Rock wall by Théo de Gueltzl

Climbing Mountains

words by willOW defebaugh

photographs by Théo de Gueltzl

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.

“These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.”

Najwa Zebian

Whether you are a climate scientist, a frontline defender, or an everyday environmentalist, there is a shared experience that unites all of us in this movement, one that at times outweighs even our passion for the world: the feeling that we are carrying its weight on our shoulders. This is not to imply that similar pressure does not exist across other movements, but there is something particularly potent when we are literally talking about saving the planet.


Part of why we may be accustomed to that feeling is that this movement used to be a minority—but that’s changing. As Bloomberg Green pointed out this week, Gen Z has proven itself to be a generation of climate warriors, not only through activism but shaping policy as well. The majority of those born between 1995-2000 believe the climate crisis is the defining issue of their lifetime, according to a 2019 Amnesty International survey.


For our Wave of Change series, we paired four leading climate activists of this generation—Xiuhtezcatl, Jamie Margolin, Kevin J. Patel, and Wawa Gatheru—with their environmental heroes. Sitting in on these Zoom calls, I listened to two common themes emerge. The first was a yearning for advice on how to cope with all the pressure of what’s at stake. I heard Margolin describe what it’s like to attend her first year of college in the context of a world both frozen and on fire, and my heart ached for her generation.


The second theme that emerged was a solution to the first: community. Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Peggy Shepard, and Nick Tilsen—each of them emphasized that this work is not work that can be done alone. As Dr. Shiva put it, “Community is what we fight for. It is at the heart of human history and most of human organizing. It is at the heart of ecological existence. We are members of a community and the day we forget that, all the violence starts.”


Earlier this week, I was catching up with my friend Max Moinian, who is one half of Future Earth. We were reminiscing about the fact that we first started talking over DMs, and how many collaborations have grown from that initial seed. If you are looking for how to get involved in this movement, you can start by connecting with others. Luckily, that has never been easier thanks to community initiatives like Earth Guardians, Fridays for Future, Sunrise Movement, Lonely Whale’s Ocean Bootcamp, All We Can Save’s Circle program, and so many others.


Emily Harrington recently made headlines as the fourth person and first woman to free-climb the Golden Gate route at Yosemite’s El Capitan in under 24 hours. In reading about her feat, I was equally impressed and astounded imagining anyone embarking on such a journey alone, until I read that even expert climbers like her have belayers—someone on the other end of the rope who they can depend on.


All of this is to say: What if this mountain isn’t yours to carry? What if you don’t have to climb it alone? What if we need to let ourselves be saved, not just the world? What if they’re the same thing? As I have written about previously, in this line of work, we may never reach our mountaintop—the day we can justifiably say that the Earth is healed. But as every hiker knows, it’s not about the destination. So what would it look like if we enjoyed the climb?



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