NIGHT ROLL: Gentrification and Urban Fantasy

Map courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society

I’m a country mouse, I need trees to live. I never thought I’d write an urban fantasy. I haven’t gone in much for the bare-midriff-plus-shotgun kind anyway—but I loved Wizard of the Pigeons, Brown Girl in the Ring, The Folk of the Air. Even Little, Big has some deeply urban magic in the middle of it. Those books were a huge influence on me. I just couldn’t imagine mustering the authenticity to write anything like them.

Thanks to the urban parks systems of Boston, Columbus and Detroit, I’ve survived on the outskirts of three cities. I’ve seen how cities can be magical. How they can be alternate worlds. The great complexity of human culture, concentrated and compounded by artifice and time, is the heart of their magic. But it’s too easy to poison that heart by othering. To a country mouse, the city is exotic, alien, full of unimaginable lives. Aliens, the trope assures us, can hide in the city in plain sight. Easiest to dupe, one assumes, is the suburban tourist.

I grew up in the outer-ring suburbs of Boston, looking away, to the woods, for magic. Yearning for the wilderness. But all roads lead to the city. Now I’ve been a drop in the bucket of gentrification. A drop in the flood. I’d like to think I made myself as much like that drop as I could, malleable, adapting to the shape of my surroundings. Not without heartache, I learned to get what I needed of nature from Boston’s wooded graveyards, edgelands, the Arboretum, and still pay attention to the human wonders, the Cuban torta shop, the Dominican grocery and the Irish pub all on the same block. But the way the city taught me to love it, to be in awe of its complexity, its unimaginability, didn’t teach me to make myself part of it.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of what nature looks like to people who grow up without access to it. Exotic and alien, I presume. And I’ve tried to make magic out of that, to tell stories centering what the woods has to teach us about what’s wild in all of us. This is what I think speculative writing is for: instill something with awe, with the uncanny, and it’s harder to dismiss or to look away from. I’ve thought of it as what I have to offer, what I’m good at. To an extent, that process works the same way in the other direction, from the country to the city. But the values aren’t remotely the same.

Part of New Yorkers’ disdain for the people of Boston is about their presumption, thinking their experience of Boston is at all applicable to the exponentially more dense and diverse New York. No—no, that’s wrong, it’s Bostonians with the chip on their collective shoulder. New Yorkers could care less what we think of them. (I was born in Boston; I still think of it as my home city despite having lived on the edge of Detroit now for ten years.) The point is, we fetishize the city. It’s gritty, it’s real; grow up there and you’re ready for anything, or so you’re led to think growing up in the suburbs. Dominant culture encourages this, pushes on suburban white kids the metaphor of the urban as wilderness. You’re in the jungle, baby. You’re gonna die.

Brave the city as a teenager, return to regale your friends with tales of your adventures. Use the word “ghetto” as a pejorative without the slightest historical awareness. Driving on the Jamaicaway past Dorchester and Mattapan, roll up the windows and lock the doors. Never take the Orange Line south of Mass Ave.

This same phenomenon exists among Detroit’s suburbs, perhaps even starker because Boston is still majority-white, and Detroit hasn’t been for a long time. I’ve met people from Detroit suburbs who’ve gone their entire lives without setting foot in the city except for Tigers games and the Renaissance Center, a 70s-futuristic skyscraper mall that actualizes its isolation from the 80% Black, 36% poor city around it by suspending its curvilinear concrete galleries amid hundreds of feet of negative space.

I can’t feign access to a high horse about this, because see above about Boston, segregatedest city in America. But I can try to understand. I am allowed to try to figure out how to tell stories about this that encourage and hopefully help others do the same. It was living in Boston, ethnicities passing each other like ships in the night, that convinced me I needed to. It’s a responsibility for a writer working in an urban setting not their own to do that work, the same way it’s a responsibility to write the other with compassion and earnest attempt to understand, the same way it’s a responsibility for someone making a home in a new place to respect and learn the history and culture they’re trying to become a part of, to resist the colonizing and gentrifying inertial forces that come with privilege and wealth, to be a force for social justice. Especially now.

