Sing Through My Voice

 

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

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“There’s a song that wants to sing itself through us. We just got to be available. Maybe the song that is to be sung through us is the most beautiful requiem for an irreplaceable planet or maybe it’s a song of joyous rebirth as we create a new culture that doesn’t destroy its world.” –Joanna Macy

 

On an uncharacteristically sunny day in November of 2018, I was crossing the East River on a train from Brooklyn when I got the news alert that thousands of demonstrators had occupied five of London’s main bridges to bring attention to the ecological emergency. I pored over as many photos and videos as I could find, of people banding together and singing songs, raising their voices for a world it seemed was finally listening.

 

It was the first time I heard of Extinction Rebellion, the international movement that has changed the face of climate activism. We were finishing the first issue of Atmos when that story broke, and I recall being overcome by such a specific sensation, a stirring that’s still difficult for me to describe—the same one I feel when looking at the result of our collaboration almost two years later for our new issue, Flourish/Collapse.

 

“I don’t think you have to sacrifice joy, beauty, and art to be environmentally conscious,” XR member Fehinti Balogun tells Atmos. “The last 30 years, scientists have been saying the same thing we are now, but there has been a dissonance between the people and the science. The arts can disseminate information in a way that is palatable for people. Artists can take the facts and make them human. People like stories, people like to see themselves in other people—and you can’t do that with facts.”

 

This sentiment speaks to why we set out to create Atmos. In our early days, I felt a certain degree of “imposter syndrome.” After working for years as a fashion and culture journalist, I wasn’t sure that I had the right to be telling stories about the environment. At the same time, I was curious about why decades of scientific reporting on the climate crisis wasn’t working—and whether or not the arts might be able to make a difference.

 

What the pictures and perspectives in this story illustrate is what has made Extinction Rebellion so effective: its emphasis on unity. If there is anything I have learned these past few years, it’s that this is a movement that requires everyone (the idea behind our Future Earth Day project). For activism to be successful, it cannot be exclusive. Wide-scale change requires people using their voices in every field, from all walks of life.

 

In the end, insecurity and elitism are both expressions of ego, thinking of the self over the bigger picture. For us to solve this crisis, we have to set aside the ego-driven mindset that caused it. In a chorus, when any one member sings too softly or too loudly, it disrupts the harmony. Who are we to doubt the voice that we have been given, or that of another? If we are to believe Joanna Macy, life is an orchestra in which we all have a part to play to ensure that the song continues—and whether it’s one of strife or salvation.

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