In This Episode
Today on Hot Take, Amy and Mary talk with Rebecca Solnit about our patriarchy problem, the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, her role as the climate hope lady, and so much more!
Amy Westervelt: [AD].
Amy Westervelt: Hey, Hotcakes, welcome to Hot Take. I’m Amy Westervelt.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: And I’m Mary Annaïse Heglar. And today we’re talking with the amazing writer and feminist icon Rebecca Solnit. I’m going to try not to fangirl out too hard.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah, we’re so excited. We’re just going to fangirl all through this.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Mm hmm.
Amy Westervelt: Rebecca, of course, is an amazing writer. She’s written a bazillion books and essays that have made her seriously an icon. She writes and thinks a lot about the intersections of gender feminism, climate, disaster response, COVID, and how we’re all constantly screwed over by toxic masculinity. So without further ado, I think it’s time.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: It’s time to talk about climate.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Speaking of toxic masculinity, just this past weekend, there was a horrible shooting in Buffalo, New York, of a white supremacist shooter, self-avowed ecoterrorist who targeted a supermarket and a majority black neighborhood and shot ten black people and killed ten black people, I believe shot 13 people total. Yeah, very much on purpose. Nothing accidental about this. Nothing lone wolf about this. And he cites the great replacement theory, which we were talking about on the show just a couple of weeks ago re: Tucker Carlson.
Amy Westervelt: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. God, jeez, I forgot that we’d talked about him and that whole thing. Yeah. I mean, this guy, he copied and pasted from the Christ Church shooter and the El Paso shooter and Tucker Carlson. Yeah. And he livestreamed this. That part really grosses me out in a big way. And he very much, you know, says that he was radicalized by reading about all these things and consuming information about eco fascism and great replacement theory and all of it. So, yeah, once again, all these issues intersect all the time.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, it intersects with the abortion ban in the sense of of wanting more domestic infants. Read more more white babies. More white babies is what they want.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: And people of color are seen as these, like replacers. And the thing about the great replacement theory that is very interesting and important to keep in mind is that it is not new. It is extremely old. I mean, dude in The Great Gatsby was reading about the great replacement. Right. But what is important to remember is that is malleable. So while the great replacement theory, you know, it’s it’s old. It evolves with the times. Right. So like the great replacement theory of the 1920s or the great replacement theory of the Nazi Party is not exactly the same as the great replacement theory of today. So it is it’s morphed to include climate change. So now its it’s also like because the Nazis were big environmentalists, I don’t think people realize this, right?
Amy Westervelt: They were. They were. Yeah. I mean, the Nazis and then even like in the seventies when there were things like the population bomb theory and all of that, and people were like worried about overpopulation. It, it like manifested in this way too of like needing to hoard resources and um yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, yeah. Because whenever people start talking about overpopulation, like you need to start paying attention because they almost always mean specific people who are over populating. It’s never white people who are overpopulated, even though those are the ones who went and invaded other people, goddamnit. So like.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah, yup.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: You know, it’s just like it’s a very insidious and and dangerous theory and it’s also super intoxicating because at the same time, that its, you know, it’s malleable and it’s time tested. It’s also extremely simple and it’s so intoxicating to scapegoat someone else for your problems. And I think that’s why it’s so potent.
Amy Westervelt: Well, and I think the way that Tucker Carlson talks about it is like it’s something worth paying attention to. Yuck, that makes me sick.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: But it’s true.
Amy Westervelt: But it’s true. The way he talks about it is like he very much is like it’s not about race. It’s like if, you know, I have a vote and this immigrant that’s coming in has a vote, then like their vote cancels out my vote. That’s how he talks about it. So that whole sort of mindset is like anyone coming to this country is taking from me.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Right.
Amy Westervelt: It’s it’s very like I don’t know, it’s very much like a sort of scarcity competition for resources.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Right.
Amy Westervelt: Mindset that that lends itself to eco fascism.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: So yeah. Yeah. For for folks who like you may not quite see how this is connected to climate change, I just want to take a second to to make that very clear. So the scarcity idea is that we have limited resources, and if we’re going to have limited resources, then goddammit, they’re going to be used for white people. And I think that was always kind of part of great replacement theory. But climate change makes that very, very real because there is a resource scarcity that is happening and is going to continue to worsen because of climate change. Right? Like we’re going to have, like the food system is going to suffer, the energy system is going to suffer because we’ve gotten to this dire point with climate change. Like, that’s just real.
Amy Westervelt: That’s right. And and they’re going to be like more and more mass migrations driven by both famine and drought and extreme weather events and the like. The slipping I mean, the literal loss of land into the sea. There’s like going to be less livable lands that that people can can be on either because of extreme heat or because of sea level rise. So. So all of that is going to drive a ton of migration. It’s going to to push more and more people into less and less space. And at the same time, we’re going to have less water and less food.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Exactly.
Amy Westervelt: So, yeah, those are. That’s a a recipe for disaster when you throw eco fascism on. Right.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: And so, you know, the other thing I think about in terms of of eco fascism is the waves of violence after Hurricane Katrina. You know, I think a lot of people still think that a lot of the violence after Katrina was perpetuated, you know, by poor black people or just by black people in general after.
Amy Westervelt: Because that was like what media propelled.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: The was the media narrative. Like, it’s been debunked time and time again. But I think a lot of people still think that. The real violence was like white vigilantes like.
Amy Westervelt: That’s right.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: In and around the city.
Amy Westervelt: The original boogaloo boys.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Exactly.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: You know, there’s there’s a great ProPublica investigation into this of, you know, just like white folks making up militias and policing their neighborhoods, so to speak, but also going into black neighborhoods and like being open season on black folks in New Orleans. And so, yeah, that’s this this is what really, really scares me about climate change is the way that we’re going to treat one another and in particular the way that white folks are going to treat everybody else. And this is this is the this is not going to stop. This is not going to go away. And I hate to say it, but I think climate change pretty much promises that it gets worse, especially unchecked.
Amy Westervelt: Which again, I mean, gets back to the point that you’ve made on this show and in the newsletter a bunch, too, that that you can’t you can’t actually solve the problem. If you’re not going to address white supremacy, you can delay it. Maybe you can make it slightly less bad, maybe. But like at its root, you’re like, if you still have that operating underneath, then you’re going to continue to have all of these same issues. The same thing happened in the wake of some of the big West Coast fires. There were these self-appointed vigilantes that set up roadblocks. I mean, how terrifying is that? You’re trained to flee from a fucking fire and some dipshit who has decided that he’s the police now is deciding whether he thinks that, you know, he believes that you didn’t have anything to do with setting the fire. Right. It’s really like it’s scary.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. And it also speaks to this thing that I think is still prevalent, that this assumption that once folks on the right wing realize that climate change is real, that there are going to get on board with like the climate action that folks on the left won. That is not the case. That is not what’s going to happen once folks come out of denial, which if you’re listening to what’s being said on the right wing, you don’t hear a lot of climate denial. You hear a lot of blaming environmentalists and leftists for climate disasters. That’s actually what’s happening over there, right? They’re not denying that climate change is real. They’re just shifting who to blame for it, which honestly, is setting people up for assassination.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah. Or they’re shifting into the eco fascism stuff where they’re like, Yeah, we do have less resources, so we shouldn’t let these immigrants in.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Exactly. And so, like, the way that it shows up is not letting people in at the border. And then it turns into, and has already turned into, obviously, open season on people of color within the country.
