Native rights activists, queer liberation ecologists, youth organizers, Latinx wilderness experts, and other climate leaders fill the pages of a personal and rousing new book: “Climate Resilience: How We Keep Each Other Safe, Care for Our Communities, and Fight Back against Climate Change.”
Author Kylie Flanagan wanted to uplift what she felt were underrepresented voices in the climate conversation. So her book, which Kirkus Reviews called an “essential, inspired chorus of voices,” comprises short essays edited from interviews with 39 women, nonbinary, and gender-expansive climate leaders, who together, explore the roots of the climate crisis in relation to social justice issues and chronicle how communities are working to cocreate a better future.
The book is also an active invitation for readers to take action in a range of specific ways. Peppered between the essays are what Flanagan calls “resilience tool kit spotlights,” each centered on a theme relevant to the preceding essay.
For example, a section featuring Margo Robbins, co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples Burning Network, is followed by information about how Indigenous peoples have strategically implemented cultural fire and prescribed burns for thousands of years to support healthy ecosystems. The section concludes with ways readers can get involved in efforts to restore balance to fire-dependent ecosystems.
Other spotlights include community-owned renewable energy, participatory budgeting, community resilience mapping, disaster collectivism, and more.
We recently sat down for a video call to discuss Flanagan’s thoughts on the importance of centering a broad spectrum of voices, amplifying non-technocentric solutions, and providing specific ways to engage in climate resilience.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Yale Climate Connections: In your introduction, you write of the people you interviewed that “many are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, many are queer, and none are cisgender men.” Why was it important to you to include these communities in particular?
Kylie Flanagan: When I started working on this project three years ago, I felt like so many of the voices getting the most airtime in climate spaces were men, and that felt so different from my experience of climate spaces. Since I was 14, the spaces I’ve been a part of have been overwhelmingly dominated by women, nonbinary, and gender-expansive folks. So one thing was just recognizing that all genders are critical to the climate movement and trying to bring a little bit more balance into the conversation.
Especially when we’re talking about community resilience, I think we cannot overestimate how important it is to have a plurality of voices and lived experiences and forms of expertise at the table. There’s no one person who’s going to hold all of those different perspectives to inform what we need to do to keep all folks safe through the climate crisis or to inform effective climate solutions because those are going to look different from community to community.
YCC: Can you talk about the importance of community-based solutions compared with technocentric climate solutions?
Flanagan: A lot of those prevailing voices that I mentioned are ultrawealthy white men who have become really successful in industries like venture capital and technology. I think that has really shaped a lot of the dominant climate narratives, which often center around market-based solutions and a hyper-focus on technology.
I’m not anti-technology — technological innovation does have such an important role, obviously, in a transition away from fossil fuels. But I believe really strongly that we’re not going to find solutions to the climate crisis with the same mindsets and tools that got us into it. By that I mean a mindset based on extraction and exploitation in order to grow at all costs.
Instead, I think the focus of this book is really, how do we repair the damage that’s been done from that mindset? How do we begin mending and reorienting relationships with one another [and the Earth]? And when we are talking about technology, how do we utilize this technology in ways that advance justice and liberation for communities? For example in her section of the book, Crystal Huang talks about the importance of not just shifting to renewable energy but also having renewable energy be community-controlled.
It’s also not enough to be radically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s so crucial and at the same time, we need to be better preparing our communities for what’s here and what’s to come.
A theme in so many of my conversations is that so much can happen when community members rally together. When we’re thoughtful and strategic, and when we act deeply rooted in community with others, our actions can have really major ripple effects. People can see tangible changes from their actions, including a cascade of co-benefits with real impacts on quality of life for people.
Another theme though is what happens when there aren’t enough community members with a seat at the table. An example that stands out to me comes from Doria Robinson. She talks about how California’s cap-and-trade policy has resulted essentially in companies still polluting but just polluting in a more concentrated way in fenceline communities. Had more community members had a seat at the table when that policy was being written, it likely would never have seen the light of day.
YCC: Why did you choose to organize the book as a collection of first-person essays with personal life experiences, versus more of a third-person reporting approach?
Flanagan: There was just such an abundance of wisdom that came out of these conversations. The folks who contributed to this book hold so much wisdom and lived expertise that I do not have; I wanted to preserve the authenticity of their words.
Also, I was hoping that for folks who are still trying to figure out what to make of the climate crisis — whether or not it’s happening, what’s causing it, how people are experiencing it, how we should move forward — I was hoping that some of these personal experience stories would be more resonant, that everyone could find a story with which they relate.
Climate conversations can be a bit polarizing. A beautiful thing about talking about community resilience is that oftentimes, we don’t even need to talk about climate. We can talk about these specific lived experiences, like, ‘Oh, hey, I have been experiencing pollution in my backyard.’ ‘I’ve been experiencing extreme heat in an area that has very little green space.’ When folks find common ground in experiences like that, it can be a really beautiful entry point into bigger conversations.
YCC: In what ways do the stories in your book show that climate change is not just an environmental issue, but a deeply human one, too?