I wrote an aspirational novella, NIGHT ROLL, about how an individual instance of gentrifiying experience could possibly go okay. It’s no coincidence that to do that, I felt I had to take away the main character’s entire support network and cultural context and build new ones for her consisting entirely of Detroiters. It’s no coincidence that she’s the token non-evil white character. But I couldn’t bring myself to make Aileen really desperate, to take away her privilege entirely. It’s too far outside of my experience; I wouldn’t know how to make it believable. How was she supposed to do the work of listening, learning and adapting, becoming a part of this place, without that safety net? People do it every day, others try and get locked in cages for it. But for all my efforts, I can’t access that intimately enough to tell that story. It’s not mine to tell.

There has to be a knife-edge between poverty fetishism and cultural appropriation. I tried to walk it, starting from my own place of privilege. It was hard. I made mistakes, which had to be pointed out to me. I failed, until final edits with my publisher, to account for Indigenous experience of Detroit. There’s a fierce, funny, freestyle MC I namecheck a couple of times, Miz Korona; I spelled her name wrong. I had to be confronted with, and mortified by, my cultural insensitivity. Repeatedly. But how else am I supposed to learn?

Maybe it’s tempting to read the relative ease with which Aileen adapts and thrives as one of NIGHT ROLL’s fantastic elements. She makes friends who take her at face value; they help her find a job, they support her; she supports them. This is not some utopian dream; I’ve seen it happen. When COVID’s over, I’m going to find all the new families I’ve watched take root here over the past ten years and hug them and thank them. Bring humility and reverence and willingness to work and learn to Detroit and that’s what you’ll find.

“The most radical thing I ever did,” said Grace Lee Boggs, the civil rights activist, community organizer and philosopher, who came to Detroit in 1953 and never left, and to whose work NIGHT ROLL owes another huge debt, “was to stay put.”

I’ve also seen people move here, try to hunker down and ignore what this city is, remain what they were, and fail, spectacularly. And then they were gone. I was headed that way for awhile. After my first year here, I came to an inflection point; I could have moved closer in to the city, taken a leap of faith. I could have pulled up stakes and run. Instead, I moved a little further out, towards the wilderness, such as it is here.

NIGHT ROLL isn’t autobiographical. Like I said, it’s aspirational. I sit out here on the far edge of the city, with easy recourse to these post-industrial woodlands that have become my refuge, and I try to understand and convey something true through story. I haven’t set foot in Detroit since March, for the obvious reasons. I miss it, I root for it, I send money. And this question of authenticity, of earnestness, persists. I want to be able to say there’s magic to be had everywhere, in the city, the suburbs, and deep under trees where after a hundred years it’s work to find anything human. (It’s there, it’s always there, everything is human-touched forever, this place is a crossroads, even the trees followed people here, and more are coming.) I want all the other gentrifying urban fantasists to undertake this work of listening and learning and imagining how it feels, to make their storytelling a place where we progress away from the slaveholding, colonizing, genocidal past of which the suburbs are a legacy and a bastion. The magic is in what you don’t understand yet, and then afterwards it’s in what you understand enough to love. This is the work, it’s how we get better. The old stories, and even the new ones whose authors didn’t know to do this work or didn’t want to: they made this what it is, and they’re making it worse. Because stories are how people learn.

I’m no voice of authority here. I don’t want to be. But I’m trying to be better. We’ve got to keep trying until we get it right.

 Night Roll - A Novella by Michael J. DeLuca, published by Stelliform Press

Optimistic Predictions and SFF – Notes from My ConFusion Panel

We had a very lively panel yesterday about strategies for surviving, thriving and resisting amid the pessimism of the present using, among other techniques, constructive thinking about the future. I promised I would share my tons of notes. Below you’ll find a bunch of extensive quotes from SF luminaries William Gibson, Cory Doctorow, Nora Jemisin and Vandana Singh about predicting and anticipating the future and what SF can and can’t and should and should do more of to help bring it about, plus some intermediate reactions and conversation seeds from me, a bunch of book recommendations and etc, in the hopes somebody will find it useful.