Amy Westervelt: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: And then trying to repopulate the country with white babies, thus the abortion ban. So all of these things are connected, especially in the eyes of our opponents, who, I don’t think is an overstatement, say they want to kill us. So the stakes are high as shit.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: So.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah, that’s. I mean, yeah, all of, like, not all climate action is.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Climate justice.
Amy Westervelt: Is what we want to see.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. Not all climate action is climate justice.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah, that’s right. There was that great story that came out a couple of years ago, too, where um I can’t remember the name of the writer. But but it was he was talking about climate feudalism. The idea that like that actually the most likely outcome if if things kind of continue as they have been is is that there will. You know some people who subjugate the vast majority of other people. You know?
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. It’s just like it makes me think also of that scene from Don’t Look Up. There are the folks who are like basically in the Conservative Party who have been told, don’t look up. Right. And then they have this moment where they actually look up and they see the common. They’re like, Oh, shit, you’ve been lying to us. And they turn on their politicians and their leaders like, Sweetie, that day is not coming. They’re not going to turn on their leaders because then they would have to admit that they have been fooled and no one wants to admit that they’ve been fooled. So instead of turning on the people who fooled them, they’re going to scapegoat the other people all the more. We’ve seen this over and over again throughout history. So, no, they’re not going to be like, Oh, my God, the Republicans lied to us. They’re going to be like, well, got to take you out now, which is honestly, for a lot of these folks, what they’ve wanted to do all a fucking long right is kind of like said Elon Musk is now saying that he’s going to vote Republicans because the Democrats are too radical for him.
Amy Westervelt: We’re too mean we’re too mean.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah or we’re run by the the Democrats are run by the unions or whatever. Sweetheart, Elon has been dying to vote for a Republican. He just wanted them to get a little more racist. All right. I’m sorry. I hate to be the one to tell you.
Amy Westervelt: Come on. He’s from, like, apartheid South Africa, like.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: He was part of apartheid South Africa.
Amy Westervelt: That’s right. That’s right. There’s no way that like. Yeah, I’m sorry.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Our Emerald King is not your your climate bae. I’m sorry to tell ya.
Amy Westervelt: *laughs* Oh, man.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: So we’ll be talking about this more in our newsletter, which you should definitely sign up for if you are not already. You can sign up at Hot Take Pod dot com. It comes out every Sunday. And yeah, I like to say it’s good content in there.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Definitely. Okay, now time to talk to Rebecca.
Amy Westervelt: Hi, Rebecca. Welcome to Hot Take. Thank you for doing this. We’re incredibly huge fans of yours. So as soon as you agreed, we were both like, oh, my, oh my God, she’s going to do it.
Rebecca Solnit: And it’s reciprocal. I feel the same way and was like, Oh my God, hot cake. But I better like try and be smart.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I don’t think you have to worry about being smart at all.
Amy Westervelt: Not in this house.
Rebecca Solnit: You know, it’s not that hard to achieve the opposite. So one does try to focus.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Don’t worry. I mean, I’m just going to like go ahead and dig in. So I have to ask since we’re talking to the feminist icon, Rebecca Solnit. What were your first thoughts when you heard about the leaked Supreme Court decision about Roe versus Wade? And is there anything that you think is missing from the broader conversation around that?
Rebecca Solnit: My first thought was this thing I think we feel all the time these days, which is shocked but not surprised, meaning there’s a real jolt of horror. But it’s not because you didn’t anticipate it, because it seemed unlikely, because there were no warnings. And a staggering thing is if you take reproductive rights away from women altogether, which since they want to go after birth control evidently could also happen. And abortion is birth control, is seeing just how far women could fall from the relative equality we’ve achieved. And I was thinking, getting ready for this podcast, that there’s a lot of ways we talk about women and climate, about how women look at the issue differently, about the vulnerability of women in climate chaos. But a lot of my feminism around climate and some of my “oh, why am I doing feminism when I think climate is so urgent and important” is women, for the most part, face enormous obstacles to full participation, full power, and involuntary birth and pregnancy, lack of control over your own body and criminalization of your bodily functions, your fertility, of sex, could really just make life so much harder for women. You know, you have a baby at 15 or you bury your father’s child or you have three more kids than you wanted to have, or you die of an abortion. Those are always women who are going to be knocked out of being full participants no matter what. And this matters for climate as much as anything, because women have been a huge force in progressive politics, and particularly since the Trump era, that we are in climate and throwing American women out of full participation, or at least I should say cisgender, you know, women in their fertile years and non female people with uteruses facing pregnancy, you know, to narrow down who actually gets pregnant, people who recklessly consort with with heterosexual men might be another way to put it. You know, or which we could also modify to “sperm bearing people who threatened to put that stuff near uteruses.” This is a way I think I haven’t heard feminism talked about a lot in relation to climate is how do we remove the obstacles that prevent women from full participation? And some of them are economic or bodily self-determination, some of them are the misogyny that makes you doubt your own ability to bear witness, to trust your judgment, to have others trust your judgment, to be a voice that has full participation, whether as a citizen or a scientist or a policymaker. So that’s some of the stuff that swirls around with this nightmare of criminalizing abortion.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. I’ll just add, you know, you’ll learn this about us. We have the we take the liberty of answering our own questions a lot of the time.
Rebecca Solnit: Oh, good. Good. I like I like conversations more than cross-examinations.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: That’s totally what this is. But one of the things I think is missing, and Amy talks about this a lot, is that it’s the same people doing both of these things, right. Like with abortion, with abortion bans, it’s kind of like so there’s a lot behind it. But one of the things behind it is like the religious right and is this thing where like the same people who want babies to live, want the planet to die.
Rebecca Solnit: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: It’s wild to me.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: It’s really wild.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah, yeah. I just saw the. The woman from Tennessee. Marsha Blackburn saying we must protect the sanctity of life. And I was just like, okay, so where’s your climate plan, lady?
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Right.
Amy Westervelt: You know.
Rebecca Solnit: Where’s your child tax subsidy? And there’s like it’s been so tricky.
Amy Westervelt: Exactly. What’s your plan for poverty, right? I mean, it’s that whole thing over and over. Yeah.
