“I don’t believe in the guilt:” Real climate talk, with Mary Annaïse Heglar

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. It has been nearly two years to the day that the World Health Organization declared the novel Coronavirus a global pandemic. Just this Monday, the global death toll surpassed 6 million people. And over 960,000 of those deaths have been Americans. And beyond the means of not knowing how to wear real clothes anymore, or the superhuman strength of pandemic babies, what is fundamentally clear to me is that the world we knew is gone. 

I’m not exactly sure when I’ll feel comfortable reentering public spaces without a mask on. And I highly doubt I’ll be saying yes to nearly as much business travel as I was in 2019. I am not chasing Delta Diamond Status anymore. I want to remain intentionally in touch with the people I love and [00:01:00] not just expect to run into them like I did before COVID. And I really, really need for us to prepare for and build a new world that handles the next pandemic, the next crisis, the next disaster, way better than it’s handled this one. Lives are still on the line. We are UNDISTRACTED.

On the show today, I’ll be talking to writer Mary Annaïse Heglar about why climate change is a racial justice issue.

Mary Annaïse Heglar We need to kill white supremacy dead. Otherwise we wind up with just other crises on top of other crises. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up, but first it’s the news. 

In response to Florida’s trash ass, “Don’t Say Gay” bill, students across the state staged walkouts. 

Student: We as students are walking out today to say that we do not support an institution and a school system that does not support us!

Brittany Packnett Cunningham The bill bans any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in school from kindergarten through third grade or “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” Now that last part is what’s especially worrisome because it is intentionally vague and it opens the door for the gag order to expand beyond just the youngest students.

This is important. In just the first two months of this year, conservative state legislators across the country have filed more than 170 anti-LGBTQ bills. Many of those target trans people specifically. Just this week, the Idaho house passed the bill that would actually make it a felony to provide gender affirming care for a trans child.

Ostensibly, these school bills are done in the name of preserving parental rights of caregivers to have these conversations at home, but y’all know better than that. This is identity warfare and it’s all about preserving power. Here’s what I don’t think these conservatives get. If your power requires that you deny someone else’s humanity, it very simply cannot last. History has shown time and again that oppressed people will only be subjugated for so long. Y’all have tried to pray and legislate the gay away for decades. And yet our LGBTQ plus siblings are entering into the places they deserve more and more. Y’all ain’t tired of being on the wrong side of history for like entire generations? Are y’all not embarrassed. Find something else to do and leave the kids alone.

In other news, unsurprisingly, my beloved home state of Missouri is refusing to mind their own damn business. Lawmakers in Missouri have introduced legislation that would punish those who help people seek abortions outside of Missouri. You heard that right. A state wants to regulate what you do outside of its borders.

If the law were passed, anyone involved in helping a person get an abortion out of state could be sued by a private citizen—your Uber driver, your pastor, anybody. That may sound familiar because it’s the same kind of bounty hunter strategy that a Texas anti-abortion bill used last year. And that essentially the Supreme Court has let stand.

This is a big deal for folks at home and really everywhere because lots of states could use this as a model. Missouri already had some of the strictest abortion laws in the country and this legislation would cut off the option to get abortion care in Illinois, which is a much more pro-choice neighboring state. Planned parenthood called it bonkers and I agree. And by the way, the legislator who introduced it is a woman. So like Happy Women’s History Month to everybody, but her.

And finally here’s some like, almost better news also coming out of Missouri. A school district in Wentzville, Missouri, not far from St. Louis, reversed its ban on Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye following a lawsuit from the ACLU of Missouri on behalf of two students. And this decision is welcome news.

Morrison’s book is a classic that deserves to be in school. I mean, she said she wrote it to cure her loneliness.

Toni Morrison I wanted to read about people like me, people who were Black and were young and had lived in the Midwest. And nobody wrote about them. And whenever they did, they were never center stage.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And the pushback against these laws, even when limited, is absolutely necessary, because the fact is that there were eight books banned and six of them still are, including books with LGBTQ themes, like Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. But if we don’t fight back, we surrender to an authoritarian whitewashed education that prepares little mini supremacists for battle. And everyone else for oppression. In short, it’s some bullshit—very very, dangerous bullshit.

So if any of this makes you angry, don’t be distracted. Be disciplined. Check in with your local school board. When are the meetings? Can you join virtually? Who sits on the school board?  Maybe you should actually run for a seat. And when you win, tell them Toni Morrison sent you. Coming up, I’ll be talking to climate justice writer Mary Annaïse Heglar about how to get past our anxiety about climate change and find our places in the movement right after this short break. 