Here’s the panel description:

William Gibson has repeatedly said that he has trouble these days predicting the near-future, and a lot of science fiction and fantasy remains rampant with dark visions of our world or others. However, even futurist Cory Doctorow has said that he can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Could the problem be how focused we are on negative predictions? Has near-future SF been paralyzed by a complete loss of optimism? How many optimistic visions of the next 10-20 years can our panelists come up with, either from recent works or their own imaginings of the future?

Panelists: Michael J. DeLuca (M), Marsalis, Vanessa Ricci-Thode, Kristine Smith

My reading of William Gibson’s statements on this subject are that he’s never actually concerned himself with predicting the future. He doesn’t consider himself a futurist. Though he seems pretty clear-headed to me about human nature, the ways we use technology and for what.

He also doesn’t seem terribly optimistic?

“[The apocalypse] is exclusively androgenic. Androgenic forces are about to—nothing to be done about it—bring about the next great extinction. We’re not going to turn that around. We’re going to lose most of the animals, and that’s us. There’s nobody else to blame, and we understand how it happened.”
–Gibson, in this Slate interview from 2014

The lazy shorthand with which he’s sometimes described is as a prophet. How does he feel about that? An albatross around the neck, an encouraging compliment – or just part of the job? “… It seems to be a thing. But I’ve been discounting it actively throughout my entire career. I don’t think you could find a single interview with me in which I don’t make the point that I’ve got it wrong easily as often as I’ve got it sort of right.”
–Gibson in a more recent Guardian interview from 1/11/2020

I don’t actually read his fiction. I don’t read Kim Stanley Robinson or Doctorow either, so maybe I’m a terrible person to be moderating this panel.

Doctorow doesn’t seem to claim the title “futurist” either.

“If the Internet is not free, fair, and open, then our ability to effectively address climate change, or economic injustice, or racism, or what have you, is severely curtailed, if not made impossible,” he says. “Although the Internet might not be the most important fight we have, it’s going to be the foundational fight.
–Doctorow in January 2016

“Science fiction is at a crossroads, struggling to escape the dystopianism that so many of us find so easy to believe in (it’s easy to find fears credible and hopes unbelievable). It’s no longer artistically viable to depict a future in which everything just turns out for the best – and besides, such a story feels reckless, calculated to soothe us into inaction just as action is urgently needed.

“I believe that the right answer is to tell stories of adversity met and overcome – hard work and commitment wrenching a limping victory from the jaws of defeat. Such tales are the opposite of “optimism” or “pessimism” (these being synonyms for “fatalism” – that belief that a specific future will arrive regardless of what we do). Instead, we can call it “hope.” Hope: the belief that a different world is possible.

“That’s where science fiction comes in. Science fiction doesn’t predict, but it can influence. When crises arrive, panic induces tunnel vision, in which the outcomes that we can picture most easily and vividly are automatically assumed to be the most likely ones (behavioural economists call this “the availability heuristic”). Science fiction’s most cherished and hackneyed tropes dominate this availability heuristic. We imagine that every disaster is followed by mob violence – despite the rich historic record of neighbours caring for one another in times of crisis. This belief has all the makings of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as people assume the worst of one another, so that mistrust turns disaster into catastrophe.”
–Doctorow in The Globe and Mail, Dec. 2019

A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit: she reviews the ad hoc communities that arose aftermath of six historic disasters, with tons of delightfully affirming contradictions of the myth that human society descends into chaos and cannibalism in the face of adversity.

I guess what I have to bring to this as moderator is Reckoning. Reckoning 4 came out in ebook two days before Trump assassinated Quassem Soleimani but right in the middle of the Australia wildfires. Reckoning 3’s tagline was “Navigating by heartstrings through fire and flood in pursuit of a future.” Reckoning 4 is full of fire and flood, and I was pretty paralyzed at the prospect of picking a tagline for it. Yo, this does not make me a futurist.

I felt we needed some non-white-dude perspectives on this.

