL, and other more locally-focused social and political justice efforts that align and find common ground with climate justice (and some tension as well). Stephenson takes the position that, while it’s likely too late to avoid many of the consequences of climate change due to our delayed action, building a strong movement and community of support is essential, and is still worth it. What’s the goal? He contends that the planet will be fine, but civilization, and our humanity, is at stake. “Our fight is against chaos – and for community. And it cannot wait”.
I’m new to the theory of ‘movements’, and was a bit surprised that the author and those he profiles don’t see their role as proposing ‘solutions’. “But it’s not …the climate movement’s job to offer detailed policy prescriptions that fit within the confines of our current politics. Given our political deadlock, the movement’s job is to tell the truth, however extreme— and to force those in power to recognize that even the outer limit of what our current politics will allow (a modest carbon tax, for example) is utterly inadequate to the crisis. The movement’s job is to force that reckoning.”
“What We’re Fighting For Now Is Each Other” is not a how-to book that tells you what to think or what to do, and it’s definitely not a climate science book. Rather, this is a book about waking up to the reality that we’re collectively not taking the actions needed to address what is probably the greatest challenge the human race has faced.
It’s a big, heavy message. Other books focus on the necessary technological and policy innovations and implementation efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and those efforts are obviously essential. This book adds an important perspective about the need to be honest about our failure to act soon enough, and the obligation to force the issue. I come away from it with a better appreciation for the importance of activism as a driving force for the serious changes needed, and I feel much more supportive and grateful for the courageous individuals of the climate justice movement.