And we are back. Every year the United Nations releases a report summarizing the latest research about climate change. And every year that report confirms what you can already plainly see around you. Last year, smoke and haze from the forest fires in California caused air quality issues all the way in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Flooding caused a record number of deaths in 2021, including more than 20 people who died in Tennessee after extreme rainfall. The last gasps of Hurricane Ida in August killed more than a dozen people in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and simultaneously last December, more than half of the continental United States was in a drought.

While we’re being gaslit by major fossil fuel companies into thinking we made it all up, I want you to know you are not crazy. The weather is weirder. The world is warming and climate change is happening all around us. It is no longer a distant phenomenon that we have the luxury of tackling in due time.

And if that pisses you off, my guest today is more than good with that. Mary Annaïse Heglar is a climate justice writer and co-host of the podcast “Hot Take,” and she wants people to feel the urgency of climate change. She especially wants to recenter people of color into the climate conversation because the fight for a healthy planet is also the fight for just planet.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Mary, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m so looking forward to this conversation. 

Mary Annaïse Heglar Thank you so much for having me. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I love how you describe yourself in your bio, that you are “more interested in being Black peoples’ climate friend than the climate movement’s Black friend.” And I was like, let’s just start there because that’s a whole word and a half.

Mary Annaïse Heglar Yeah, it’s pretty easy to become the climate movement’s Black friend, because for so long, it’s been seen as this very white space and has been honestly policed as a very white space. So for example, I tell the story a lot of the time where I was working on an Earth Day issue of this newspaper that I used to volunteer with.

And this is like 2007, so climate change is a much more niche issue at that time, which is, you know, a problem in and of itself. And there were so many folks around me that I’ve come to call Doomer Dudes who were just like, almost like crunk about the destruction of the planet, which just didn’t make sense to me.

And basically what they were saying was that climate change had already started to happen. Right? Like the planet was already suffering and it was kind of like, well, it’s already happened so let’s give up, right? Like there’s nothing left to fight for it. And that is just the whitest concept in the world to me that if the world can’t be perfect, then it’s not worth having. That’s incredibly spoiled and I couldn’t relate to it. And it was just like, I can not get crunk about my own destruction. This just doesn’t make sense to me. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Nor should you! 

Mary Annaïse Heglar So, yeah. And just for such a long time, it was framed as like Black people have so many other problems. They can’t take on climate change and like I’ve never met a Black person who woke up any day of their life and only had one problem.

Like that’s absurd or that we can’t connect climate change to other issues like police violence, like voting rights, like all of these other things. And it’s very interesting and a little bit gratifying, but also more terrifying that now we’ve kind of come to this point where there’s no way not to see that climate change is related to all of these other issues.

Right? Like imagine if the climate movement had been involved in voting rights, way back when. Probably wouldn’t be a hollowed out shell right now. Probably wouldn’t have Joe Manchin in office, like creating chaos. Yeah. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham These dots are so important to connect and I appreciate the way that you frame it so plainly, because it then also welcomes other people into a conversation that we have to be having.

So we’re sitting here not long after the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres literally used the word “clobbered” to describe what is happening with climate change. He said, “This report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.” That is wild to hear out of the mouth of a UN official, right?

There’s no kind of diplomatic language. It is very plain spoken. Why does he describe it this way? And what does the report say exactly?

Mary Annaïse Heglar I’m so glad he’s describing it that way. So the IPCC – International Panel on Climate Change that wrote this report, this UN body of all of these very, very respected scientists in their fields; it was established in 1988.

They have been working on this since 1988, but also the policymakers in our world have known about climate change since long, long, long before that– the fossil fuel industry knew about it in the 1960s. And I’m so glad that they’re using stronger language because it allows people to take in the severity of it.

And I think for a really long time up until at least 2018 people were afraid to freak out about climate change in public, because they were afraid of causing panic. But you shouldn’t panic about this. This is terrifying. And people don’t change things that they’re not alarmed about. So what the report says is it confirms what you see outside of your window, right?

Like I’m talking to you now from New Orleans. South Louisiana is one of the most at risk places of climate change in the United States. People here don’t need that report to tell you that, you know, like we see it every single day. We absolutely saw with Hurricane Ida last year and it’s dire. And so we’re at this point right now where I believe global warming is at 1.3 degrees.

