A new book on surviving the climate crisis focuses on relationships. Author Kylie Flanagan defines climate resilience as a community’s capacity to keep all of its members safe.
“Through both extreme events like hurricanes and wildfires, as well as the slowly simmering everyday stressors, some of which may be climate-related and others of which may be associated with other social, economic, political and environmental issues,” she said.
The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple spoke with Flanagan about her book, Climate Resilience: How We Keep Each Other Safe, Care for Our Communities, and Fight Back Against Climate Change.
The book leans on the stories of 39 activists to create a blueprint for surviving the climate crisis.
LISTEN to their conversation
Kara Holsopple: You write in the beginning of the book that it’s intentionally not focused on technology but instead on other tools of climate mitigation and adaptation. Why did you make that decision?
Kylie Flanagan: Technology absolutely has a critical role to play in the climate movement. But for too long, there’s been a hyper-focus on technology. And I think that it’s driven in part because decision-makers and many folks in positions of power have a lot invested in maintaining the status quo. And so they’ve also been invested and committed to this narrative that if we just swap out one set of technology for another set of technology will essentially be able to continue business as usual.
With this approach, we’ve made incredible leaps and bounds in renewable technology innovation, but we have not yet made meaningful strides in radically reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy technology across the board is getting cheaper and more efficient, and there’s tremendous demand for it. But as long as the fossil fuel industry remains as powerful as it is, they’re still able to essentially lock the world into decades more of burning fossil fuels. So it can’t just be about technology.
Kara Holsopple: You also chose not to interview cisgender men for this project and the 39 essays center other voices in the climate movement. Why?
Kylie Flanagan: Part of the impetus for this project was really just to try and bring a bit more balance into the climate conversation. When I started this book about three years ago, and admittedly the landscape has changed a bit since then, I felt like so many of the mainstream climate conversations were being dominated by men. That felt so different than my own experience in climate and environmental justice spaces, which for me, had overwhelmingly been dominated by women, nonbinary and gender-expansive folks. And more so than that, a lot of the men that were getting the most attention in climate conversations were, and still are, ultra-wealthy businessmen who had led venture capital companies and technology companies.
I really respect the intention to help advance the climate movement, but I am a firm believer that we’re not going to solve these complex problems with the same tools and mindsets that got us into them in the first place. I was very intentional about trying to bring more folks into the conversation who have been most impacted by the climate crisis.
It felt really important to specifically focus on Black, Indigenous, and people of color, as well as perspectives of queer, trans, and disabled folks. While the phenomenon of the climate crisis is a relatively new one, communities have been navigating versions of apocalypse or their world changing around them for a really long time. There are a lot of blueprints there of figuring out systems of mutual aid and collectivism and, different approaches to ensure that folks are able to survive and even thrive and heal.
Kara Holsopple: Can you talk briefly about a couple of the people you spoke with and why they’re inspiring to you?
Kylie Flanagan: It’s hard to choose because I’m so inspired by everyone who’s featured in this book. A couple of people who come to mind are Kailea Frederick, who is constantly dancing between roles in different types of spaces, whether that’s curating and publishing, writing and art on topics like Indigenous sovereignty, spiritual ecology, and climate justice, or fighting for climate policy at the local level.
Deseree Fontenot is another person who comes to mind who really embodies what it means to build power across different movements and to do everything with just tremendous thoughtfulness and intentionality. Right now, Desiree is involved in a couple of different land rematriation projects that are simultaneously advancing ecological stewardship, Black land reparations, Indigenous sovereignty, queer and trans liberation, and disability justice.
Kara Holsopple: Did you say rematriation? Can you say a little bit about what that is?
Kylie Flanagan: There are, I think, a few different ways to talk about it. In this instance, we’re talking about returning land to Indigenous peoples and the right relationship with the earth.
Kara Holsopple: One of the themes in the book is the idea that we don’t have to choose between individual change and systemic action on climate. Why did you want to take on that dichotomy?
Kylie Flanagan: The climate conversation, in general, could benefit from a little more nuance and complexity because it’s a really complex topic. I think when we get stuck in this sort of individual versus structural change binary, it can be really disempowering. We can sometimes feel like, okay, there’s not that much I can do alone. It’s not enough for me to swap out my light bulbs or recycle. But also, I have no idea where to begin when it comes to taking on these massive systems.
So what I really wanted to emphasize is that we don’t have to choose. When we work together and when we band together with other community members–and I use that term really expansively, it might mean folks who live nearby, it might mean folks that you participate in recreation with or have a shared identity or affinity with–when we work together with other folks there is so much that can be done.
There are actually a few examples that I really love in communities across Pennsylvania that I feel really demonstrate this. I don’t know if you are a Rights of Nature fan, but I’ve been so inspired by communities like Grant Township, which has a population of 693 people. Using the rights of nature law, they were able to get the permit for an injection well in their community revoked, which I feel is just such an incredible example of how much can be done when folks rally together and work in community.
Kara Holsopple: Each section of the book ends with possible action items that readers might take. What are some that resonate with you?
Kylie Flanagan: I’m thinking a lot about just how to begin eroding the power of the fossil fuel industry, and so I’m looking to divestment campaigns, to folks who are participating in direct action, who are taking to the streets and speaking about these issues in the halls and corridors of power. But I think there are so many strategies in this book that don’t necessarily look like climate strategies. And so those are really heartening as well. I hope that there’s something for everyone in there.
Kara Holsopple: One of them that I hadn’t really thought about as a climate strategy was seed saving to grow food.
Kylie Flanagan: I had my mom read the book. A couple of weeks passed, and she calls me. When she got to that section, she was like, “Oh my goodness, your great-grandmother was a seed saver!” I didn’t realize that this really cool piece of ancestral wisdom was something that we can and should be doing today and that we have this beautiful familial relationship with. So that was a really neat one to learn more about as well.
Kylie Flanagan is a climate communicator and the executive director of a climate justice–focused foundation. Her first book is “Climate Resilience: How We Keep Each Other Safe, Care for Our Communities, and Fight Back Against Climate Change.”