As author and activist adrienne maree brown describes, “the natural world manifests itself in ecosystems, not monocultures.”[i] Life, since its inception, has found survival and success in biodiversity. Following suit with the biosphere, then, the more cultures, knowledge, and skills sets we have generating solutions together, the better equipped we will be to survive climate change.
We thus need people with all kinds of experiences and perspectives – Brown, Black, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, White, LGBTQ, straight, women, men, children, elders – working together to foster new ideas and solutions. We need intellectual and epistemological diversity, so that different forms of insight, such as the socially binding power of religion, indigenous ecological wisdom, and ongoing scientific discoveries can collaborate with one another. Energized youth groups and experienced older generations should be developing ongoing dialogues and active partnerships, and engineers and designers ought to widen our reach beyond humanity, incorporating other species into our work and designs. The potential for how wise and creative we become depends on how many people (and other forms of life) we get in the room.
To build these diverse coalitions, we must start seeing our differences, as Joanna Macy describes, “with curiosity rather than contempt”[ii] – as opportunities for connection, rather than conflict. From the feeds we curate on social media, to the news we read, to the people we engage with and the groups we join, we all must begin listening to different points of view, working to understand one another and bridge the gaps that divide us. And in order to do this is (in America, particularly), it is essential that we confront the centuries of historical trauma standing in between our differences – in the active legacies of white supremacy, colonialism, and patriarchy. We cannot cultivate true diversity until we begin to reckon with this past.
For how can we foster trust in our differences when Black communities continue to be oppressed and terrorized in our country? When indigenous people are still expelled and neglected by colonial forces? When older generations in power blatantly disregard the futures of their children, as they ignore the dire warnings of climate scientists? When religious groups are ostracized from the environmental movement, and sexual violence is still a threat for women? When marginalized Black, Brown, Native American, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities continue to suffer from unequal opportunity and protection, yet remain the main victims of environmental degradation? And while the roots of all this disparity – slavery, colonialism, imperialism, the Jim Crow Era, housing segregation, mass incarceration, the violent and racist origins of the American police force, and centuries of racist, sexist and homophobic policy development and cultural norms – have yet to be properly addressed and recompensed? So long as no one takes responsibility for these traumas, we will continue divided.
We live in a society in which our differences threaten us, and we will not truly unite until we overcome this fear and division. We must begin protecting and elevating our marginalized and oppressed communities. We must begin listening to their leaders and centering their voices in our discussions about equity and resilience. We must fight white supremacy, homophobia and sexism within our systems and ourselves. And we must begin healing our pain from the centuries of dehumanization, violence and psychological abuse upon which our current society is built.
For we connect through shared experience, and when we numb our ability to feel – as we have done by ignoring these realities – we numb our ability to experience the world around us. We cannot come together and protect our planet until we begin feeling our pain, and feeling it together.
[i] From “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” by A. Brown, 2017, p. 143. AK Press.
[ii] From “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy” by J. Macy and C. Johnstone, 2012. New World Library.
Portraits adapted from photos by @mitty (Cristina Mittermeier) and @humansofny on Instagram