And the goal, if you hear people say that the dream is to keep 1.5 degrees alive; 1.5 degrees, I want people to understand is not safe. It is effectively a different planet than the one that I was born on in 1983. And we’re already on a different planet than the one I was born on. And so it talks about adaptation a lot, right?

Like how do we adapt to climate change? And what that underscores is that the old world is not coming back. I think a lot of people know that with the pandemic and with all of the different ways that our world has changed in the past five years, the old world is gone. It is not coming back. We have to create a new world.

There’s no way to make a perfect world, but we can make a better one than this. And there are tools at our disposal to do so. And when I say are – what I really mean is the policymakers and the decision makers here. All of us are not as equally culpable in the climate crisis. The people that get hurt the most from the climate crisis have done pretty much nothing to cause it.

Right. And I’m talking about folks in the global south, I’m talking about indigenous people all over. I’m talking about the global south in the global north, right? Like Black and Brown communities. If we’re going to create this new world, which we have to do, we have no choice. We have to decide who that world is going to be for.

Who’s going to be welcome in it. Where’s our compassion going to go. And I think, you know, the point that we’re at right now with the rise of fascism, with the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment, we got some choices to make and we better get about the business of making them.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I want to ask you about those traces in a second, but it strikes me that it kind of felt like not enough people were talking about this, right? Like not enough people were talking about this report. Granted, there’s a war. There’s a pandemic. There was a State of the Union that just happened last week. Right. So there’s clearly plenty on people’s mind.

But are these kinds of massive, bad news reports just falling flat now and do you think it has anything to do with, to your point, who’s most affected? 

Mary Annaïse Heglar Well, I don’t think they’re falling flat because I’ve seen them fall real flat. The 2018 IPC report was the first time an IPCC report had ever made any headlines ever.

And like that thing has been in place since 1988. And so this report, even though it didn’t get as much attention as you would think, the fate of the planet deserves, it got way more attention than other IPCC reports have gotten. So is it where it needs to be? Absolutely not, but climate coverage is definitely climbing.

It’s going in the right direction. It just needs to go a whole lot faster. And you were asking if I think it’s because of who’s affected? Absolutely. Right. I think a lot of people in the global north to a degree, self included did not realize the creep of climate change because we weren’t paying attention to what was happening in the global south.

Yeah. Like this is old news to folks in, Africa and Asia, and they’ve been able to see and feel climate change for at least a good decade now. So what we’re going through now is in their rear view mirror and things have already gotten so much worse in so many of those places, you know, you’ve been seeing a lot on social media, I’m sure about folks look at the war in Ukraine and saying, oh, but these are blonde hair, blue eyed people. This isn’t supposed to happen here. That is very similar to the way we’ve looked at climate change.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah, that is I have to cop myself to not paying nearly enough attention to how broadly and how deeply this has been impacting the global south before I realized that it was coming to my doorstep.

But I want to talk further about this because there’s a word that you mentioned earlier that I think this comes down to right. You mentioned “choices.” So my mom always said, when you know better, you do better. So now that I know better about what is happening to the planet, about what is happening to our family and the global south, I have to do better.

There are choices for policymakers to make. In particular, one of the authors of the report made the point that if we act now, we have more choices. We have a lot of choices, but if we wait 10 years, the number of choices we can make drastically diminishes. What does that mean? What choices are going to disappear if we wait too long?

Mary Annaïse Heglar I think it’s probably easier to explain that by looking backwards. So if our policymakers had acted on climate changes when they first learned about the problem in the 60s, honestly, they just could have gone to renewable energy and been a wrap. Really. Now, today, the choices mean that we have to not just mitigate, by which people mean lower greenhouse gas emissions, to get off of fossil fuels, move to renewable energy. But climate change has started now. 

I’m going to go back again to Hurricane Ida. Like that thing turned into a category four hurricane in like two days. Never seen anything like it. That’s here. That’s reality now. So we have to learn how to adapt to that. We can’t prevent it. So we have to learn how to live in the world that we’re in while building a whole different one.

We’ve also, you know, kind of, it’s very easy for a renewable energy to become just as problematic, right? Because you need lithium batteries to run solar panels. That means somebody go dig up some lithium. Where’s lithium? Latin America. So you can start having lithium wars, just like you have oil wars. There’s just so much more that we need to think about.

And we also need to think about maladaptation, which is where you try to adapt to climate change, but you wind up creating more problems than you solve. So like you build a seawall to protect one community, but then floods another, you know, we have to make choices about who gets flooded in and who doesn’t.

