By Denali Sai
We tend to shape our worldview with clear notions of good and bad. This grants us clarity of mind and groundedness in an otherwise volatile world. However, when we adhere to a binary, we restrict ourselves from thinking about many others’ experiences and needs, too often those of marginalized and BIPOC communities. When we see the world as us vs. them, as good vs evil, we lose sight of swaths of people, without whose voices a vision of a better world is not possible.
As a climate communicator, I am often troubled by the framing of the climate crisis as good vs. evil. In reality, the exponentially increasing and intensifying natural disasters of our changing climate are not disasters in themselves. Rather, they are naturally occurring hazards with disastrous impacts on human and physical capital.
Likewise the palm oil industry in itself is not an evil scheme that should be destroyed overnight. It took moving to the island of Borneo and living in a community of palm oil plantation workers for me to see past this Western misconception. In reality, the industry supports plantation workers who deserve a just transition towards sustainable cultivation practices.
Recently, I’ve been mulling over this conundrum in my garden. As the pandemic limits my movement outside my home, I’ve been spending more time tending to my garden. My most arduous and time-consuming task has been weeding.
Weeding is ultimately an effort to maintain equilibrium and peace in my garden. As I begin to pull out the dandelions, crabgrass, and carpetweed, my hands develop a rhythm, quickly guiding the plot back to equilibrium so that one hungry plant does not sap nutrition and space from the others.
As I do so, I resist the suburban notion that I am rooting evil from my garden. This is an active effort as frustration at their stubbornness and resilience is unrelenting. However, I am mindful of the fact that weeds are only bad in some contexts. The gardener ultimately determines where they are welcome and where they must be cut back.
For example, dandelions belong in lawns, fields, and forests. They are nutritious and contain healing properties. However, in my garden, they compete for the same resources as other, often less hardy, plants.
The value of weeding out some plants is to let others thrive. Maintaining balance is key to protecting the collective spirit of my garden.
In harrowing times like this, it is understandable to cling to binary thinking. As mortal creatures living in a chaotic world, we often use categories to cope with uncertainty. However, when we restrict ourselves in this way, we forget the humanness of every individual on this Earth. We forget that in order to enact change, we need to appeal to many different people, not just people to whom we intuitively prescribe value: Those who look, talk, and live like us. In order to build a better world, we need to build an inclusive world.
As is true in my garden, enacting change involves careful attention to nature’s balance and our collective strength. To emerge stronger from this crisis and beyond, we must listen to one another and actively stand up together to demand a radical transition away from unsustainable, harmful modes of development. We must elevate voices that complicate our current climate narrative, which tends toward sensationalized, Western-centric, sometimes blatantly unscientific stories.
Indeed, with our tender hands rooting blankets of weeds from the soil and planting new growth, we must care for one another and work collectively to nurture a more inclusive world.
Denali Sai is a climate communicator based out of Washington, D.C. She currently works in communications at the World Resources Institute, where she focuses on the economic benefits of global climate action. She co-founded and writes for Entropy Inherited, a climate newsletter that centers BIPOC and marginalized voices.