By Joslyn Sullivan
What is compelling about surviving climate change? This is a question that adrienne maree brown poses in her book Emergent Strategy to get us to think about what we are fighting for when we talk about fighting climate change. The question itself nods to an understanding that climate change is an issue of people, not just planet. People are what will survive or perish from climate change. People face drought, starvation, the destruction of their homes and the loss of their loved ones as crises like the fires in Australia and the civil war in Syria (link) become commonplace. The Earth is a foil for the goals and motions of capitalism. People extract wealth out of the land, using other people in the process and toxifying the places they live as its result. A struggle against the furthering of climate change, then, is a fight against colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy.
Within the context of the New Perennials Project, I have been thinking about the term “perennial” and want to offer a more nuanced look at the way we use the word. In NPP, perennial thinking, living, being, working uses the metaphor of perennial plants to highlight the strengths of diverse polycultures and abundant root structures that resist threats and survive long term in harsh and changing conditions. Perennial agriculture is prosperous and can produce high yields without relying on toxic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or clear cut harvesting at the end of the growing season in the way that annual (industrial) agriculture does. The change of consciousness and socioeconomic structuring needed in response to climate change must include these tenants of the perennial, as a slew of only “annual” minded solutions would be less successful in facilitating deep and lasting change. It is important to note, though, that perenniality is not simply synonymous with good, moral, just, or best practice. I do not want to support an emergence of a perennial/annual dichotomy that pits good against bad in over simplified use of the terms. Both have their place and, like in nature, work in tandem to produce prosperous outcomes in whatever metaphorical or literal context they are in. "Perennial" merely refers to the deeply embedded polycultures that survive year after year.
The structures that perpetuate climate change [capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy] are all perennials. They are rooted so deeply and their webs so intertwined with every aspect of our lives that they have become the water we swim in, the air we breath. We live in a perennial world when everything is built from relationships, all change is emergent, and nothing can survive in isolation. Good or bad. There will not be an industrial harvester raking through our ideas and actions at the end of each season, forcing us to build from the ground up on barren soil like annual seeds spread in the springtime. Any and all actions have the potential for perenniality. Causation of the choices made by those in power before us dictate the lives that we find ourselves in now. Work that you and I do today will impact our own futures and those that come in contact with us. The goal of NPP, then, is not to espouse that perenniality and longevity make up the criteria for socially and ecologically minded change, but that we act consciously when thinking about the structures we form, support, and nourish moving forward.
Capitalism cannot be reformed into something ecologically or socially sound when it sustains itself on the exploitation and domination of people and places outside of the wealthy west. The necessity and space for imagination, for dreaming, for returning to silenced ways of being becomes what is compelling about surviving climate change. Robin Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams, discusses surrealism as an example of this needed imagination. “The surrealists are talking about total transformation of society, not just granting aggrieved populations greater political and economic power.” Total transformation begins with building roots for new perennial structures to take over. Embedded polycultures that work for the rights and lives of people and the regeneration and protection of ecosystems. Our New Perennials recognize that the what it is that we are building is deeply invested in both.
Sources and Readings:
adrienne maree brown - Emergent Strategies
Robin Kelley - Freedom Dreams
Edgar Villaneuva - Decolonizing Wealth https://www.decolonizingwealth.com/
INCITE! - The Revolution Will not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
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