Jemisin said sci-fi writers have historically been pretty bad at prophecy. “The tendency to center on technology is typically one of the worst ways when focusing on futurism,” she said. “What we need to look at are the ways in which human beings are evolving, societally speaking. I have no predictions for that.” But, she added, “I have a great deal of hope that we will start to realize that allowing certain kinds of manipulations is actually dangerous to the societies that we want to create. Right now, only some of us seem to realize that, and the rest of us seem to think that it is perfectly OK.”
–Nora Jemisin interviewed in Wired, Nov. 2019

The Fifth Season is the only book I’ve read from her Broken Earth series, and it is quite profoundly dark and centers on a horrible dystopian world falling even further apart. I think it’s possible to read that book as setting up a less awful future, but there is a long way to go. I think what she’s doing is pulling the veil off how some bad things in the world actually are and how they hurt people and how that hurt propels them to change the world despite it.

“For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been transitioning from studying particle physics to interdisciplinary scholarship of climate change, and I find that when I write fiction to explore concepts, it helps me also conceptualize climate science for the classroom and beyond and think of—or reframe—different ways of thinking about climate change and what’s happening to our world.”
–Vandana Singh, June 2019

“Omelas is not an exact analogy for our world, but there are enough similarities that it makes sense to say that we live in some form of it. Our comfort and our well-being as privileged (to some degree or another) inhabitants of the world’s richest country depend on the exploitation of not one child, but many children. Not one man or woman, but millions of them. Not one resource, forest, or animal species, but indeed of 25% of the world’s resources.

“It’s not that dystopias don’t have a role to play, but I find their preponderance troubling. Part of my problem is that an overwhelming number of dystopias are based on the individual pitted against a repressive society — the individual as the Lone Ranger hero, the problem solver, to triumph (or not) at the end of the tale. The trouble with complex problems like social inequality and climate change is that they require masses of people to work together. Where in science fiction are stories about people working in communities, negotiating their differences to engage with an issue? It is so much easier to write a post-apocalyptic dystopia than to imagine how we might work our way through the apocalypse together. Among the few examples that come to mind are two of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels, The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge.
–Vandana again in February 2018, in a lecture called “Leaving Omelas: Science Fiction, Climate Change, and the Future”

We can point out these biases—that it’s easier to imagine a dystopian future than a constructive one because we’re hard-wired that way evolutionarily, that it’s the fight or flight response—and we can even counteract them on an individual basis—but the trouble it seems to me is that they’re so pervasive as to be self-fulfilling. The reason it seems harder to imagine the end of capitalism than the end of human civilization is that the stories through which we understand reality and communicate that understanding to others also operate according to that bias.
To bring Vandana’s point around to relevance to this question: I think she’s saying that if we can move science fiction—and with it, storytelling—away from the Newtonian mechanism of its origins, back towards Indigenousness, towards radical subjectivity, plurality, local interconnectedness not just among people but across species, then this narrowing of viable alternate paths straight down to none will be utterly eclipsed by astonishing variety. The trouble is, the doomsday snowball of global capitalism has already gathered so much momentum.

I recently got to write the foreword for Inner State, a poetry collection forthcoming this year from Reckoning editorial staffer Mohammad Shafiqul Islam; I talked there about how profoundly comforting it is to encounter his rare, wry humor in a series of poems that concerns itself with the poise between the personal and the vast in confronting fascism, totalitarianism, economic stratification, environmental injustice, environmental collapse, etc etc.

Who is it that says “I always try to think of at least two impossible things before breakfast.”? It’s the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

A big part of why this crisis has spun into an emergency is that there has been too much of a focus on numbers. – 1.5C, 350 parts per million, 12 years – and not enough attention on collective stories of a better world.

2026: We will redefine what we mean by technology.
We do not need more gadgets, we need more connection. We do not need more entertainment, we need more empathy. We do not need virtual reality, we need reality.

Perhaps the most radical change of all this decade will be our newfound ability to tell a story – a positive story – about the future and mean it.

What that story looks like will probably be very different than what you’ve just read, but it will feel very much the same. It will feel like something you’ve always wanted, but never thought you’d get. You deserve it.

