Terry Tempest Williams reflects on Paris, climate change, the movement and peace

December 11, 2015

Joe Solomon, a journalist in Paris, asked Terry Tempest Williams, an author, poet, and activist, about the relationship between climate change and peace.  Reprinted with both of their permission. Terry Tempest Williams has also been involved in training the next generation of activists, in the context of church-based retreats, with Tim de Christopher, jailed for two years for his “illegal” bidding against fossil fuel developers on public lands in Utah.

So this morning I awoke with the word “emigres” in my mind. I actually had a dream that I had written a book of poetry and emigres was the last word of the last poem. Very strange as I don’t recall every using it in a sentence, certainly not on the page. Why this word now?

I looked it up:

Emigres: Whereas emigrants have likely chosen to leave one place and become immigrants in a different clime, not usually expecting to return, émigrés see exile as a temporary expedient forced on them by political circumstances. Émigré circles often arouse suspicion as breeding-grounds for plots and counter-revolution.

Anyway, I became curious how this word might inform the question you asked me about the relationship between climate change and peace.

We tend to approach climate change as a political issue, a scientific issue. I believe it is a spiritual one.

Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find. I am not in Paris. I am home in the American southwest in the desert in the midst of drought. The questions I am asking myself are how do we live lives of greater intention? How do we use less water, less carbon, travel less and root more closely to home?

Living in Utah, we are not at peace. Oil shale and natural gas development are ravaging this red rock landscape and it is leading those of us who live here to action. We are working to keep the fossil fuels in the ground on our beloved public lands be it through acts of education, art, protest, and when necessary organized acts of civil disobedience. America’s first tar sand mine is here, already here, and we are organizing around how we might shut it down before it gets further along in its construction. Water is an issue. Health is an issue. And greenhouse gas emissions is an issue. Power is an issue and so is democracy.

I do not want to be an Emigres and find myself exiled from my own home ground. I do not want to leave this beautiful broken country of erosional beauty where rocks tell time differently and the wingbeats of ravens come to us as prayers. But if the drought continues, if the toxicity of the air increases, and if our public lands continue to be mined for profit rather than protected as reservoirs of peace — this is who we will become — Emigres — exiled from our own country.

Here is the truth of our times: There is no place to go. We must face climate change as we face an illness at home with consciousness and a vow to change our lives with a bow to a more sane way of living.

We cannot do it alone. We must do it together. It may not be about finding a cure. It may be about moving toward a collective planetary healing — dare I say that this might include rituals and ceremonies and a change of story? The old story of growth for growth’s sake and economic imperialism within nation states is killing us.

If the dark side of climate change is violence, then the light within the climate justice movement which I see as love — a love for life on this planet, and putting our love into action with the gifts and strengths that are ours from science to art to the humanities and religion — this is what will lead us toward a pathway of peace because we have made a commitment to be in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Some may call me naive. But I have tremendous faith in the collective will and imagination of people who are ignited toward a common cause. Climate change is our common cause. We are seeing this outpouring of active concern all around the world in the poorest of countries who are the most vulnerable and in the richest of countries whose arrogance is failing us. Our survival as a species depends on this kind of enlightened leadership from the ground up across the divides of race, class, gender, and belief.

The climate justice movement is a movement of peace because it is our commitment to minimize suffering, both human and wild, on this beautiful blue planet we call home.

It is a fierce and mighty movement of the heart beating from the margins of the body politic to the center. It will revive our humanity as we remember what We, the People and our governments seem to have forgotten: The health of the Earth is our own.