CULTIVATING COMPASSION IN THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

As a passionate environmental activist, it isn't easy for me to admit that mainstream activism leaves me isolated. The jargon-heavy talk, emphasis on philosophy over practice, and struggle to embrace self-care that pervades so many activist spaces is very different from the approach to activism I advocate for through Loam. Sometimes I wonder if there is room for my way of thinking when I am part of strategizing sessions—and sometimes, I wonder if my way of thinking is just wrong. I am easily overwhelmed by big crowds during protests and can't keep up with academic investigations of climate justice. My sanctuary is on the page and in the practice of living lighter. 

Although I'm not alone in this sense of isolation, I have seen firsthand how the fear of judgment (and of jargon) has kept many brilliant folk from deeper engagement with the climate movement. I used to work at an environmental nonprofit that had many younger interns. After attending a gathering for local activist groups, one of the interns confided in me that she was afraid to join our community climate justice club because she didn't think she'd pass their environmental purity test. Sensing there wasn't room for her to be curious, she'd deliberately kept her distance. Much as it pained me to hear her story, I shared her struggle. The infighting that pervades the environmental movement truly is toxic, and it's a legitimate concern for many activists I know and love who are fighting for a just, sustainable, and equitable world within a climate movement that too often prioritizes critique over compassion. 

The more I interact with activist spaces, the more I come to realize how the same capitalist structures that pervade mainstream society and shape our economy are reinforced within the climate movement. Activists might rally against the ravages of capitalism but by refusing to acknowledge the necessity of self-care, running theirselves ragged in the pursuit of sociopolitical change, and withholding compassion from those who don't share their strand of sustainability, many of these activists are replicating the guiding principles of capitalism within their own circles. I don't blame 'em—it's difficult to reimagine new systems of thinking and action when we've grown up in a world profoundly shaped by capitalist markers of productivity. I too fall into the trap of self-sacrifice in service of environmental activism!

But if we want the climate movement to thrive, we need to ground our theories in action. We need more and more activists to bring it on home—by making everyday decisions that embody hope, collaborating with folks who share perspectives different than our own, and exercising compassion even when our wells have run dry. We can't let our pursuit of political gains exculpate us from making personal changes that enrich our life and the lives of others. And we can't let our passion for a thriving future distract us from savoring, celebrating, and giving thanks for our present. 

Building a better world isn't only in the fight. It's in how we relate to our lives and to the land underfoot. It's in the small steps we take everyday to cultivate a life worth living and the love we give—without attachment, without expectation—to the creatures around us. It's embedded in the permaculture principle that the "problem is the solution"—which is to say that if we want to challenge the scarcity mentality that has fed inequity and ecological destruction, we have to challenge the scarcity mentality we are reinforcing in our own lives. We have to begin again, as it were, seeing abundance in our surroundings and potential in our actions.