By Ranae Hanson
“Human beings may not be inherently destructive.”
Six of us neighbors—reading buddies—found ourselves amazed by this apparently new idea when we met to discuss the first half of the book “All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis.” Reflecting on its essays renewed our motivation to align our own lives with nature.
Join us Thursday, Feb. 17, to consider the second half of this bestselling eco-anthology. [See sidebar.]
In her essay “Collards Are Just as Good as Kale,” Heather McTeer Toney, a member of a Black church and former mayor, says, “You can believe in Jesus and accept the reality of climate science at the same time.”
She explains that elected officials are “overwhelmed and underfunded” and asks regular people to get into action, quoting her pastor’s wife: “You can pray and believe all you want, but without action ‘ain’t nothing about to happen.’ You just wasting the Lord’s sweet, precious time.”
“Amen, sister!” we readers responded.
Then we soaked up essayist Sherri Mitchell’s words: “Indigenous knowledge recognizes the individuality of elements in the natural world and how they relate to a larger whole using traditional family kinship models as their scaffold.”
We pondered a “kin-centric” legal system, which “simply recognizes the familial relationship and acknowledges that all life is both sovereign and interdependent, and that each element within creation (including humans) has the right and the responsibility to respectfully coexist as coequals within the larger system of life.”
Could it be?
The affirmation that human beings have a right to exist along with all other beings jolted us. When alone and in limbo, we can feel discouraged about human dignity, given the destruction our species has foisted on the rest of creation.
But in fact, we can return to harmony with life: Kendra Pierre-Louis argues in her piece that the myth of our inherent destructiveness comes from our cultural stories, not from reality.
The possibility of collective good allowed us to wholeheartedly explore the essays by women who are designing buildings and cities based on what they’ve learned from natural systems, and even finding that petrochemical-laden areas like the lower Mississippi basin can be mended by restoring ecosystems.
Communicating like trees do
The roots of social injustice and climate disaster, we reading buddies affirmed, spring from common misconceptions, one being that competition and individualism are unavoidable.
In yet another essay, “Reciprocity,” Janine Benyus explains that in the early 1900s, American scientists largely agreed that in forests, communities of trees react to and support one another. Then the rising focus on capitalism and individualism pushed those theories aside in favor of notions that trees are separate beings fighting over scarce resources.
Now, other scientists have found that the math of competition doesn’t work.
“If a tree can tough it out,” Benyus writes, “and get established on a rockfall, it creates a lee where winds calm and snows drift to water sheltered seedlings.” These trees paint potentiality across the face of the rock. Inspired by the beauty of that reality—which we neighbors have witnessed—we wondered how to learn from trees to envision a thriving, cooperative world.
New stories and art needed
Positive storytelling would help. The solutions presented in the book would lead to healthier, more just, happier lives. Artists can point to the kin-centric way.
Humor helps too. Essayist Sarah Miller recounted her experiences with Miami real estate agents who claimed that the rising waters “have been taken care of now,” so Florida beachfront is a wise investment. We readers imagined a hilarious TV comedy Miller’s account could make.
In our first discussion, all of us were white-skinned. Sherri Mitchell’s words cautioned: “We have reached the point of choice, where the light-skinned people must decide which path they will choose: take the path of unity and peace, or stay on the current path and destroy themselves and countless others with them.”
Essayist Emily Atkin reminded us that preaching to the choir is valuable, so we’re talking to you. Help us travel the path of peace. What new stories, what new art can we showcase right here? Read the second half of the book. Join us in considering new stories.
Ranae Hanson is a member of Transition Town – All St. Anthony Park. Her book, “Watershed: Attending to Body and Earth in Distress,” was published in May 2021.
Join online Reading Buddies discussion
Thursday, Feb. 17, 7-8:30 p.m.
Find “All We Can Save” edited by Johnson and Wilkinson at libraries or order from Winding Trail Books, Next Chapter Booksellers or a bookstore near you. It’s a browsable anthology; we’ll discuss the second half (parts 5–8) at this session.