That is what we have to do now, in the first days of 2020. Dream unashamedly big dreams, dreams that reimagine the more just and loving world we want to live in, not the one traditional science fiction or even the media suggests is inevitable. Put these dreams to paper, speak them into the world, and work together to make them a reality.
—Eric Holthaus, meteorologist and climate writer, essay from January 8

We are in the crisis now and we need, as ecofeminist scholar Donna Haraway says, to stay with the trouble. In order to do so, we need narratives that are not naively optimistic about the future of our species and the others that inhabit this planet alongside us. We desperately need narratives that move past apocalypse as an endpoint, not only because there are people and societies already living in the Western world’s vision of climate apocalypse on a daily basis, but because looking at the climate crisis as an apocalypse can only inspire a helpless waiting for the post-apocalypse to arrive, suddenly, to cleave the past from the future.
—Alyssa Hull essay on Lithub

On the one hand there’s the clickbait effect, where shocking, appalling, angering news gets shared and reshared while affirming, comforting, “positive” news gets snowed under. Also see, from an earlier era of mass media, Mean World Syndrome. On the other hand, there’s the “social media echo chamber”, and there’s confirmation bias. You “like” what you agree with, so the algorithm shows you more of that. You read a news story and you cling to the details that confirm your worldview and forget or at least undervalue the rest. That both of these hands exist it seems to me means there are mechanisms by which both inaccurately pessimistic and inaccurately optimistic worldviews perpetuate.

What to take away from that, if anything? Humans are complicated?

I guess there’s also the inertia of complacency. Gibson, in that very recent interview, talked about Heinlein and Asimov, golden age SF, propagating a “whole universe that’s entirely American”. A lot of us don’t, actually, resort to SF to foster radical ideas for saving the world—or at least we didn’t, for a long time. We (me, white cis male) looked to it for comfort. Right up until I discovered all the joys and wonders of discomfort. And I don’t mean to invalidate comfort. We need that sometimes. I would argue we also need discomfort sometimes. Which doesn’t mean a necessary immediate leap to grimdark, where the comfort as I understand it is the comfort of numbness, of “everything has gone to shit so I’ll stab you if you look at me funny” apocalypse, or maybe “at least I haven’t got it that bad”. But then maybe I’m moving more in the direction of the theory of horror and away from SFF?

Re-reading Akira and Domu back to back today because Otomo’s fantastic dystopias are a blessed relief from the drearily real ones we’re currently living in
—@UrbanFoxxx on twitter

Hard to find fault there. If reading fictional dystopia helps you cope with real dystopia—actually cope—that’s great. There is no reason to form up along party lines here over whether we want to read optimistic futures or not. I am much more interested in helping people interested in doing so formulate constructive futures and then bring them about—in fiction or in reality. I am also interested in discouraging people from formulating dystopian futures and trying to bring those about? But it’s not like I want to slam any doors in anybody’s face, e.g., for thinking Us was an awesome movie.

So, some additional questions:

  • Does terminology matter? Optimism vs hope vs constructive thinking. Escapism vs self-care. Hopepunk ecopunk solarpunk creative writing on environmental justice grimdark. But maybe it’s better not to get drawn into terms.
  • What else could the problem be besides “that we are too focused on negative predictions”? Is the problem really with the state of near future SFF, or is the problem with the actual world being fucked?
  • Do you read, and/or write, if you write, fiction that helps you make sense of the world as it is and the future that’s coming, or get away from it, and thinking about it, or both, and if both, what balance do you try and strike between them? If you’re getting away, using fiction to take a break, do you want something that is not at all like the real world, or that engages with the same challenges against a different background? Does it ever help if that background is crueler, more cynical? When?
  • What’s coming that’s good? Let’s actually talk about the future.

Electrification. Diminishing coal. Disasters galvanize people. What will come out of the Australia wildfires? I saw the “plants are already growing back” posts really fast, and at the time it felt like desperate clinging to positivity in the face of an awful reality, but some good things will come out of it. People will wake up. Not all of them. Some. Maybe Koalas will move to New Zealand. That’s…unsettling, to think of yet more human meddling in natural processes, and yet I want the koalas to live. Some humans are learning to eat invasive species. Lots of humans are working to eat less meat and more veg. Capitalism does drive a certain kind of change, mostly it’s awful, but disaster can drive capitalism to change in necessary ways. World War II and the civil rights movement. Victory gardens fostered a culture of cottage gardening in the British Isles that exists to this day. Culture can change. Capitalism and industrialization wrought a lot of stupid awful destructive change, but we can step back from that. People are. Not all of them. Enough? Maybe not. Andmdash;it is legitimate to worry about that, but it sure seems to me like good self-care to accept that and find ways to focus on the parts of that you personally can impact, whether it’s through writing, gardening, protesting, donating, calling congresspeople, inventing new shit, reinventing old forgotten tech, supporting your friends and loved ones who are doing the same.

Some book recommendations for constructive thinking about the near future:

I heard John Lewis interviewed on NPR the other morning, and he was talking about how he was 17 when he first read of the Montgomery bus boycott and said, I want that for where I live. Imagine being 17 and committing to something like that. Look around and yeah, there are kids taking action, pouring themselves into making the world better, saving it. I guess there always are.

Maurice Broaddus is wearing a shirt that says “writing is resistance”. The resistance isn’t going away. No fascist hegemony can quash dissent. Awful people do awful things, lots of people are profoundly hurt, but it is possible to survive that, grow, get stronger, fight, keep fighting, organize, support each other, find joy, find a balance between meaningful work and replenishing relaxation and fun.

Review: Rule of Capture by Christopher Brown

I can’t remember a legal thriller having made me cry before—though I suppose terrifyingly near-future compassionate dystopian SF is another story. RULE OF CAPTURE is both. It started getting to me round about page ten, when the Native filmmaker on trial to be deported for trumped-up (yes I see it and I’m not sorry) sedition charges gets dragged into the courtroom under a black hood. This goes beyond topical into the territory of my—everyone’s?—personal paranoia.

The scariest part is hearing, every time a private security force is shown patrolling an American neighborhood armed with the technological manifestation of the biggest wealth gap in the developed world, how willing and proud so many in the crowd are to be oppressed.

The world of RULE OF CAPTURE and its prequel, TROPIC OF KANSAS, isn’t easy to inhabit, being just that much worse than our own, which is bad enough. But I also find it impossible to look away from, even as I struggle with what this kind of writing is for, what it’s doing. When we’ve already got an America daily tipping further into kakistocracy, what makes Brown’s hyperbolized version of same so compelling? More importantly—to me at least—is it helping?

As publisher and erstwhile editor of Reckoning, I’ve thought a lot about this. I want to publish—and read, and learn from—stories that foster hope, that energize us to foster change. Reading fiction can make us better people by making us care, an antidote to the desensitizing effects of mass media and the fragmentation of social media. It gives us actual human beings to live with and inhabit over time, and in doing so can give us access to ideas we’d be closed to if we encountered them any other way. It can also let us hide. The difference is subtle. Everybody needs catharsis. Right now, people in the US, the kind of people writing and thinking about environmental justice anyway, need to grieve for the world they thought we’d be living in by now. I need to grieve for my kid’s future, for the swarms of bees and vibrant coral he’ll never see, for the coming to terms he’s going to have to endure with the ways the world doesn’t correspond to the principles I can’t help instilling in him. I need stories that elucidate that process, that let me sit with it and prepare. But even more, I need stories that help me think what to do. And those are rare. And hard.

RULE OF CAPTURE does both. This isn’t escape, it isn’t wish fulfillment. There are no easy wins. There are expansive, boggling ideas for the future, for the resurgence of nature, the articulation of utopian ideals. They have to be fought for, and re-fought—if there’s a moral to this story, it’s that you never get to stop fighting—but that’s the only way I’d have believed in them.

For a sense what you’re getting, Chris tells me the idea for RULE OF CAPTURE came straight out of his essay by the same title published in Reckoning 1, a Ballardian/Borgesian/transgressive romp through the concept of ownership by conquest, manifest in the resurgent, post-industrial urban wilderness of his Austin backyard.

The best thing about RULE OF CAPTURE, as far as I’m concerned, is how obviously its author is as invested in our future as his characters, and as willing to fight. As demonstrated by everything he’s put into this mind-bending, emotionally challenging piece of fiction.

Another forty-five minutes and two more wrong turns walking down in there, as the morning sun started to get hot, Donny wondered if it was a stupid idea to wear a suit. He had honestly thought they were headed to an apartment building, and might end up dealing with the law before the day was out. Now he wondered if he had stepped into some even bleaker future than the one he was living in, and by sundown the suit would rediscover its hunting attire roots as they scrabbled to survive in the ruins. Seeing how many people already lived like that, hiding in plain sight in the ruins of the right now, made you realize how adjacent that reality really was. He imagined himself trapping nutria at dusk, long hair held back by a necktie repurposed as a headband—

Climate Action

In the interest of all of us working together to help each other mitigate the in-progress climate apocalypse, I thought I’d update my list of actions.

Maybe a lot of this will seem tiny and pedantic, it seems that way to me, but I include it because I don’t want anybody else to think anything they can do is insignificant. Some of it likely also will seem huge and daunting; believe me that it felt that way to me before I built up the momentum to make it happen.

It all matters. What you’re doing matters.

Please–and especially if you’re doing something I’m not–would you share your own version of this?

New as of this week:

  • Cooking with meat only one night a week.
  • Using no plastics to wash dishes.

Forthcoming:

  • Using no plastics in dental hygiene.
  • I might have a line on some very local eggs I can get with net zero packaging.
  • More as I think of it.

What I was already doing:

  • Residential rooftop solar panels, 4.2Kw.
  • Electric car, 2017 Chevy Bolt, charging exclusively in my garage, from the solar panels.
  • Two 80 gallon rain barrels, from which I do 85% of my watering.
  • Fractional greywater reuse from dishwashing, shower and basement dehumidifier, amounting to maybe another 5% of my watering.
  • Making all my own bread and yogurt saves on some packaging. Kneading my bread by hand saves some energy.
  • Two apple trees, a cherry tree, an elderberry bush, strawberries, grapes, hops, sunflowers, sunchokes, garlic, raspberries, serviceberries etc, feeding my family and local wildlife as much as I can from our tiny third of an acre.
  • Compost, both using redworms in the basement and a big old compost pile outside.
  • No pesticides, no fertilizer.
  • Homebrewed beer and cider accounts for maybe half of the alcohol consumed in my household, saving some packaging and shipping. Also the electricity for my brew kettle comes from solar, I reuse waste water for cleaning or next batch and compost or bake with spent grains. Also 100% of the apples I use for cider are wildcrafted or home-grown.
  • Biking. To the grocery store, liquor store, garden store, hairdresser, health food store, hardware store, post office, to the woods and fields for foraging. And of course for exercise.
  • Volunteering with my town’s environmental resources committee.
  • Volunteer litter cleanup.
  • Reckoning is a nonprofit annual journal of creative writing on environmental justice, which I founded in 2016 and fund 90% on my own.
  • No plastics for shaving.
  • Buying local as much as I can, less than I could/should, but things like fruit, veg, honey, grain for brewing, beer. I try to buy beer in cans for the reduced packaging, though I’d go back to glass if anybody in this country would reuse beer bottles.
  • Living in a freshwater-locked state (Michigan), I don’t eat ocean fish unless I travel to a coast.
  • Volunteering and donating to Elissa Slotkin, who is running for my local flippable House seat, MI-08.
  • Foraging for herbs, mushrooms, wild fruit. I do this responsibly and small-scale, but it saves having to buy those things, saves packaging and shipping.
  • I wear clothes and shoes until they fall apart. Wife constantly pointing out holes in everything.
  • Human-powered lawnmower. Also human-powered snowblower (shovel), human-powered leafblower (rake), human-powered weedwhacker (sickle/shears).
  • I buy few new books (I use ebooks and the library and buy used and share).
  • My kid has a million toys, a lot of them are hand-me-down, but I do pretty well keeping him entertained with sticks and leaves and stuff around the house. That’s got to mean something.
  • I don’t play video games. Not a judgment, but it’s got to account for some energy use.
  • I carry a travel mug everywhere and use it for tea, coffee, soda, water. I don’t buy bottled water. I don’t use straws.

