A letter from Rebecca Solnit on the 5th Night of Hanukkah, 5782

Dear Dayenu Friend,

What if the oil the Jews were burning was an allegory for energy efficiency, this wild business of one night’s oil lasting for eight? What if we were to light our lights with sun and wind that never stop so we had a miracle bigger than Hanukkah, light and heat and energy that will never stop as long as the sun rises and the wind blows and gravity moves water? What if we were to kind of shift a little from Maccabees to renewables and make this a reminder that we have ourselves lived through a truly miraculous time, one in which over the past twenty years, engineers and inventors have made it possible for us to leave the age of fossil fuels behind?

What if for Antiochus and company we substituted fossil fuel corporations and imagined driving them out of our energy economy? What if for pig blood in sacred places, as the story of the desecration of the Temple has it, we substituted spilled oil and human blood in too many places from the Tar Sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico to the Niger Delta?

What if we recognized that every place on earth is holy ground, in that it is beautiful, essential, and deserves to be respected and preserved, and not poisoned, and in the words of the Black environmental justice leader Hop Hopkins there is no extraction without racism, because as he put it in a piece for the Sierra Club a few years ago, “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism”? What if we considered the whole earth a temple, a sacred space, a place we are born committed to protecting for the generations to come and for the species long there?

Hopkins goes on, “We’re in this global environmental mess because we have declared parts of our planet to be disposable. The watersheds where we frack the earth to extract gas are considered disposable. The neighborhoods near where I live in Los Angeles, surrounded by urban oilfields, are considered disposable. The very atmosphere is considered disposable. When we pollute the hell out of a place, that’s a way of saying that the place—and the people and all the other life that calls that place home—are of no value. In order to treat places and resources as disposable, the people who live there have to get treated like rubbish too. Sacrifice zones imply sacrificed people.” What if we commit ourselves to no sacrifices?

What if we recognized that earthworms and bumblebees are a miracle, and pollination is a miracle, and the hydrological cycle is a gorgeous miracle, and the fungal networks that knit forests together are a revelatory miracle we’re just beginning to comprehend, and bird migration is a breathtaking miracle, and the growth of a climate movement in the face of all the obstacles, including the many-faceted, complex nature of the problem and its solutions, is a miracle? What if I told you that young people are taking dramatic action to demand insulation right now in Britain, making insulation a radical climate and justice demand, which is something I never dreamed I’d see? What if I told you that Build Back Better could change the game in this country and is on the brink right now?

What if I could tell you we are discussing possibilities for change that seemed impossible to get across only a few years ago? What if I told you that we are in this interesting place that is both not yet enough for what is needed, but also so much more than we had as a climate movement just a few years ago? What if the famous hockey stick with which Michael Mann showed the abrupt rise in temperature in our time could also going to be a hockey stick that showed the steep rise in engagement with this largest of all crises? What if we took inspiration from the word Hanukkah which means dedication and dedicated ourselves to this urgent task on which the future of all life on earth depends?

What if the pandemic was useful in that it taught us that it is in fact possible to change the world and the way we live dramatically overnight and pull trillions out of thin air to put to use against worse catastrophe? Or at least a crash course in yes it is possible to make big changes suddenly? What if we acknowledged that every obstacle to doing what we need to do is just an excuse? What if we shouted until it was gospel what that banner in the 2014 climate said, “We have the solutions”? What if we recognized that the only obstacles are political and imaginative? What if we recognized that what is demanded of us is not austerity and sacrifice but giving up poison, giving up injustice, giving up destruction, giving up ugliness, giving up hopelessness, that what stabilizing climate requires of us is nothing less than a better world?

What if we took to heart these wonderful words the climate scientist Dr. Jaqueline Gill tweeted out this week? “Some people will try to tell you that pleasure is wrong in times of struggle. When things are hard, I often turn to the natural world for inspiration, strength, and yes, even joy. Sharing this sense of wonder with others makes me feel more connected and grounded, and gives my life meaning. It also reminds me of what I fight for. I am not going to stop loving, and I am not going to stop fighting. I believe deeply that we can find joy in the fight, too. So if it seems like I’m leaning into wonder more these days, it’s not because I’m ignoring the struggle: it’s that I felt like I was becoming disconnected from the reason I do what I do. And that reason? Love. I love this big, curious, wonderful, messy, fascinating planet.”

What if it was always about love?

Rebecca