by Patrick, Bookseller
As we stay home, the Earth begins to breathe again. Mountain goats sunbathe on church grounds in a small Welsh town; peacocks parade through the streets of Dubai; and jellyfish float merrily down suddenly crystal-clear canals in Venice. Headlines proclaim that the prices of oil futures has plunged below zero. We are the disease! comes the half-ironic cry from certain corners of my social media feed, and, looking at the breathtaking "before" and "after" shots of smog in LA and Beijing, it's easy to get swept up in those righteous Twitter firestorms.
In these times of extreme anxiety, as we are confronted so unapologetically with forces far beyond our individual control, it's important that we take every opportunity to feel a sense of comfort, accomplishment, and empowerment. But it is equally important to take this moment, when all of our routines are up in the air, to reflect on which habits of behavior and thought are really serving us, and whether we might be clinging to the familiar instead of the necessary.
Earth Day is supposed to be an opportunity for such reflection. This one passed without fanfare for me, as it often does. I find it difficult to bridge the scale of climate change and environmental degradation with my tiny sphere of influence, and my mind flees from contemplating them too deeply.
When that happens, it is easy to listen to voices that try to separate us from our power to effect change. Voices that paint humans as a blight to be expunged in order for Earth to restore itself—so why bother doing anything?—or, voices that paint a faceless, invincible Capitalism as the agent of destruction, instead of the embodied, living and breathing systems that we recreate every day. Or worse yet, voices that tell us the threats are coming from outside, that we'll be safe if we close off ourselves and our borders from each other, leaving the most vulnerable to their fates.
When I notice my mind fleeing from reality, wallowing in hopelessness or taking refuge in reassuring illusions, I turn to books to find the right kind of salve for my anxious soul. There is always comfort in knowing that people much smarter, more determined, and more creative than I have had my same fears, and have been working on solutions a lot longer than Covid-19 has been around. And this is the kind of comfort, for me, that inspires action; that connects you to your values and shows you it is safe to take risks.
I know that once this crisis is over, all of the systems we've created to feed, house, and clothe ourselves will keep barreling along, relatively undisturbed, and all the environmental destruction we've witnessed will continue apace. If you're like me, you know that our responses to this destruction cannot be a simple negation of the systems we have built out of industrialization, nor a return to an idyllic, pre-modern time when we lived in 'harmony' with Nature. And above all you know those responses need to be rooted in joy and community, not in fear or xenophobia.
I missed my opportunity to do anything radical for Earth Day, but that's ok. In the meantime, these are some of the books** I've turned to to help me imagine a truly humane and ecological future. All of these writers have a gift for bridging the local, communal, and the global; for understanding that humans are a part of the natural world, not outside or opposed to it; and for connecting us with our collective power. I hope you'll find them as inspiring as I have.
**Honorable mentions: <em>Silent Spring</em> by Rachel Carson; <em>Pleasure Activism</em> ed. Adrienne Marie Brown; and Greta Thunberg's Twitter feed (or, if you are so inclined, <em>No One is Too Small to Make a Difference</em>)