Rebecca Solnit: Child hunger in America is an epidemic of its own that has a lifelong impact on people. You know, it’s been so clear for decades that they don’t give a damn about kids. They hate women. And that meme that’s been going around that talks about how the unborn are a great constituency to pretend to advocate for because they literally have no voice. And but if you actually gave a damn about them, you’d want them to be born into a planet with a good future, and they’d want them to have rights. You’d want them to breakfast, and they don’t give a damn about those things. It’s clearly a proxy for returning to the kind of inequality of the nightmarish legal scholars Alito cited in that decision. You know, the people, the guy, Matthew Hale, who also burned witches and established the idea that since women lie about rape, we shouldn’t listen to women who say they’re raped. You know, it’s all all the same procedure of removing women’s voices from participation.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah, yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Some bleek shit.
Amy Westervelt: So I know you have been writing and thinking about climate for a long time, Rebecca. And about feminism and then about feminism and climate change. So I’ve been seeing more and more from you, especially in the Guardian and other places on the climate front specifically. And I wonder if there’s anything that spurred some of the more recent writing on climate. Was there anything that kind of drove you to to focus more attention on writing about climate in recent years?
Rebecca Solnit: There was a period a while ago when I would do what I think a lot of people were doing, which was saying climate is very important. So is this other thing that I’m paying attention to right now? So kind of give it lip service but not really pay real attention. And I have been writing about climate for a long time, since early in the 2000 when I was writing for Ryan magazine and my pieces for The Guardian go back at least several years. I was telling some former Sunrise Movement activists that since I was protesting for the rainforest in the late eighties, I was doing climate action before there was a climate movement in some sense. But I have been trying to step it up because I’ve been convinced for a while that it is the crisis of our time, you know, and it’s not an intellectual change, but just the sense of urgency as a moral clarion call and an emotional commitment has gotten stronger. But I think I face a problem a lot of people do, which is what is my contribution? What do I have to say? As I was saying to you all over email, feminism is about the easiest thing I’ve ever written about it. You know, it’s like being demonically possessed. Although maybe we should put that on the tape. Just in that, like, something happens, and it would be harder to not write that essay than to write it. And feminism is about our bodies. It’s about my own identity, about people I know and love, about how we relate to each other every day, about whether I have the right to speak, whether people listen and believe me and think I am a full human being. And, you know, and U2 and all the intersectional permutations of climate starts is very complex atmospheric science and geological eras and goes into economics and international policy and all the stuff that’s very abstract and unwieldy and not easy to master. And nobody has all the pieces. And it is personal in that I have spent weeks in California living under the pall of smoke. I know people who lost their homes. I know somebody in northern New Mexico who’s evacuated because of the wildfires there now. But it’s not quite the same. And figuring out what there is to say about it and how to say it, I think is a challenge everybody’s faced.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah. I’m curious how you’ve seen the conversation about climate kind of emerge and change over that time, too, from from kind of being more, you know, the environmental movement to the climate movement. And I guess, yeah. Have you seen either the way that people write and talk about it or the way the media covers it shift in any kind of interesting ways in recent years.
Rebecca Solnit: I’m so old I remember when the climate movement was Al Gore and Priuses and compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Amy Westervelt: I also.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Same, same.
Amy Westervelt: I’m also of that age. Yeah.
Rebecca Solnit: Yeah. I mean, the climate the climate movement 20 years ago was really wimpy and polite and liberal, but also constantly framing it in terms of renunciation that we must practice austerity, we must give things up. I saw a little what are you willing to give up for the climate. Kind of questionnaire thing the other day and somebody reversing it to say, What are you willing to do to gain to address climate change? You know, if we do what we need, maybe we stop having fossil fuel tyranny corrupting our politics and polluting our air. Maybe we we gain hope in the future. Maybe we gain decentralized energy systems that feel much better and distribute power literally and politically more evenly. And so I’ve seen it become a much more radical movement, a much more intersectional movement addressing that this is about justice, that the production of climate chaos has been by the Global North, and particularly by Europe and North America, benefiting hugely from burning all that fossil fuel from the Industrial Revolution onward. Climate Vulnerability. I’ve seen the movement become bold and radical and visionary from these fairly wimpy, mild, kind of bureaucratic, very Al Gore beginnings of at least what I was seeing. I’m sure there was something much more radical happening in Micronesia or South America or, you know, some of the other parts of the world. But in the U.S., it does feel like we got off to a very wimpy start and it’s gotten a lot more interesting and exciting. Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, it’s gotten a lot louder.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah,.
Rebecca Solnit: Yeah. yeah
Amy Westervelt: And a lot more okay to like be mad and upset. I feel like I, I don’t know, I, I remember getting shushed a lot earlier.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah.
Amy Westervelt: And told to like calm down and you know, things like that.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah.
Rebecca Solnit: Oh, God.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I feel like the climate movement has reached a level of emotional maturity that.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: You know, it took a while to get there, but we finally got there because once upon a time it was like, you’re either well get into, like, all of the stuff in between this, but it was like, you’re either hopeful or you’ve given up and it’s like you could also be angry.
Rebecca Solnit: Yeah, I also think we’ve won a lot of things and we are done fighting about whether or not climate change is real. Yeah, and we’re in a much more subtle battle now. And now we just have all the people purveying false solutions that they don’t really have to give up the extractivism and the prophets. We we have won the battle that renewables are adequate to make the transition. We have won the battle that we need to move away from the era of fossil fuels and leave leave them in the ground, at least intellectually getting people actually on board. So it feels like it’s a really different battle from, oh, this is real and urgent and we need to do stuff, you know, as we face people who say, no, it isn’t to people who are like, Oh, you’re right, we definitely need to do stuff, but we can, you know, who then offer delaying tactics, false solutions, baby steps when we need to leap? Yeah. So it feels like we’ve really shifted the focus and that’s kind of what revolution looks like, is that ideas that belonged to the marginal and the minority are now mainstream, but we still lack enough people for various reasons with the urgency to make it happen too. For civil society to be a power that rivals the fossil fuel powers and the inertia of the status quo.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah. So I know you done a lot of work here in New Orleans. And, you know, one of the the markers of New Orleans is these aboveground cemeteries. Do you know what you call a typo on a headstone?
Rebecca Solnit: No.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: A grave mistake.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: We’re here to talk about all the ways that toxic masculinity intersects with climate change. But first, I think it would be useful to explain what that term actually means, since it’s been bandied about and bastardized by the right so much in recent years. Rebecca, since you’ve written so much about it, how would you explain toxic masculinity to a newbie?
