Stories from the front lines of climate change – 1°C Rising

The world is an explosion of stories. Every second that advances brings a tide of novelties and an ebb of endings. 

But the stories of our present increasingly narrate a reality that is impossible to process. We live in the times of relentless loss. The imprint of a portion of humanity has violently reconfigured the cycles of the planet’s waters, chemistry, soils, atmosphere and thermal balance. This degradation of our shared living planet is shattering the biological pillars necessary to support life. Temperature records are being obliterated, as extreme weather bears on societies. The most recent IPCC report published in October 2018 has reiterated a conclusion familiar to social movements around the world: a rapid and bold transformation of our economy is urgently necessary to prevent cataclysmic levels of warming.

But despite the shrillness of the alarm bells, the dirty energy industries most responsible for our ecological predicament are expanding, encroaching on the territories inhabited and enhanced for millennia by diverse communities. The economy continues to enforce its unwritten law: to develop, we must destroy. Prosperity must be gained through deprivation: eroded soils, razed forests, parched lands, shredded ecosystems, suppressed livelihoods, and extinguished cultures. 

The violence levelled against our environments mirrors the violence within our societies, riven by poverties and inequalities. Our fragile democracies, and the hard-won rights that sustain them, face the resurgence of old threats as forces of hatred, fascism, and division are emboldened. As political persecution and growing economic hardships expel peoples from their homes, borders are being reinforced.

As our systemic crisis unspools, proper responses remain evasive. Political elites continue to procrastinate, while billionaires talk of escaping our world by colonising the stars. 

The word apocalypse finds its root in the Greek word for revelation. Our world, at one degree Celsius of warming, is revealing the density of inequities accumulated over the last centuries. Climate change is forcing our attention not only to intensified and increasingly frequent ‘natural disasters’, but to the multitude of unnatural disasters: the social, economic and political conditions that allow extreme weather to become fatal.

Yet these realities are not even the ‘new normal’. Without transformative change, the world ahead of us becomes a horizon of possible pain in constant retreat. 

But among the ashes of decaying models, communities the world over are forging viable alternatives. Through their leadership, they are igniting a conversation around the future we can lose, and the future we need to win. Through their outlook, they are proposing a radical paradigm shift, one which replaces patterns of domination and destruction with principles of protection and care. Ecology is the study of the complex relations that sustain life. To put on the glasses of ecology is to see indispensability and connection, where our dominant outlook sees disposability and separation. 

In the breadth of its reach, and the scale of its loss, climate change is unfathomable. It starkly unveils the limits of the language that is available to us, testing our ability to conceive of the future. As the novelist Amitav Ghosh has observed, climate crisis is also a ‘crisis of the imagination’. 

For too long, depictions of climate change have been void of humanity. The tale of climate change is one of political polemics and lifeless negotiations, illustrated in the imagery of heat maps and temperature timelines. 

Rarely are the protagonists of pain or possibility central to the conversation. Luka Tomac’s work is a formidable attempt to return the lead characters to the stage, replacing abstraction with humanity. 

The book before you, gathering the words and images of communities around the world, is a book of stories. Stories of suffering and strength, stories of courage and vision, stories of loss and justice. From the Baka peoples’ exemplary stewardship of forests, to the resistance of community activists in the Lofoten islands, they lay out a patchwork of precedents that may ground and inspire us.  

In our troubled times, they are precious instruments. The stories that we tell inform the urgency that we acknowledge, and the actions that we take. Stories are maps for our imagination, and to imagine allows us both to empathize with the other, and to envisage the possibility of a different world. A world where care for what is vulnerable – from ourselves to the ecosystems that sustain us – is honoured. A world free of violence, a home for all. 

Those most fearful of stories are the ones who have most to lose from a deep public understanding of the brutality of our ecological crisis, and the extraordinary possibilities that can be opened by addressing it. From oil energy executives to technocratic politicians, the defense of the status quo relies on fatalism, on us meeting the future with resignation. 

Stories are our shields and searchlights, and the collection before you is an invitation to subvert our impotence, and imagine something different.

Book foreword by Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik