A Just Transition

words by willow defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

“We sense that ‘normal’ isn’t coming back, that we are being born into a new normal: a new kind of society, a new relationship to the Earth, a new experience of being human.”

Charles Eisenstein

Until now, I have abstained from acknowledging President Trump’s refusal to accept defeat and peacefully hand over the presidency, primarily because it is so ludicrous and unfounded that I don’t think it’s worth our collective energy. But Trump’s refusal to accept change speaks to a larger theme at play in our world today: one that cannot be ignored.


Not only is Trump refusing to accept defeat, he is simultaneously attempting to do as much damage as possible on his way out the door. On Monday, the Trump administration announced plans to officially begin selling leases to oil companies for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. While President-elect Joe Biden has opposed the administration’s move to open the area for drilling, it may become more complicated to reverse if Trump succeeds in selling permits before inauguration day on January 20.


It’s impossible not to see the parallels between Trump’s denial of a just transition of power and the larger just transition we are fighting for in the climate movement. For those who are unfamiliar with the phrase, Climate Justice Alliance defines a just transition as “to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy,” going further to say that “The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations. If the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be.”

Trump’s fealty to fossil fuels is, in many ways, emblematic of a global mindset that is equally fossilized—as in dated, decayed, and dangerous. Not that they deserve any praise, but even oil and gas giant BP announced earlier this year that it would be slashing its fossil fuel production and pouring billions of dollars into green energy. We’re not in the clear with Biden, either; as our climate editor Yessenia Funes pointed out in The Frontline earlier this week, we need to keep the pressure on him to ban the dangerous practice of fracking if he is indeed serious about his promised “Clean Energy Revolution.”


In dissecting the psychology of refusing to accept or act on climate change, we often focus on the climate part—but on a deeper level, isn’t it a denial of change? Aren’t the people denying global heating the same ones refusing to change their lifestyles in order to quell a worldwide pandemic, and refusing to change their perspectives on the pervasiveness of racism today? This year has been a public wrestling match between humankind and its ancient fear of change.


As a trans person, this is a subject I have been wrestling with myself this year. Whether our transitions are outward or inward, to be trans is to be intimate with transformation—which can at times be profound and others painful, in the context of a society that does not protect us. Don’t we deserve just transition too? In a recent story for Atmos, GLITS founder Ceyenne Doroshow describes the violence that she has witnessed firsthand, and how she has managed to transform it into a life of sustainability for her community. It is this intimacy with transformation that others fear—the same ones who fear the myriad other ways our world is metamorphosing.


Perhaps it’s not just our transformation they fear, but the idea that they might be capable of it too. That life changes, that it is endless in its unfolding. That death is equally inevitable, that it is just another word for change. The ego wants to believe it will remain forever; nature knows better. Evolution is the way of our world, and never has that been more apparent than this year: the year we may someday look back on as the one when everything changed. The year we were reborn.

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