Rebecca Solnit: I’m not sure I love the phrase which might suggest, you know, toxic is kind of a buzz word. And it may suggest that masculinity itself is inherently a problem rather than patriarchy. I think we have a patriarchy problem. Obviously, the attempt to take away reproductive rights is a reminder of how intense and urgent and impactful it can be. But I think it affects us in a lot more subtle ways. And a huge amount of my feminist writing has been about violence against women. But I think that violence is, to some degree, always against women’s voices, against the voice that sets its own boundaries around the voice that has that is believed, that has the right to participate, that is not intimidated or silenced. And a huge amount of domestic violence, murder, etc., is to silence a woman when it comes to, you know, misogynist violence. Rape itself is kind of a demonstration that she has no power, including the power of setting boundaries. She has no boundaries. And he has rights that extend even to the inside of her body. You know, to put it in the most heterosexual terms, I know there’s other kinds of rape, but rape is part of heterosexual patriarchy. So but I do think it felt like there was this period from about 2012 to 2019 where we talked about violence against women in the context of feminism and trying to change it a lot. It feels like the conversation has faded somewhat, and I’m not sure why, except that I think that history consists to use a geological term of punctuated equilibrium, you know, of upheavals and then kind of a new a new order and then another upheaval. And there was an incredibly exciting upheaval long before MeToo that I think has rearranged things a lot. But as we can see in so many ways, the job is far from finished and the danger of going backwards really matters. And I think it matters for climate. And I, you know, I actually have a little folder on my computer called Mansplaining Olympic Trials, and it’s just some of the most ridiculous examples, mostly, but not entirely from Twitter of men explaining things to women. And a lot of what I see is women scientists having science explained to them. There’s the famous one where the guy says, you know, like the graduate or post-doc guy says to a woman who’s actually a full professor, Ph.D., that she needs to read, you know, I forget what her name is, but she needs to read Smith et al to understand the subject. And she sweeps aside her long hair to her conference badge and says, I am Smith et al. But you see it constantly. I saw one of the really well-known climate feminists having men explain a subject that she did her her Ph.D. dissertation on and therefore understands very well it was about renewable energy. And
Amy Westervelt: Was this Leah Stokes? I think I saw this.
Rebecca Solnit: Yes, it was. I think it was the great the great great Leah Stokes, who I might get to meet this year. About speaking of Fangirling, so you see, this is ways in which women are not allowed to be full participants in that they’re not treated as competent, not treated as credible. And this is kind of what happens in men explain things as an essay. And the thing that happened that kind of shocked me. I started out writing an essay literally about men explaining things in patronizing ways when the subject is something the woman they’re explaining to knows better than they do, you know. And of course, the example I started out with was a guy explaining the very important book I should read that, turned out, I had written. What shocked me when I wrote that essay all in one sitting at my friend Marina’s behest one spring morning in 2008 is that I very quickly segway to woman well, a woman not being believed when she said somebody was trying to kill her. A nuclear physicist at Livermore Labs actually laughing about a neighbor of his running out of the house naked in the middle of the night, screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. And this was one of my incipient young feminist moments. I was in my early twenties and I said, How do you know he wasn’t trying to kill her? And he laughed and just made it clear that he found that upper middle class neighbors in a wealthy scientific community, you know, could include women who are so crazy you shouldn’t believe what they said, but couldn’t include men who tried to kill their wives. That he found her categorically incredible because men men are reliable and trustworthy and women are not. And so this there’s this slippery slope from like you don’t know what you’re talking about at the dinner table, to you’re not qualified to be a doctor or a professor, and you do. You know, I hear this particularly from black women scientists and doctors. Women when somebody is like, is there a doctor on this plane for an emergency being told you can’t be you can’t possibly be a doctor? Mm hmm. So credibility is a huge part of our equipment to be able to be participants. And we don’t have equal credibility, equal audibility, equal consequence when we speak. And that is a huge and not trivial part of the struggle to be full participants in anything our personal lives or professional lives and in the climate struggle.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I have to say, I’ve always wondered, has any man ever explained men explain things to you?
Rebecca Solnit: You have to ask?
Rebecca Solnit: And not only have I been subjected to 100 million nervous jokes, usually the same ones over and over from men, because it makes them uncomfortable. But I’ve also had other men directly or indirectly explained that I misunderstood the guy who was trying to explain my own book to me, and it’s like I was in the room and you weren’t. So maybe I understand exactly what was happening better than you. You know, I’ve had people just say mansplaining doesn’t happen because women overexplain things too. You know, essentially that I’m misunderstanding what’s happening, which is essentially men saying, I can’t trust all the women who say that this happens to them constantly. I can’t trust the evidence because there’s a lot of research that corroborates the credibility gap.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Wow.
Rebecca Solnit: I got a hilarious letter once from a man who said that he had never talked down to a woman in his life. And I was clearly just confused and full of resentments and needed to change my life according to his instructions.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Did you do it?
Rebecca Solnit: You know, I call those things specimens.
Amy Westervelt: So good.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. Classic.
Amy Westervelt: Okay. So one of the the kind of common ways that I think we see patriarchy showing up in climate is in the form of doomer-ism. And to me, the way I think about it, this is maybe ridiculous. But the way I think about it a lot is it’s like a bunch of guys who’ve played too many role player video games in which they are the hero. And like they’re saving, they’re saving everyone, you know? And then when they can’t do that, it’s like, Oh, all is lost. Like, it’s either I’m the hero or and I save everything personally me, or there is no way to fix this, and therefore we’re all doomed and should go home. I feel like this like comes up every couple of years, usually voiced by a handful of, like, fairly elite white men. And then a bunch of women kind of rise up to beat it back. So. Yeah, I’m curious to hear from both of you, like what what you think is at play there and I guess what kind of other sort of tropes from patriarchy you see in that behavior? I feel like it’s always these dudes who like got interested in climate a few years ago, wrote a few things about it, couldn’t solve it quickly, and then are now like, I’m giving up and so should you.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. It’s amazing how many men I’ve met who work in climate, who will, like bold face tell you that they have, like, a savior complex. Like, that’s not a problem. It’s like, Dude, I don’t want to see you on the Earth Day, Rally. I want to see you on the therapy couch. Like fuck, that’s not okay.
Rebecca Solnit: There is definitely a category of guys out there who are absolutely convinced that they’re solution that I’m completely convinced are the problem. And of course, one of the first things that comes to mind is a brilliant essay by Emily Atkins called The Wheel of First Time Climate Dudes about these guys who think that because they just started paying attention to climate change, that everybody else is about to benefit from, their stunning insights from this thing they just discovered is a problem. And I think that you’re right that it’s partly they think if we can’t fix everything, then we can’t fix any fix anything, which is a kind of American Manichean ism or binary logic. If we’re not going to win everything, then surely that means we’re going to lose everything. If we don’t know everything we, then we must know nothing. But I also think what happens with newcomers to climate, it’s a little bit like when you get a very serious diagnosis, you know, you get told you have cancer. And a lot of people’s first response is, Oh my God, I’m going to die. I hate to tell the listeners, but we are all mortal. But never mind. Never mind that for now. But what? But there is this thing that happens with a very serious diagnosis where at first you’re just so stricken at the horror your reality has been radically adjusted from. I’m just going to bop along with a well behaving body, and then the next phase is really like, Oh, but actually there’s stuff we can do about this and it won’t be easy. And life might change a lot, you know, but I might have to go through chemotherapy or, you know, some kind of gene therapy or whatever. But I’m not actually doomed. And I think these guys are kind of like they just discovered that we’re sick and they’re very shocked and they don’t have the emotional, intellectual wherewithal to realize that. Actually, lots of people have been very aware of this for a long time. And what do they think about this and how are they dealing with it? So they don’t know that they’re not. The experts is part of the problem. And this does bring us kind of back to mansplaining. So you do have these newcomers who are like, hey, did you know that climate change is real and big and a big problem? If we and if we don’t do anything about it, things will be very bad and it’s like, yeah, actually, welcome to the party. And I think that’s something that’s very parallel to that is the kind of Bill Gates techno dude syndrome where what climate actually demands of us is that we radically change a lot of things about how we live in. A lot of them are very modest and subtle efficiency, lifestyle changes, dietary changes, energy infrastructure changes. And I think that these guys have very rigid minds when it comes to social change, but they are devout believers in technology, which is why we have a ton of people insisting that we need to rely on carbon sequestration technologies and other gizmos that don’t exist and absolutely discount the things that actually do exist, like the renewables revolution that is very well underway and that is going to happen regardless. And I think that’s part also of a kind of messiah complex of like, I’m really good at tech, so surely tech is what’s going to save us, right? And it’s also a believer in big centralized authoritarian technologies rather than stuff like bicycles and insulation that are not hot and sexy in a kind of manly superhero kind of way and you know it ties into the savior is an idea that some yeah some gizmo is going to save us and some guy who invented gizmo is going to save us, which is about the way we think about heroes in this culture, which I also think is a problem.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Mm hmm. Yeah. I really loved your essay on Heroes The Problem. And also, you just reminded me of another really great essay from 2019 by Kate Aronoff about the term she coined The Climate Sad Boy. It was like in response to there was this viral Jonathan Franzen essay.