Flanagan: To me, the extraction and exploitation paradigm is really what drives so many of our social injustices as well as climate change itself. So ecological and social issues are not separate; they are deeply interconnected. In the book, we’re talking about moving from that paradigm towards one where we respect and revere relationships with one another and with the more-than-human worlds.
For example, talking with Shirell Parfait-Dardar, an elder chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, was so powerful in this sense that you really just feel the stakes of the climate crisis. She’s in charge of stewarding this group of people in navigating where they’re going to live next. Because the sea is already rising and making an area of land that they have stewarded for millennia uninhabitable. So she’s trying to figure out a relocation that has some semblance of justice and potential for preserving lifeways and traditions that are so interwoven with identity, well-being, and connection.
Similarly, for Kavaangsaar Afcan, a youth organizer who has been involved in the climate movement since she was a tween, the climate crisis has been very tangible for many years now. She’s watched as nearby tribes have been forcibly displaced, and so is also helping navigate what can relocation look like.
YCC: From an elder chief to a youth activist — that’s a perfect example of what seems to be another theme in your book: a focus on intergenerational voices. Was this intentional?
Flanagan: Absolutely, and yes, there are folks in their early 20s, and there are folks in their 80s. It’s similar to how we talked about there being a need for many different perspectives and roles in the movement. I think that young folks oftentimes bring a really clear-eyed view of what’s necessary without being bogged down by decades of having had to figure out what’s realistic. And then I think that elders can bring incredible wisdom and oftentimes are most connected to the ways of living that were in greater balance with the Earth.
I know a lot of people say, ‘Oh, the young people are going to solve the climate crisis,’ but honestly, I see so many elders in movement spaces and direct actions and protests.
It’s so important that there’s intergenerational solidarity in this fight, because on one hand, folks who are older often have the most power, while young people have so much to offer in terms of joy and creativity and innovation.
YCC: Creativity themes come up in several essays, too, as various communities try to envision a better future. What are some examples of the role of imagination in shaping resilience?
Flanagan: A theme throughout the book is that while the climate crisis is a new experience we haven’t gone through specifically before, so many communities have experienced a version of crisis or apocalypse before — and out of it have figured out what a future through and beyond that might look like.
For example, both Deseree Fontenot and Ceci Pineda discuss how, in queer and trans communities in particular, there’s a really profound element of dreaming expansively about what’s possible beyond mainstream society and of figuring out how to keep one another safe and innovating new models of community care. These qualities are a tremendous asset as we navigate our way forward.
YCC: What are other ways people you spoke with are working to keep more people safe?
Flanagan: Overall, there’s great work happening to design community resilience strategies around folks who are going to be most impacted by the climate crisis. That helps ensure everyone will be safe and no one will get left behind.
Language justice is absolutely part of this. For instance, Niria Alicia talked with me about her work in Medford, Oregon, where she grew up. When wildfire swept through the area, many Spanish speakers didn’t receive emergency alerts in the appropriate language, and so people had to take on the additional responsibility of checking in on each other to make sure that folks knew what was going on and could evacuate. But since then she’s been heavily involved in rebuilding and resilience planning efforts, including making sure meetings are held in multiple languages and that there are translators, so folks who are going to be most impacted can be really involved in the process.
Disability justice is a big part of climate resilience as well, like having sign language and different ways for folks to access things like emergency information and alerts. Patty Berne, for example, is one of the founders of the disability justice movement. They talk about the Camp Fire that basically decimated Paradise, California, a few years back, and how most of the folks who passed away in that fire were disabled. In the words of another contributor, Marcie Roth, “Resilience for some isn’t going to be enough.” We need to plan for everyone and center folks who are and will be most impacted.
YCC: You’ve made a point of making climate action accessible, too, with ‘resilience tool kit spotlights’ offering action items on topics from community renewable energy to urban farming. Tips range from journal prompts to what to do if you have time, money, land, a green thumb, etc. Why was it important to offer such a mix of ways to get involved?
Flanagan: There are very real barriers to getting involved in the climate movement, so I wanted to make it as accessible as possible for folks to see a space for themselves to plug in based on what they’re passionate about and which roles they like to carry.
So they might read an essay and say like, ‘OK, I care about this but I’m already really strapped for time. What can I effectively do in a few minutes?’ With the spotlights, I wanted to make it really clear that there’s a wide range of ways to get involved for all different types of folks. The companion website climateresilienceproject.org has more resources for folks who are keen on resilience strategies and want to learn more.
YCC: What do you hope your readers will walk away feeling?
Flanagan: I hope this book is a way to allow folks some breath and some expansiveness to dream about what’s possible. To feel it’s possible to hold both the urgency and the stakes of this crisis, with also an insistence on solutions that won’t stop short of building a world that is more just and liberated and abundant for all — and beautiful and delicious and clean and all of the things.
Many of the folks who contributed to this book are leading and building with so much joy and such a fierce commitment to driving solutions with a shared dream of what can be. I hope that readers can be inspired by their example to create in community a world that makes them really excited.