A frequent refrain in the environmental world is that “everything is a climate story”: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and our dependence on the fossil fuels heating up the planet, for example, are inextricably linked. But in our hyper-connected, global economy–one in which fires and mountain pine beetles in Canada make the cost of lumber nearly triple; a ship getting stuck in a canal wreaks havoc on global shipping, driving inflation; and war in Eastern Europe causes the price of nickel, a key ingredient in batteries, to surge 90%–it’s clear that everything is an everything story.
Today there are two primary forces in the world. One is authoritarian, xenophobic, intolerant, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBTQ, driven by profits above all else, and climate-destroying. The other is democratic, messy, tolerant, open, highly imperfect, and attempting to reduce emissions while protecting people and the planet (with mixed success, to be sure). Look at one of those traits, and you will likely find the others co-existing with them: anti-vaxxers are often also anti-choice and opposed to climate action, affirmative action and other policies to support marginalized groups. It’s almost as if there is a global, far-right playbook that greedy and power-hungry people call upon and then tailor to their local context, whether it’s Victor Orban in Hungary, Narendra Modi in India, or Jair Balsonaro in Brazil.
In America, look at what is happening in GOP-led states. Florida just passed a so-called Don’t Say Gay bill; Texas and a number of states are effectively banning abortions; Missouri has proposed to prevent women from seeking abortions in other states, echoing the Fugitive Slave Law, and others are following suit; Texas is attempting to investigate the parents of trans children for child abuse; and all of this is layered on top of gerrymandering, voter restrictions, an obsession with non-issues like Critical Race Theory, and a total willingness to engage in bald-faced lies. This leaning into autocracy, while not yet as severe at Putin’s fascist state, is of a piece with it (let us not forget that the previous administration ended with an attempted coup, on January 6, 2021). We should be profoundly concerned by this anti-democratic trend, in America, Brazil, India, China, and elsewhere.
At the same time, we are seeing a countervailing force, perhaps best encapsulated by the bravery of the Ukrainian people, who, in 2014, deposed a despot and now are quite literally dying for freedom. Russia’s invasion might just well wake up the world, not only to the imperative to free ourselves from the grip of petro-state despots, not only to rapidly green our energy systems, but also to protect and become more invested in democracy and democratic values.
The thing with the pro-democracy force is that it requires bravery, sacrifice, vision, and an inspiring mission. President Zelensky has galvanized an overnight change in decades of post-Cold-war policy by virtue of his profound loyalty to ideals; imagine what would happen if we did the same in the spheres of voting rights, women’s rights, criminal justice reform, and climate change? So much that seemed impossible several weeks ago–Germany increasing its defense spending and cancelling the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the UK freezing the assets of oligarchs and seizing their yachts, or Europe accepting millions of refugees with open arms–turns out to have always been very possible.
In the chaos of this moment, pushing through the pain and anguish, we have an opportunity to turn decisively toward a bright future. It won’t be easy. It will be messy and chaotic, too. But it will also be inspiring, hopeful, and exciting. Think of all the work there is to be done, like solar panels to be installed and healthier farming practices to be implemented: if the money flows to these projects from governments, philanthropy, and impact investors, then the sky truly is the limit. When everything is an everything story, the narrative we tell, and what we do with and about it, can forge the future.
If you want to help Ukraine, don’t just donate to groups aiding refugees. Fight for voting rights. Run for your local school board or city council. Install solar panels on your home and call on Congress to take action on climate. Push back against the assault on the rights of women and LGBTq folks. Call out the banks funding the climate crisis and Putin’s regime. Now’s the time to tip the world in the direction of the forces of light and justice!