Rebecca Solnit: Oh God yes.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: About basically we should just give up. Right. I’m sure you remember this around 2019 there was like a whole cadre of this. It was one of those waves Amy was talking about where like white guys get really sad about climate change and tell everybody give up and then the women have to rise up and be like, No, actually giving up on yourself is stupid.
Amy Westervelt: I mean I think part of it too comes back to for many of these, especially kind of upper class, well-educated, straight white men, this is the very first kind of this is the first existential crisis that they face. And it’s the first time that they’ve been up against, like, a problem that threatens their lives that like no one gives a shit about, like the idea that, like, wait this is a threat to me and no one cares about that is, is totally new to them. And it’s so new.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah. And I don’t know, like.
Rebecca Solnit: Yeah.
Amy Westervelt: All the rest of us are like, yeah, dude, come, come over here. Just take a beat, you know?
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. Like, they don’t know how to handle that. Like, I remember it was not actually very long ago. It was very common for me to, like, try to talk to, you know, be at a dinner party, talk to somebody about climate change. And it was always the white guys who would be like, if it got that bad, somebody would do something about it. Like, I’m really not worried about it. I’m like,.
Rebecca Solnit: Yes.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I feel like, you know you might be overestimating your worth to capitalism.
Rebecca Solnit: Yeah. Although I hate that nobody is doing anything framework either, which is sort of like confusing. It’s dark with I have my eyes closed, you know, and I see a lot of people find a new problem and assume that nobody’s doing anything about it, you know? And it’s the same thing. Yes. It’s new to you know, it’s not new. You’re not doing anything about it. Look around, because actually a lot of people are doing a lot about it. A lot of people care. And it’s been one of the things that’s really confounding about this moment, that there is a lot of nobody cares, nobody’s doing anything. And of course, Americans also love their superlatives. You know, so I totally agree with you, Mary, that a lot of people have faced a lot of what should seem like insurmountable odds and done their best anyway. I was just reading a passage, I think it was Ai-jen Poo talking about Bryan Stevenson’s great great grandfather or no, his grandfather who was slaved, had no basis for believing that he could ever be free, but he decided to work towards it anyway. And you just, you know, part of my family died in the Holocaust. You look at people who resisted the Nazis from within the camps and the Warsaw ghetto. You look at Ukrainians resisting now as a far more powerful nation attempts to crush them. You look at indigenous cultural, spiritual survival in the face of 500 plus years of genocidal intent. You look at black survival in the face of everything this country has handed to them. And I feel like those examples should be really valuable for us to see people who resisted in the face of overwhelming odds, incredible difficulty. And for a lot of people, if you’re kidnaped from a pretty nice life in Africa to be a slave in America, if you go from your nice life as a highly cultured German Jew to, you know, to a death camp, if you go from the lives Native people were living to the reservation, you’re literally you’re somebody for whom the world actually has ended. And then you’re in a completely unforeseen world, and it’s completely horrible. And one of my little go to mottos is some people were great in Auschwitz, meaning that they were brave, they were generous, they didn’t forget their principles. They looked out for other people they looked at to see what was still possible under those circumstances. And, you know, and I feel like those models are really valuable to us now. And obviously a lot of us are still leading very comfortable lives. Some of us for sure aren’t, you know, but at the same time, in nice places like Colorado and New Mexico and California, people are being displaced, losing their homes and sometimes their lives to wildfires in places like Louisiana and the Southeast. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc. are doing the same that we are facing these things. And, you know, our job is to face them and figure out how to take care of each other and in each other that means the people not yet born. The real not yet born, that the anti-abortion movement doesn’t care about the people who will be born in 2100, the people who will be born in 2200. And you know the people who live 1000 years from now. Kind of maybe what I’m here to do is to help people with the frameworks. How do we think about these problems? How do we think about power? How do we think about the nature of change? How do we think about what the historical record can teach us, about the sheer wild unpredictability of how things unfold? And a lot of the despair, I think, also comes from the sense that history plods in same sized steps at the same pace. And in fact, history lurches and tumbles and leaps, huge surprises get thrown at us. And things that we thought it would take centuries to. Change might change in no time at all. I find the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine horrible in what they are in themselves, but exciting for climate, and that nobody in power can ever say we can’t make sweeping changes overnight. Again, the pandemic hit. We basically stopped all recreational and most business air travel. We shut everything down. We changed how we do everything. And the U.S. government pulled $3 trillion out of thin air to throw at the problem. We can we should be doing something like that times ten about climate and the invasion of Ukraine by, you know, the Putin regime changed the shape of the world and dramatic world. Changed alliances, priorities that made the nuclear threat real again in a way it hadn’t seemed in a while. Maybe because nobody was paying attention. It made people acknowledge the relationship between authoritarianism, tyranny and fossil fuel. It pushed Europe to recognize its own complicity in funding a hideously corrupt regime by its dependance on Russian gas and begin to change that. All kinds of interesting stuff happened, and it happened suddenly. You know, we’re still only 70 something days into that war. And so, you know, the take away from something like that is that the world changes suddenly and unpredictably. And one of the formative things for my worldview, I think, is the 1989 collapse of the Eastern European client regimes of the Soviet Union and the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Nobody really saw those things coming, and they surprised the participants themselves when they they happened. You know, the world can change suddenly. I really thought that the Cold War was going to last my lifetime and maybe a thousand years, that the Soviet Union was as permanent as the United States, which is now, you know, to what is it, 230 something years old that things were not going to change like that in my lifetime, that the Berlin Wall might stand for decades more. And then it didn’t. And then in 1992, the indigenous resistance to the Colombian colonial narrative as a point of not just organizing resistance to the celebration, but reorganizing how we thought about nature, culture, history and rights in the Americas, which helped prompt the Zapatista uprising, which further changed the nature of revolution in ways we could think about power and leadership and victory. And even the language of politics in our time were also really formative for me. And I have seen the world change dramatically and unpredictably and in a lot of ways beautifully because of popular power, whether it’s indigenous power or civil society power in Eastern Europe. I’m on the Board of Oil Change International and we were a partner with Indigenous Environmental Network in that incredible paper last summer, reminding people that Indigenous leadership is responsible for keeping 25% of the fossil fuel that would have otherwise been extracted in the ground in recent years. That it’s become a huge force, which I don’t think anybody had anticipated. You know, 30 years ago when the environmental movement was really white, saw the world in nature, culture binaries, didn’t recognize indigenous land rights and sovereignty with rare exceptions, and there was no climate movement. So part of getting older for me is just seeing these changes pile up and the world changing, often incrementally and by degrees, but incredibly dramatically. If you have what I think of as a historical imagination to see long term change. Although lately I just say I feel like I’m a turtle at a party full of mayflies or a tortoise, you know, like a desert tortoise who lives 140 years hanging out with creatures who are live, live for hours or days. And just in terms of how people imagine change, like if we haven’t had a victory this week, then we never win.
