by Wen Stephenson
Beacon Press, 2016
I struggle to describe what lies inside Wen Stephenson’s book, and the impact it has made upon my worldview. I’ve long been on board with the climate crisis and the fight for climate justice, but Stephenson’s book takes us to a whole new level.
If you could cross Bill McKibben with Chris Hedges – two truth tellers whom, if you follow my website and my blog, you know I hold in high regard – you might get something like Wen Stephenson. Although his climate epiphany came somewhat recently, he completely understands that it might already be too late for continued human existence on planet Earth. McKibben understands this, too, but keeps fighting anyway. Hedges despairs for humanity not only on climate grounds, but on a broader moral basis. We – humanity – have thus far failed miserably to confront our many ills.
In What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other, Stephenson, too, makes the case for us to keep fighting, keep trying, despite the overwhelming odds against us. He begins with a philosophical look at Thoreau, followed by some in-depth discussion with Bill McKibben of his fundamental views on the climate crisis. Through the rest of the book Stephenson highlights the work of lesser known activists for climate justice, men and women – often young – willing to put their freedom and even their lives on the line, rather than meekly step back and await the coming apocalypse. These are the same kind of people whose stories Hedges tells in Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt. In Hedges’s terminology, these people are possessed of “sublime madness.”
Stephenson himself grapples with the right words to frame the magnitude of the climate crisis and its intimate interconnections with social justice. He tries this way:
“What I’m saying is, there’s a spiritual crisis, or struggle, at the heart of the climate crisis and the climate struggle – a crisis we’ve hardly begun to come to grips with, or even acknowledge. The immense suffering that is now inevitable, within this century, on this rapidly warming planet is the result not only of an ‘environmental’ or ‘economic’ or ‘political’ crisis – or even a ‘moral’ one. It’s all of these combined, and yet, if possible, more. It’s what I can only call spiritual.”
Naomi Klein, in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, showed us, in sharp relief, that the climate fight is about powerful forces beyond merely science and nature. Bill McKibben, in Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, explained to us that the old planet we were comfortable living on and exploiting is already gone. Wen Stephenson, in What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other, attempts to elevate the intensity of the response to match the intensity of the crisis that Klein and McKibben have illuminated so well. His book should become the spiritual guide to our conduct from this point forward.