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Our country is obsessed with violent rhetoric. The environmental movement doesn’t have to be.

Our country is obsessed with violent rhetoric. The environmental movement doesn’t have to be.

Recently, a brawl broke out in Montgomery, Alabama – a racialized fight between black and white people. It quickly went viral. Across social media sites, from YouTube to Facebook to “X,” posts have received millions of views. It made it all the way to ABC News. The brawl is a reminder of America’s obsession with violence (particularly racial violence) and how our thirst for conflict permeates public discourse, even in spaces that it should not.

One of those spaces is the discourse on climate change. “Battling heat waves,” “fighting floods,” and “storms that destroy” – we are combatting all effects of climate change as we are keeping up the fight to stay below 2.7oF (1.5oC). Fighting climate change has become an incontestable phrase in the environmentalism movement; however, as it is, this will not be a fight we can win. In fact, it is a fight we might have already lost.

Arizona, Iran, and parts of China have all consistently surpassed 110oF (45oC) this year, and parts of South America are currently as hot as 100oF (38oC). It’s winter in South America. Waters off the coast of Florida eclipsed 100oF. Tornados have swept away power for millions of homes from Oklahoma to as far north as Massachusetts. Louisiana continues to slough off into the Gulf of Mexico as oil titans drill off the coast.

To be sure, there is a fight to be had. However, this combative rhetoric distracts us from the real adversary: extractive corporations that are disproportionately contributing to climate change. We should not stand aside and let industrial agriculture continue to pollute our air and water or poison our communities. Deep-sea mining needs to cease. Petrochemical factories should not be allowed to continue to give communities cancer. But what would it mean for us to win the fight against climate change?

In the wild and pristine communities, many non-human species are retreating. But some have nowhere left to go. The gulf stream is just decades away from collapse. It’s estimated that less than 80% of the Amazon Rainforest is left, which means that any day now, our global hydrological cycle will be turned on its head. In June, the northeast experienced smoke from wildfires more commonly associated with summers along the west coast. Millions of people across the Global South have been forced to flee their homes because they are uninhabitable, to say nothing of communities in the Global North. Climate change has thrown a hell of a haymaker, and we have yet to reach 2.7oF.

The climate crisis is a pervasive issue, so pervasive that the future, even at modest IPCC estimates, is incomprehensible. The new head of the IPCC, Jim Skea, showed he felt the haymaker and tried to alleviate the anxiety around future blows from climate change from a future that breaches 2.7oF in an interview with Der Spiegel. But Skea’s comments are ill-timed: three-quarters of young people are already feeling the despair of living in our new normal and fighting the climate that created it.

Remaining vigilant for this ever-present foe has everyone’s mental health in shambles. It separates us from the planet, from one another, and from ourselves. Falling victim to this combative rhetoric hyper-individualizes the climate movement and places undue stress on people looking to do the right thing for the planet.

And the list of right things is always growing — reducing our consumption and waste, changing our diets and checking food labels, buying from eco-friendly brands, altering our transportation, and always checking for the latest greenwashing scandal. This list will continue to grow as our knowledge expands, and it must grow if we are to overcome our climate foe. But we are not and cannot be breatharians and adhere to an impossible list of standards.

Instead, we must work to build a community and build it from our shared experiences with climate change, from uncomfortable afternoons and evenings to historic disasters. These experiences are often distressing. They’re distressing because, in them, we feel a sense of loss, whether it is the loss of a summer tradition or the loss of a loved one. Coming together – healing together – offers an opportunity to forge new connections and establish a sense of community after periods of isolation.

With community and through healing, we can adopt an expanded adaptive rhetoric. The world that we inherit, with or without a fight, will be fundamentally changed. Non-human species are still struggling to survive, and for low-income communities, it is even harder to get by. Building a community through adaptive rhetoric means reconciling with the climate as it is and reuniting with all that remains. In our new normal, building a community will make it easier to adapt, first by reinforcing resilient communities and then by establishing new traditions amongst all which persist. We will adapt, and we will heal. And we do let it be by setting our sights on collectively doing what is right and ending our “fight” with the climate.

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