Amy Westervelt: Right.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, but speaking of looking for the folks who are helping. Rebecca, can you tell us more about your your project with Thelma Young Lutunatabua?
Rebecca Solnit: Yeah. Yeah, I don’t even know how Thelma and I got into conversation since she’s in Fiji and I’m here in San Francisco. But we realized that we had a lot in common and how we saw the world in our hopefulness, our interest in envisioning, you know, an imagination as a superpower and in addressing what I think is a huge emotional problem right now and something vital to the climate movement, which is grief, despair, doom, ism, a sense that it’s too late, that there’s nothing we can do. So we had a number of iterations of what we thought we might do together, and it’s turned into a project called Not Too Late. That’s going to be social media, website, a lecture series.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Speaking of which, do you know what’s the opposite of artificial intelligence?
Rebecca Solnit: *laughs* No, but I’m pretty sure I’ve met it.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: *laughs * Natural stupidity.
Amy Westervelt: [AD]
Rebecca Solnit: And I feel like there’s so many ways in which Americans and, you know, in particular are inculcated to think of themselves as powerless, to think of power as something exceptional people we call heroes have and consists either of huge wealth or the capacity to wield terrifying violence. We don’t have a lot of celebrations of collective and I feel in a deeper way, capitalism benefits hugely from the worst and most withered away and reduced version of who human beings are. If we’re these lonely, selfish creatures who just want to be hot and sexy and have lots of stuff and feel very secure on a purely personal basis, then we’re very good consumers. If we want big dreams for all humanity and all species, if we want a seven generation good future, if we want solidarity, if we want deeply meaningful lives, then we’re really kind of the enemies of capitalism and consumerism. And so part of the work, I think, is reminding people that this is who we really are, which I learned from the work I did for my book Paradise Built in Hell. This is what really fulfills us. This is what gives our lives meaning. And we are creatures who really live for meaning. And the meaning lies not in the realization of the goals, but in doing the meaningful work towards them. And it’s utterly worth doing because we don’t know what will happen. But if we try as hard as we can, we might we might get there. If we do nothing, we almost certainly won’t.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah. Yeah.
Rebecca Solnit: And loneliness, I think, is such a huge problem. And that’s part of what I think is our work in the climate movement. A lot of people feel really alone because they’re so concerned and they don’t know. They’re not in touch with all the other people who are concerned or they are or they do get in touch with the ones that they kind of have that doom spiral of like, oh, things are bad. No, they’re worse. And they get into competitive how bad they are.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah.
Rebecca Solnit: And I have been running into people who think it’s the apocalypse. We’re all going to die. We’re doomed. The species is doomed, which is just really not very accurate, among other things, and not very helpful. It is kind of a surprise to me because I sort of feel like you know carry on the Jesse Jackson mandate, keep hope alive. And I’m always surprised by people who think their job is to make everyone feel worse.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah.
Rebecca Solnit: And, you know, if we if we did not have a left who thought it was their job to say that everything’s fucked up and we’re doomed and it sucks and nobody cares and there’s nothing we can do and nobody’s really trying anyway. Maybe I wouldn’t be the hope lady. You know, I’m. I’m counterbalancing the stuff that’s happening and in a much more serious way, a lot of people on the left feel like it’s their job to tell you the bad news, that the system is corrupt, it’s not working, it’s causing horrific suffering. And all those things are absolutely true. And I do those things sometimes to myself. But when I feel they’re adequately represented, there’s also another story to be told that, yes, the establishment is doing these terrible things and these super cool people over here are doing something that’s incredibly hopeful and encouraging and they’re actually building power and possibility and you should join them. So a lot of I feel like a huge amount of the work is changing the stories, finding finding the people with the stories, shifting, who gets to tell the story. Speaking of the white guy and the pie and just facing the fact that it’s an imagination problem, we have the people who can’t imagine that we’re in a radically transforming situation. The stability and the status quo are not options because everything is changing dramatically. But I think we also have a lot of people who don’t imagine we can win, don’t don’t recognize that what the climate demands of us is that we make the world better in a lot of ways around power distribution and energy systems. And I love Adrian Marie Brown’s all organizing as science fiction because you’re essentially trying to create something you’ve imagined that doesn’t yet exist in the world and embracing the full imaginative possibility of that. What do you want the world to look like? What would it take to get there? Who’s already doing that work? And then also, how much can you recognize that we’re already living in science fiction? And if you told somebody in 1972 where we were in terms of women and queerness and gender as a spectrum and fluidity, rather than this horrible locked down binary, how differently we’d conceive of race not to say that racism went away or anything. You know, a lot of scientific and medical breakthroughs rethinking agriculture, indigenous resurgence, huge restorations of land rights and cultural recognition, reclaiming languages, changing the nature of childbirth from the highly industrialized thing it had been rethinking food, the revolution of the last 50 years, which I could. Spend the next several hours trying to list, you know, would be inconceivable to somebody in 1972. And so in a way, we also just have to accept on faith that somebody in 2072 is going to say nobody in 2022 could envision us being here. And we got here in all kinds of strange and unforeseen ways, and partly through heroic effort and partly through weird coincidence and surprise and the collapse of things we were very glad to see collapse.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Rebecca Solnit: So the storytelling is such a such a piece of the job right now.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah. I feel like we we talked about this a little bit before, but there is this thing that that crops up in climate conversations a lot, both with respect to kind of policing, how people react to climate and the types of solutions that we come up with, where things that are sort of coded as feminine are are treated as as less. And in a lot of ways, like if you if you have an emotional response or you’re angry or whatever, it’s like, you know, you’re being hysterical. Or if you are, you know, suggesting a sort of radical communitarianism, that’s like a a silly and naive idea, you know. So I just I’m curious if you’ve seen that, too, and how you think those kinds of ideas really sort of like, oh, I don’t know, warp how we deal with the problem or how we see it and on how we talk about it.