Areas where I’m not there yet:

  • Gas heat and hot water.
  • I still own one gas car and use it maybe 20% of the time.
  • Electricity I use in excess of solar panel generation (electric car takes up a lot) comes from shitty Michigan power generation, which was still 60% coal last I checked.
  • I take a plane occasionally, though I pack ridiculously light and rarely fly anywhere further than the East Coast. I’d use more trains if there were more.
  • My mental health necessitates I live near woods, so I am farther from things than if I lived in a city.
  • I have one kid. I hear they are resource hogs. Sigh. I do hope and work hard to prepare him to overcome that.
  • If you see something I’ve got a blind spot about, please tell me? Thank you in advance.

Thank you for reading and caring. <3

This Changes Everything

My review of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, by Naomi Klein.

IMG_2604

Around two-thirds of it I found to be an exhaustive litany of depressing information with which I was already familiar. Capitalism is a bankrupt mythology no more rational than an organized religion and with even more inertia and power. Capitalism is the force that puts fingers in the ears of politicians regarding the obvious and immanent threat of extracting and burning any more fossil fuels than we’ve already extracted and burned. Corporate greenwashing is a hell of a pervasive thing. Oil companies are fucking evil. International climate initiatives have been toothless windbaggery for more than thirty years. International environmentalist organizations, by virtue of their size and need for funding, end up in the pockets of those same corporations, helping with the greenwashing, in some cases even helping with the fossil fuel extraction and burning. Geoengineering is a reckless, shortsighted, stupid idea. The technology to save us (solar) already exists, but the fingers-in-ears, hands-over-eyes capitalist mindset that controls all the money will continue to cock-block its implementation right up until it doesn’t matter anymore.

The depth and focus with which she runs through this litany is impressive and not without value in itself. Reading it I found myself looking back on my past environmentalist actions (solar panels, electric car, permaculture, LCRW 33) and deeming them pathetically inadequate. I found myself looking back at those environmentalist projects I’d left hanging (convincing my family to divest from fossil fuels, starting a nano-nonprofit) and feeling newly motivated to take them up again.

I was a little disappointed to find the book had been written in 2014 and not this instant, now. It indicts the Kyoto protocols, but doesn’t cover the Paris climate agreement. There’s a chapter called No Messiahs: The Green Billionaires Won’t Save Us, but it devotes itself to the ways in which Richard Branson has failed to live up to the promise he made in 2006 to be our Climate Savior™ rather than speculating about whether Elon Musk will fail equally spectacularly at same (luckily, I have the internet for that).

The real value of the book, though, I found in that remaining third, where Klein starts talking about WHAT IS TO BE DONE. The glib answer is revolution. The harder, unavoidable answer is widespread, individual, overwhelming personal commitment, fighting the hard legislative and activist fight, town by town, street by street, taking hard losses every step of the way but gritting through it because it’s that fucking important. The people on whose shoulders the solution squarely rests, unfair though it undeniably is, are the people who are being most hurt. Indigenous peoples whose livelihood is tied to the land. People whose drinking water has been fracked into flammability or poisoned by austerity corner-cutting. People who have to wear masks to go outside. Citizens of low-lying island nations about to disappear. Ranchers and farmers along the paths of pipelines. People who look out their windows every day and see and acknowledge the incredible, beautiful natural resources that will be destroyed if capitalism is allowed to keep on as it has. I count myself among that latter group. And I daresay if you’ve read this far, you do too.

And that’s the thing about Klein’s book, as it turns out: it’s not trying to convince anybody of anything they didn’t already believe. I doubt anybody not on the environmentalist bandwagon could even manage to get through it. What it’s trying to do is galvanize those of us who do believe, to show us the facts, in exhaustive detail, and point to the painfully obvious conclusion some of us (yes, even me) are still shying away from: that it’s time to go all-in. Foot-dragging is not getting it done. Switching to reusable grocery bags is not getting it done. Giving money once a year to the NRDF is not getting it done. Waiting and hoping for the market to correct itself is sure as hell not getting it done.

We have maybe 35 years to get off fossil fuels completely or it isn’t going to matter anymore.

In the past, when something has gotten me this worked up about it, I have exhorted people to DO SOMETHING. I realize that’s no good anymore. It’s time to DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN.

IMG_2590