Loving the world despite everything

Notes on resilience in the face of disruption.


A large horse herd at the Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lander, Wyoming, on the Wind River Reservation.
Russel Albert Daniels/High Country News
The idea of resilience as an objective used to annoy me. For a while, it was all anyone in the environmental movement wanted to talk about. Given that disruption is inevitable, people asked, how can we prepare for it? What can we do to make the apocalypse less grim and more laden with opportunity? How can we rebound from tragedy, build back better and somehow come out ahead? I think part of my resistance was that I wanted my apocalypse to be grim, as much as I wanted to pretend that it would never happen. But that was before COVID-19 brought mass death and prolonged isolation, before a wave of record-breaking fire seasons, before we passed the threshold of 400 ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Now I imagine a future in which we are never not pivoting, a future that will require all the resilience we can muster, along with courage, resolve and a heavy dose of common sense. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to lighten our loads, both materially and mentally, so that we may become more nimble in the face of the unprecedented challenges we’ll face: the mega-droughts, mega-fires, heat waves, storms, pandemics and famines. Perhaps when tragedy touches those who have thus far been spared, we’ll learn true empathy at last, so that we may spend less time and energy on conflict and more on kindness.

Jennifer Sahn, editor-in-chief
When I think of the resilience that will be required to navigate the world to come and imagine the habits and sensibilities we’ll need to prepare for it, I think about people who live close to the land — ranchers and farmers, field naturalists and Indigenous communities. They’ll be ahead of the rest of us; they’ve learned the habit of paying attention, and how to act in concert with the nonhuman world. It takes hard work, but in practice it also looks a lot like affection, a devotedness behind every gesture and action. I will be grateful for any opportunity to discover better ways of doing things. Learning to live sustainably on this planet, and especially here in the West, is going to be necessary, sooner or later. You cannot use more water or timber or oil than there is. A reckoning is nonnegotiable.

Perhaps resilience is believing that there will be a kind of comfort in the discomfort, that our spirits will remain intact, that our capacity to love the world and one another cannot be diminished by hardship. In fact, maybe that capacity to love is the very thing that will get us through.

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