Catherine Abreu is Executive Director of Climate Action Network-Canada. She talks about the strengths and resources the climate community brings to the global health crisis, and the wider importance of building genuine relationships and resilience.
The Energy Mix: What is the climate community doing differently in light of the pandemic?
Abreu: This moment of crisis is really revealing to us how interconnected all of us are, not just with each other, but with nature. It’s the first public health crisis of a truly globalized world. All of us are longing for this moment when we get to go outside for our daily walk. We’re all so alive to how important our connection to the non-human world is. I’m seeing that play out really strongly in the climate movement, and across progressive civil society in Canada.
Many of us are already committed to having conversations with ourselves and each other about how we ensure our movement is accessible to a diversity of people and communities, and how we respond to their diverse needs. We definitely don’t do a perfect job of that all the time, but in this moment of crisis we’re all even more inspired to extend our hands, to reach out to each other, to reach beyond our normal siloes and community boundaries and think about how we’re going to tackle this crisis together.
The Mix: What remains the same?
Abreu: The urgency of the crisis, and the sense of urgency with which folks working on climate change always work. Just after COP 25, a colleague made the beautiful observation that the climate world is full of people who care so much, and I think that’s true. We don’t normally get to talk about this very much, but many of us are really sensitive, emotional, caring people. So in these moments where we’re really struck by suffering, we feel motivated to do something about it. That thing inside of us that compels us to respond to crises by working our butts off is only heightened in this moment.
That means another thing that remains the same is that some of us maybe aren’t doing as good a job at giving ourselves space and taking care of ourselves in this crisis. We need to do a lot better at that. We’re all getting to see each other’s personal worlds [over video calls], see each other’s kids and animals and homes, in a movement where we don’t ask each other very many questions about our personal lives, because we’re so focused on the work. The glimpses have been really lovely.
The Mix: A friend commented that climate advocates are already in the habit of “running into the fire” while those around us are trying to get away. Is that something we can contribute now, as long as we keep a two-metre distance?
Abreu: There’s something there, for sure. It brings me back to the way I’ve been characterizing what climate action brings to this moment, which is an orientation toward resilience.
Those of us working on climate change are steeped in crisis, and we’ve perhaps built up a certain resilience to it. It’s also true that we’re going to remain in this age of crisis and catastrophe. We can learn some things in this moment to avoid a similar global health pandemic in the near future, but we’re certainly going to have to keep dealing with environmental disasters, and with the social conflict and the health and human suffering that come along with them. And we’ll still have to deal with the incredible inequality, the systemic discrimination, the disproportionate distribution of resources. All of those things remain the same.
So perhaps something we can offer is that our recommendations for climate action can help build resilience against those other crises and catastrophes and shocks, like the one we’re facing right now.
The Mix: So the climate community can be a source of solutions.
Abreu: For sure. We’ve cultivated that focus very intentionally in the work that we do. But I don’t think it’s unique to our community. This moment reveals to us resources of resilience that we have at our disposal, the human instinct for coming together in moments of crisis. We’re seeing the ingenuity and the humanity and the knack for creative problem-solving that people have. And we’re seeing the resilience of natural ecosystems that can sometimes bounce back when given space. Those are all such important reminders of what we have at our disposal to work with.
The Mix: How do we connect that thinking with wider community concerns and draw the links between the two crises?
Abreu: Because we are driven and solutions-oriented and determined and passionate and emotional, and we all probably have saviour complexes, there’s always this instinct to push to solutions and get people to sign on. That’s when we run into the risk of entering into relationships with other people and organizations and communities in a transactional way. So I continually reminding myself and our team not to approach conversations with others with the expectation of a return. And to understand that now as always, but more than ever, we want these relationships to last. That means letting them take the time they need to take, not entering into it with an extractive purpose. And as much as possible, following up with those relationships when the moment of crisis has passed.
It’s really easy to lose track of the longer term. There are rapid response needs right now, but we’re also in this moment of disruption that has the potential for radical transformation, and we need to guard ourselves and our resources for that longer conversation.
Follow up: @cat_abreu, @CANRacCanada