Collective fear and anger can be remarkably productive politically. Yet as sole motivators for political action, fear and anger cause division. Adversaries are quickly defined and labeled. A necessity for defense is borne for the labeled adversaries, so defenses quickly form and divisions are established. Within these divisions, fear and anger encourage narrowmindedness and recklessness; goals and purpose become muddled and values are easily compromised. A group driven solely by fear and anger will inevitably implode. So an antidote to the fear and anger becomes necessary. Since fear and anger are powerful motivators for action, the antidote must also play a motivating role in stimulating change.
The rhetoric which seems to fuel climate action is filled with fear and anger — existential fears of a nonexistent future and anger at the inaction of previous generations and current leadership. This fear and anger will be and has been politically productive. Yet if we allow fear and anger to be our sole motivators, we risk division and implosion. An antidote is necessary.
An antidote to fueling climate action with fear and anger is to be motivated instead by a recognition that an essential quality of being human is this complex, often undefined, unseen and unacknowledged relationship that we have with our landscapes and environment. We cannot detach ourselves from our landscapes no more than we can detach ourselves from our own experiences because the landscape itself is the backdrop to all of our experiences. We move, we wander, we grow, we think, we learn, we are broken, we suffer, we heal and we triumph amidst the landscape. The landscape declares, sometimes loudly and other times quietly, the beauty and truth we all intrinsically long to see and be (although the volume of this declaration often depends on our own states of mind).
The landscape shares in our questioning of meaning and purpose as it unabashedly displays and exposes futility, and as it challenges our humanity in its austerity. In the vanity of tall trees grasping towards stars in the night sky, in the sorrow of gray-blue waves vanishing at dusk into a nebulous winter horizon, in the loneliness of expanse and seeming loss of individuality in auburn canyonlands — here, also, in these places of synchronous perplexity and glory is where we are unavoidably drawn into the landscape and where we seek belonging in it, where we find our own questioning and reconciliations echoed back to us.
In these echoes also come incidences of recollection, as we unwittingly store memories of people, memories of occurrences, memories of emotion and memories of understanding—pieces of ourselves—in the landscapes we are amidst. Warm wind on cloudy days in early spring reminds me of people who act as if one of the things in their life that they value the most is who you are and ought to be and who in doing so provide you with a constancy of identity that holds and carries you. White lilies remind me of the guilt of detachment that accompanies second hand experiences of loss. Forsythia bushes remind me of lingering expectation and disappointment but also of being grounded, of being able to respond when the world asks you who you are.
These incidences of recollection are unique to each of us. Most often, they are subconscious and inarticulate. Yet even the subconscious and inarticulate thoughts that occupy our minds are parts of who we are, sometimes, perhaps often, playing more significant roles in determining our wanderings and discoveries than we may realize.
So if you are going to fight for climate change, do it out of more than anger and fear. Do it because you see that as humans we have a complex and beautifully necessary relationship with the landscape and environment which we are presently bound to yet do not belong to. Do it because you see how in echoing and reflecting ourselves back to us, even in its austerity, the landscape and environment challenge but ultimately assert our humanity. That landscape, that environment, is something worth fighting for.
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Sharon Spaulding is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.