Book about hope amid climate crisis

Sarah Kaplan

THE WASHINGTON POST – Rarely in human records has Earth notched a year as hot as this one. The temperature in Baghdad hit 125 degrees in August, scorching farms and straining the city’s power grid.

The uncommonly warm waters of the Atlantic are powering hurricanes and forcing tropical fish to flee north.

Catastrophic fires in California and Colorado have engulfed forests, destroyed homes and stolen lives.

These are the consequences of climate change, scientists said, and they are increasingly catastrophic almost everywhere you look.

A reader emailed me in the past week with a simple query: Amid this irresistible tide of loss, how do we hold onto hope?

This question is at the heart of the new book All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis – a collection of essays, poetry and art by 41 women in the climate movement that will be released September 22.

I contacted the anthology’s editors, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist, policy expert and podcast host, and Katharine Wilkinson, editor in chief of the climate solutions non-profit Project Drawdown.

After reading 41 reflections on Earth’s altered future and editing 41 arguments for not giving up, I figured they would know better than anyone what it takes to be hopeful.

Our conversation, edited here for clarity and length, began with an unexpected twist: Hope is not what humanity needs, Johnson said.

AYANA ELIZABETH JOHNSON: It’s funny to be asked about hope, because one of my mantras is something you cannot print. Which is just, (expletive) hope. Because honestly, hope is not going to get us there. I personally perceive the word hope as passive. When I hear the word hope, I think, ‘I hope someone does something about that.’ Or ‘I hope that works out.’ And I’m just like, where’s the plan? Where’s the strategy? What are we going to do that we don’t need hope?

Q: So if not hope, then what?

JOHNSON: Katharine and I were grappling with that. How do you name a book about a global crisis threatening the future of humanity and most other life on Earth, and have it still be something people might possibly want to pick up? And then our editor at Penguin Random House handed us this stanza from an Adrienne Rich poem.

KATHARINE WILKINSON (quoting from the poem): “My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed/I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely/with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”

JOHNSON: I tear up every time I hear it or read it because it’s just like, we have to keep reconstituting the world. Even though there is so much we can’t save, the other side of that is there is so much that we still can save. So, who are we to give up? What gives us the right to give up on the planet and each other? The subtitle is the answer to, ‘If not hope, then what?’ It’s truth, courage and solutions. That’s what’s going to get us there.