Community Care and Climate Change: A Reading List on How We Keep Going

While the mainstream discussion on climate change focuses on endings, these stories offer opportunities for new, collective beginnings.

Bird’s-eye view of an autumn road


“Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous.” — Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

My mind moves a million miles an hour — and that's before more news of the climate disaster reaches my cellphone. The skinny, sliding rectangle notifications can invade any space. Wherever I am, they bring the climate disaster to me. And though I am someone who actively reads about the environment to further my understanding of its beauty, delicacy and how I can better coexist with it, the suffocating update loop of how often there is yet even more and even worse bad news has made me realize how little time I set aside to imagine a reality other than climate catastrophe.

I find it hard to believe that everything we need to survive — and yes, successfully combat the corporate, capitalist destruction of our environment — isn’t already here. But between the crisis fueled by tech companies that "hack our attention," to the routine backstab we feel after another piece of disappointing climate news (like President Joe Biden, who ran on protecting our environment from oil drilling, approving the Willow Project), it can feel easier to focus on the chaos of our reality than to imagine how we build anything that would allow us to survive that chaos.

In my backyard, 11 arborvitaes are enough to save me from completely foregoing my imagination. I have watched them grow to become half as tall as my house, widen at their waists and soak up direct sunlight, revealing a celebration of light and dark greenery each day around 2 p.m., for years. I have witnessed their changes in shape, height and vibrancy season after season. And each spring I return — different than I was a year before — to see them growing in the same position. On days I feel absolutely overwhelmed and misplaced, alienated and anxious from yet another fear-inducing broadcast warning me of climate catastrophe, those 11 shrubs can make me feel as grounded as their own trunks.

Yet it wasn't until recently that I have thought carefully about what this exchange represents.

Eleven arborvitaes stand at the end of a patch of green grass. Photo by Julia Luz Betancourt

If defeating climate change — and by climate change I mean the colonial and capitalist overtaking of the natural world (including humans) — is truly impossible, then how is it possible that we continue to imagine defeating it at all? How is it possible that 11 bushes can be enough to calm the speediness of my anxious mind?

The answers to our most pressing questions about how we overcome our nihilistic attitudes about saving the environment exist in our surroundings. Our everyday surroundings can provide the wisdom we need to continue imagining, resisting the containment of our hope, and reminding ourselves that humans are a part of the ecosystem we have been conditioned to dominate.

Those 11 arborvitaes show us what stationary resistance can look like. I am a being who is constantly moving and doing, attempting to harness productivity. I want a chance at doing what I love for a living for at least a little while before it's too late. This means my daily routine is often preoccupied with being driven by capital and finding ways to participate in the economic system, a system that has been curated.

At the same time, our everyday broadcasts are largely categorized by curated disasters, tragedies, bad news and new developments in the climate crisis. We anticipate the worsening climate crisis as much as we do the change in seasons.

How might this anticipation control the way we hope? How might it make us believe that catastrophe is inevitable, hacking our attention away from our power to imagine and fueling our obsession over the end? What would hope and the act of hoping look like if we disconnected from this curated everyday categorized by disaster and tragedy? If we truly imagined the look, sound and feel of a stationary world, a world built on acting from where each of us are stationed in this system, maintaining our surrounding ecosystems and our communities?

A world built on limitless hope?

As this reading list demonstrates, our efforts to fight climate change do not have to be fixated on endings, or even the entire globe. "Taking action is not necessarily this big grand gesture. It can be so small and mundane and ordinary — but it comes together with the work of others and creates a much bigger impact," one activist says in a featured piece. Actions taken at the local and individual level can create a framework for coexisting with our surrounding ecosystems, inspiring a mass movement around the globe.

If climate change is the colonial and capitalist overtaking of the natural world, engineered by corporations who are driven by profit, then it is their engineering that seeks to control our hope, make us question how we could possibly defeat global destruction as individuals, and make the containment of our hope appear as natural as nature itself.

But a focus on beginnings might give us a way of practicing hope from a different angle — not hoping because there is an increasing amount of time that has passed without more bad news arising or something going wrong, but because we are consistently doing something right.

Michaela Loach Makes Clear Exactly What We're Fighting For (Daphne Chouliaraki Milner, Atmos Magazine, April 2023)

This interview between Atmos Magazine and 25-year-old climate activist and author Michaela Loach about her new book, "It's Not That Radical" grounds us in why we fight, why the "gloom and doom" narrative many media companies use to discuss climate change doesn't have to be our fate, and why we need to free ourselves from the expectations of perfectionism in the climate movement. From activist to reader, it's a perfect entry into remembering why our imagined version of our world isn't outrageous, but necessary. Loach says:

We need to see [climate] work as lifelong work. We’ll understand more and more as we keep going — we don’t need to be perfect right now. Taking action is not necessarily this big grand gesture. It can be so small and mundane and ordinary — but it comes together with the work of others and creates a much bigger impact.

‘An act of rebellion’: the young farmers revolutionizing Puerto Rico’s agriculture(Nina Lakhani, The Guardian, December 2021)

This long-form article documents the story of three farms in Puerto Rico that are each working to push the island toward food sovereignty, teach young people how to farm, practice sustainable agriculture, provide fresh and healthy food to locals and resist colonial capitalism. It explains what agroecology is, and helps us understand why community-led movements serve as some of the most powerful forms of rebellion. If we want a blueprint for fusing food and environmental justice into one, this is it. Ian Pagán-Roig, founder of El Proyecto Josco Bravo (the Josco Bravo Project) told the Guardian:

The agroecology revolution on the island is about psychological and social transformation to achieve food and political independence because it recognises our land and people as our most valuable resources.

How Regenerative Farming Heals the Soil (Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz, Yes! Magazine, March 2023)

This short collection of infographics presents us with "a bit of good data," showing how regenerative farming heals the soil and even makes food that is healthier than organic farming. For data lovers, it reminds us that our possibilities in creating solutions for our climate are just as concrete as the problems themselves. It is also reminds us how, by taking care of our environment's health, we also take care of our own.

What the Tenebrous Roly-Poly Taught Me About Black Futurity (Ashia Ajani, Atmos Magazine, February 2023)

This reflection on the pill bug "ruminates on the parallels between roly-polys and Black people: both forced to filter out the bad from their environments." Walking us through the science of how pill bugs filter toxins out of the soil, Ashia Ajani imagines a "world where our gifts are not used to accumulate pain, but to ensure bold futures." Her piece is a wonderful ode to all that the Black community continuously builds out of a poisonous system. Ajani writes:

Bewitched by their tenebrosity, I call [roly-polys] kin. I am bound to their blackness, their capacious existence. When left to flourish, pill bugs are diligent in their work: whole ecosystems bloom from what they decompose. The work of the roly-poly begets life, digesting dead and damaging materials into organic matter. Their work renews and restores.

Braiding Sweetgrass (Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2013)

This book by Indigenous botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer is a poetic stream of interconnection, pulling us toward a wider ecological awakening where we are conscious of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. Reflecting on plants such as strawberries, squash and sweetgrass, Kimmerer urgently welcomes us to center Indigenous knowledge in our work to preserve our world. Whenever we are lacking in our connection with the environment, Braiding Sweetgrass is where we can go to remember that our planet is alive. Kimmerer writes:

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.