Rebecca Solnit: Worth noting that the word hysteria originates with the word, the Greek word for womb, hyster, from which we also get hysterectomy. So it’s literally the idea that women’s wombs are out of control, and that’s why we’re so emotionally overwrought and unreliable.
Amy Westervelt: Good thing we have the Supreme Court to sort us out, huh? I’m just kidding.
Rebecca Solnit: Yep. Gotta control those wombs. Down, uterus, down, down, girl. The feminist philosopher Kate Mann said in her book title.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah.
Rebecca Solnit: And, you know, I think it’s I do think that there are places where we’re supposed to have reasoned discourse about science and technology and solutions and places where we’re supposed to have our emotions. And they overlap a lot. And it just but acknowledging that the climate crisis has a huge emotional impact. And people your feelings aren’t right or wrong. They’re just what you feel. If you feel terrified, if you feel sad, if you if you feel like crying. You know, also those things can coexist with hope or in particularly with and Mariam corpus words hope as a discipline rather than optimism. You know, that you’re that you think it’s worth doing because you believe, you know, the outcome has not yet determined.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: And I think I think this idea of a perfect world is a myth.
Rebecca Solnit: It’s an evil myth.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: We’ve never lived in and in a utopia.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah
Mary Annaïse Heglar: You know, so. But another place where I feel like I see patriarchy in the narrative is this idea that climate change is caused by human behavior. And no, it was definitely not just humans did not innately cause this. This is not like our innate nature. This is capitalism, this is colonialism, this is white supremacy. And it was white men, by and large, who made the decisions that got us here. And while they never really want to share credit, they’re really good at spreading the blame for their fuckups. And like, I wonder, do y’all feel like you’ll see this, too?
Rebecca Solnit: Yeah. The whole climate footprint business with it’s pushing people to focus on individual virtue and God, the number of people talking about the virtuous. You know, you ask them about climate and it’s like, I don’t know. Bill McKibben, we’re actually sitting on the floor of a climate event at the Paris, you know, outside the Paris Climate Treaty Conference in 2015. And yet another person walked up to Bill and said, what should I what what can I do as an individual? And he has this great answer, which is stop being an individual. You know, you have to you have to find your your people, your community, your collective, your movement, you know, join or start an organization. One of the things I think is really important is part of this is individual virtue also assumes a lack of collective solutions. I mean, I am talking to you on a computer plugged what’s actually not plugged in now, but charged by 100% renewables because wonderful people in San Francisco, I don’t know who they are organized to create an opt in for 100% clean power so that rather than being like I individually put solar panels on my roof and opt out of a system that’s burning fossil fuel, rather than we have to opt into virtue or opt out of vies, why not just build systems where bicycles are better ways to get around, where energy is already clean, where we stop subsidizing beef and the fossil fuel industry? And because the climate footprint model also is about you have to. Keep making virtuous choices. Often self-denying choices are not what you would most like to do, rather than it’s just built into the system that, you know, you have great public transit and it runs on 100% renewable electricity. And so you don’t have to rely on your car. You don’t have to rely on your own fossil fuel. I’m mandating that all cars be electric means you don’t have to virtuously choose. Pretty soon, an electric transportation won’t be a choice. It will be just what transportation is. And so that’s another part where we change it collectively so that there is renewable power. So there are affordable electric vehicles. So bicycles are good transit. So public transit is good.
Amy Westervelt: That’s so interesting. I feel like that’s a perfect segway into this this last thing that we wanted to talk to you about, Rebecca, which is like we’ve kind of been thinking about what would a climate solutions without patriarchy look like? And really, it’s, it’s this, it’s this community kind of shared resource, collaborative approach. Yeah. I’m curious what you think about that. And also, if you’re seeing anyone kind of lay that out either in policy or in fiction or in writing or I don’t know where where are you seeing? People have kind of good ideas in that vein.
Rebecca Solnit: I meant to mention earlier because I think it’s just so amazing, they had very intense protests in the United Kingdom, in London in particular for insulation. I never thought I would see the day where, first of all, people would focus on something as humble as insulation, as key to addressing the climate crisis, and would be like doing blockades and demands and seeing it both as just as for people who can’t afford their heating bills and as a climate solution, that felt like a real landmark and an opposite of like, oh, we’re going to build giant carbon eating machines so we can keep pumping out. We can keep burning fossil fuel. The humbleness of insulation, which is not sexy and glamorous and you know, we already know what it is and how it works and what I am. I feel like one of the huge things that that’s happened I kind of touched on, but I want to touch on more directly is Indigenous leadership, which has always pointed towards community both the, you know, communities like at Standing Rock and the other pipeline movements, the many that have stopped pipelines in Canada, but also that. Have a sense of community with the past and the future that I think is very different than for a lot of us who are deeply uprooted and the kind of mayflies that are. In some ways, I think is the mayflies of whiteness, where because you’re deeply uprooted, you don’t have a sense of the deep past and the deep future. So. So I think it’s very present in the Indigenous leadership that’s become a huge part of the climate movement and one of the most hopeful and powerful things. And also a huge change from the absence of an indigenous people. Not because they weren’t doing stuff, not because they didn’t care, not because they didn’t have brilliant ideas, but because white people in the environmental movement were keeping them out. And I’m super excited. So I see just so many kind of new maps of how do we build relationship, how do we build solidarity, what does this moment demand of us? And so people need to keep innovating, but there’s also a lot of cool stuff that’s already there.
Amy Westervelt: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. I mean. I think to say that we need more community is not to say that community doesn’t exist anywhere.
Rebecca Solnit: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. We need we need more of more of it. And we have great models we can look to to see where it exists, how it succeeds, how people deal with conflicts and differences within it.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. Yeah. I have to say, I feel like I am learning so much about that living in New Orleans now. I talk to Amy a lot while I’m walking around the city and she’s always like, Oh my God, everybody’s just like saying hello.
Amy Westervelt: It’s lovely. I get like second hand community because it’s like, I’m talking to Mary and I hear people and I hear her being like, how, oh, hi. Yeah, I’m doing good. And then she’s like, keeps walking and it’s just, very cute.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Oh, god.
Amy Westervelt: It’s very cute. It’s very cool.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: It’s honestly my favorite thing about. About living in the city. And, like, you know, I’m I’m a Southerner, like, from Alabama, Mississippi. But there’s something different about New Orleans. There’s something about, like, the word neighbor means something very different in this city than I’ve seen anywhere else. And like I’ve never seen a city as well-loved as New Orleans is. And, you know, I got here about six weeks before Hurricane Ida and the way that the city, like, banded together, the way that people looked out for one another, the way that like, you know, I went walking that afternoon before, when it became clear that we were going to have to leave when we were expecting a Category three in the way that like instead of people asking, How you doing? People started asking, Are you ready? Total strangers, complete strangers. And they would like, stop and wait for the actual answer. And it’s like, that is what I think we need more of as we build, as we, you know, as climate change increases. Right? Like maybe the answers are they’re definitely not at the individual level. Maybe they’re not so much at the government or federal level. And I mean, we need some of those answers. But how many answers at the community level and what can we build there?
