Amid climate change, a reminder of what’s worth saving
Whether the climate crisis poses an existential threat to humanity is no longer up for debate, as heat waves intensify, wildfires proliferate and sea levels rise. Earlier this year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported for the first time that the damage from climate change is “irreversible”, destroying any lingering hope that humans could undo the harm that we have done. Scientists have long known that there is a chance we will reach this point of no return, but the reality is still hard to digest. There will be no restoration of the world we once knew, but there remains the possibility – albeit diminishing – of a world with us in it.
Queer essayist and science communicator Elizabeth Weinberg writes for a time like this. Although she describes herself as “not a religious person, or even someone who believes in a god”, she writes with prophetic courage and clarity. The call for climate action has never been more urgent, and Weinberg doesn’t mind how absolutely terrifying it is. Disturbing is a book for those of us who don’t need to be convinced that climate action is a priority but feel overwhelmed by the realities of climate devastation. In other words, it’s probably a book for most of us.
Disturbing is part memoir, part call to action in the form of an extended essay in creative nonfiction. It unfolds in eight chapters with themed titles like “Graveyard,” “Wilds,” and “Legacy,” and in each of them Weinberg introduces habitats and species to emphasize the interconnectedness of all things. Weinberg is a science writer by profession, and it shows in her ability to translate Earth’s biomes into compelling stories about resilience, grief, and the circle of life. She writes that coyotes can alter the size of their litters to control population growth, and that decaying whale carcasses provide an oasis of nutrients for more than 400 species on the ocean floor. She explains that sea level rise is deceptively difficult to predict and that glacial ice acts like a liquid rather than a solid. With each page, Weinberg reveals more of the wonders of Earth, reminding readers of all that is worth saving.
For Weinberg, it all boils down to the interconnectedness of all things: climate change and Western colonialism, queer-coded Disney villains and queer resilience, the Land Back movement and the AIDS crisis, Weinberg’s own relationship to nature and his journey to embrace his homosexuality. She tries to do too much in less than 200 pages, but it speaks to her interest as a writer and thinker that the book doesn’t particularly suffer from her meandering style. Disturbing reads like an unfinished intellectual autobiography of the ideas and stories that radicalized her, and it turned out to be exactly the kind of climate book I didn’t know I needed. Weinberg shows how to keep growing and looking for hope, and it made me feel a little better.
DisturbingWeinberg’s central narrative traces a path through Weinberg’s life and self-discovery. She writes that she “grew up in the wild” – as much as anyone can when living in Washington, DC. She describes formative experiences hiking along the Potomac River with her father as a child, rock climbing with her brothers as a pre-teen, and hiking in the mountains of northern Alaska as a child. 15 years old. know how to be queer and be outdoors at the same time” – because as a queer woman on the trails, she felt like an anomaly. She contextualizes her feelings of being an outsider with a brief history of the National Park Service, which she summarizes as having been “created by white men to exercise their masculinity.”
Weinberg takes every opportunity to remind her readers that marginalized groups have long borne the brunt of the unintended consequences of human greed, and she reviews the history of attempted extinction in the United States – against Native tribes, black communities, homosexual families and all other living beings. considered a plague. These buried stories are stories of resilience, and they inspire a simple yet radical idea: communities that have already survived attempts at annihilation possess the wisdom that will help us all avoid extinction together.
Disturbing got me thinking about how difficult it is to persist in long-term justice work without the spiritual resources of a cultural or religious tradition. Weinberg knows this is especially true for queer people who have left unsupportive religions or families of origin, and she makes the compelling suggestion that wilderness can serve as both a spiritual tradition and an ancestor for anyone. chooses. She wants us to recognize our kinship with the rest of the natural world, and she prescribes spiritual remedies to support us in our efforts for climate justice, namely practices of lament, repentance, and worship. She writes: “We must learn to mourn this planet and all that we have done. . . . We must see the beauty of this world and be willing to give up everything – our settler habits, our iPhones, our air travel, our belief that it’s not worth trying – to keep it alive.
Weinberg comes to a deceptively simple conclusion by encouraging readers to spend time in nature and begin to imagine a different way of life. Disturbing is a timely call for climate action, but it is also an unintended translation of this paradoxical gospel message: you must lose your way of life to save it.