Amy Westervelt: I don’t know, I feel like communities, how we survive and how we address this issue. You know, it’s like sort of how we figure out solutions, but also like how we deal with all the shit that is going to happen.
Rebecca Solnit: Exactly. Exactly.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, yeah.
Rebecca Solnit: No. I got drawn in to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I had just published a piece about, you know, incredible civil society, pro-social organizing that happens in the wake of disasters. It turned into my book, A Paradise Built in Hell. And part of what drew me in to New Orleans was the horror of what happened in Katrina, which was about racism and poverty and distrust by the white people in power of the poor black people of New Orleans. But then I found a whole other layer of what was wonderful about New Orleans and kind of fell in love with the place. And as somebody who who did a lot of journalism and ultimately one book partly about New Orleans, A Paradise Built in Hell, and then with Rebecca Snedeker and a bunch of native New Orleanians, our Atlas of New Orleans: Unfathomable City. I just learned so much. And what I what I started to say to people after Katrina who didn’t understand kind of what the fuss was about, you know, huge numbers of people having had to leave the city indefinitely was people in New Orleans just lost things that most of us lost generations ago. They lost this deeply woven into the fabric of the community horizontally with neighborly relations like you describe, and often deeply woven into the past with, you know, I’m in the house my great grandmother was born in. I’m practicing something that’s been practiced here for 200 years, you know, in the Social Aid and Pleasure clubs, which are mostly known for the second line parades, that are so wonderful, are also this entirely amazing phenomenon where I’d say to people like about them and the Freedman’s Associations they came out of what if your insurance policy and your bowling league were the same thing? What if. We banded together to take care of each other because the social aid and pleasure clubs are almost the last surviving relic of these sorority and fraternal organizations that were really widespread in the 19th century. And the Elks, the Rotary Club, the you know, and things like that, or some of the last relics and Oddfellows were big in the American West. The Masons were the really weird version, but were people belong to fraternal societies, paid dues that were a kind of insurance. If you’re you know, if you died, your wife your widow and kids might be looked after. It was burial insurance. It was disability insurance, but it was built on love and relationship rather than giving money to people with actuarial tables. And it was a huge part of people being connected. And so, yeah, I love New Orleans because people have this stuff that we mostly don’t have in other parts of America, totally not in suburbs. And I think a lot of the racism that for the Trump voters and stuff was hating imaginary people, hating immigrants, you know, those terrifying Mexican rapists who were entirely imaginary, those, you know, and because you weren’t dealing and obviously people like white racists in the South deal with black people. But there is a kind of resegregation of the U.S. where you’re not dealing with people who aren’t like you very much and you’re encouraged to believe that they’re hostile or dangerous and you don’t want to deal with them. And that’s part of the withdrawal from public space. That is the withdrawal from having a robust civil society and from people’s enthusiasm for things like public transit. And and so this is I think one of the complicated things is that on the one hand, we have guys who just want giant technological fixes, and on the other hand, we need to have a discourse in which talking about places where people say hello to their neighbors and have parties in the streets, you know, and protesting for insulation for elderly people is going to be actually part of the climate solution.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: And also, you know, a lot of the times when New Orleans is thought about in terms of climate change, it’s always thought about is this like poor victim, it’s not going to last. It’s not going to be there much longer. And like poor, poor New Orleans and there’s so much fossil fuel money down here so it’s thought of as a victim in that way. But I think New Orleans actually has so much to teach the climate movement, having been on the front lines for so long, having just like it’s been a perilous city ever since, you know, it was, quote, you know, settled or whatever. But it’s just such a beautiful culture and it has so much to teach about, about sustainability and thinking about what you were saying earlier. You know, a lot of times when there is a storm, especially with Ida, there’s always this question of like, well, why did they stay? You know, they knew the storm was coming. Why did they stay? And it’s like, you know, these are the same people whose eyes will light up when you tell them you live in New Orleans. And they’ll be like, Oh, I love New Orleans. It’s like, actually, you love the French Quarter. Those people who stayed, you know, those people who stayed during the storm? Those are the people who love New Orleans. Those are the people who make New Orleans what it really is. And when you really love a place, it is difficult to leave it.
Rebecca Solnit: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I met somebody who left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and moved to Seattle and then he moved back. Was actually a stranger, a black guy who talked to me in a cafe and it was very New Orleans that, you know, somebody struck up a conversation in San Francisco. Now people think cafes are kind of offices without cubicles where you stare at your Apple product and.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Right.
Rebecca Solnit: You know? And I said, why did you leave Seattle? And he was like, nobody talked to me. And then it was actually another another black guy who told me he had moved his family somewhere in Texas, but he had to move back because nobody knew him. And this sense of the embrace of people knowing you, the sense of like I knew your grandma, you know, I know your people of of being so connected, which we mostly hear about happening in other parts of the world, mostly places we think of as old, like parts of Europe, you know that it’s so present in New Orleans, which before Katrina was the least mobile urban population in the United States is kind of amazing. It’s also it also reminds me that mobility is one of the fetishes of modernism and technology, whether it’s, you know, adventure, vacation travel and business travel or just moving for work. And New Orleans, I think I love the idea of you writing something about what New Orleans has to teach us. What it’s reminding me right now is something Gary Snyder also said and Gary Snyder once said, and he’s been living on the same land in the Sierra Nevada for 60 years now, is the most radical thing you can do is stay home. And so how to make staying home exciting and rich and rewarding and adventurous. How to overcome the tyranny of the quantifiable of like I went to Burma and I went to Singapore and I went skiing here and I went shopping there to I know everybody on this block and I belong to six organizations and I get to, you know, my daughter was the queen of Zulu in 1974, whatever. You know, how to feel really rich and find incredible adventure in where you are.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Mm hmm.
Amy Westervelt: I love that. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Rebecca, for doing this. I’m sorry we kept you way longer than we were planning to, but.
Rebecca Solnit: No this was great. I think one of the things we all yearn for is good conversation.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Hot Take is a Crooked Media production.
Amy Westervelt: It’s produced by Ray Pang and mixed and edited by Juels Bradley. Our music is by Vasilis Fotopoulis. Fahmali Kodakara is our consulting producer and our executive producers are Mary Annalise Heglar, Michael Martinez, and me, Amy Westervelt.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Special thanks to Sandy Girard, Ari Schwartz, Kyle Seglin, and Charlotte Landes for production support and to Amelia Montooth for digital support.
Amy Westervelt: You can follow the show on Twitter at Real Hot Take. Sign up for our newsletter at Hot Take Pod dot com and subscribe to Crooked Media’s video channel at YouTube.com slash Crooked Media.