And I do not trust our current power structure to make choices that will benefit people who look like me. Right. Which is why I felt compelled to get into climate work. Right? Because this is the fate of the planet. This is the reshaping of the planet. I don’t trust white people with that much power. I just don’t

Brittany Packnett Cunningham The authors of the report say that if we wait 30 more years, things start to get really, really ugly in terms of not just having fewer choices, but the reality that we’re living in. And 30 years is not far from now. So if we don’t adapt or we maladapt, 30 years from now, what does the world look like? 

Mary Annaïse Heglar The world could look really terrifying. The world could look like Mars, but with really awful people in power, right? Like I want folks to understand is this like creeping authoritarianism is related to climate change. People seek out strong men when things are unstable and nothing is more unstable than like a planetary emergency. Right. So at the same time that like the planet is going to be really hostile so could our political and social systems if we do nothing right now. Doing nothing is doing something.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham To your point one of the most glaring problems is that even with the things we know how to fix, we simply are not doing it. You know, money either makes the world go round or it stops things cold.

One of the other failures I’m thinking about is the fact that in 2009, we know that wealthy nations pledged to contribute a hundred billion dollars a year, not total, a year, to the developing world to deal with climate change. And they never actually did it. The closest they got was $80 billion in 2019. So I’m just wondering, is a good first step to at least pay our bills? 

Mary Annaïse Heglar Yeah. It has a name; it’s called reparations. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And there it is. 

Mary Annaïse Heglar And yeah, we absolutely need to pay them. And I don’t think it’s an accident that the people who deserve climate reparations look exactly like the people who deserve other types of reparations.

So what if it was all just one big repair? So, yeah, I think that’s something to do. I also think you and I are owed some reparations. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, yeah, we could definitely talk about that. It’s always a good time to talk about reparations. Especially because as we’ve been intimating this whole time, there are a certain group of people or certain groups of people who are disproportionately affected by all of the ills of the world, climate change is being no different. 

So last year we had Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson on the pod. I’m sure you know her, she’s a marine biologist and a climate policy expert. And she talked about how difficult it can be to be focused on climate as a Black woman, when there’s this fundamental struggle for your dignity at all times in these other arenas, but she made the most compelling argument and I want to share it with you. She said: 

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson People of color and women are disproportionately impacted by the effects of the climate crisis, but also disproportionally prone to do the work to fix it. And if we can remove these massive weights of racism and sexism, we can actually unleash all this potential for doing, for getting work done.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hmm, just wanting to know what you thought of that?

Mary Annaïse Heglar So I actually think they’re even more connected than that. I think that, you know, racism and misogyny and, you know, slavery and colonialism are the root causes of the climate crisis. And so you can’t get them out of the way because they are it. So I think that’s why so many people got so excited about policies like the Green New Deal, because it was this holistic approach, right? Like the sort of getting to the root of the problem. And I kind of think we’re kind of at that same moment that we were in the 1800s, right. In the immediate abolition of slavery, where it was incumbent upon people morally to create a different world and they stopped short and wound up with something that just didn’t look anything like freedom. 

And so we are at that moment now where like, we could just sort of get off fossil fuels and get on with the rest of the world. But the rest of the world is also in shambles for the exact same reasons. And so we need to kill it dead. We need to kill white supremacy dead.

Otherwise we wind up with just other crises on top of other crises. That’s why I don’t think you can separate prison abolition from the climate crisis. I don’t think you can separate  democracy from the climate crisis, you can’t separate pandemics from the climate crisis, right? Like if you think you’re going to solve COVID without solving the climate crisis, you’ve not created a world safe from pandemics at all, because wait until that permafrost melts. There’s nash shit in there, including a lot of prehistoric viruses that I do not want to meet.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So Lord have mercy. I mean, when you say. That the roots of the climate crisis are in colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, misogyny. You mean that very literally, I mean, you’ve talked about the fact that the fossil fuel industry was literally built on the graves and the backs of indigenous people around the globe.

You’ve talked about them being forced off of their land and slaughtered or subjugated. And that is just one of the ways in which the roots of this thing are white supremacy. 

Mary Annaïse Heglar Right. There’s also research that suggests that the creation of slave ships, right? Like you had to cut down a lot of trees to make those slave ships that releases a lot of carbon into the air.

And so there’s research that suggests that that was the first anthropogenic (I actually am very bad at pronouncing that word), but human-driven changing of the atmosphere. There’s also research that says that the slaughter of indigenous people changed the climate and made it colder. And it’s wild to me that people were surprised by that; we’re a species; we’re part of the ecosystem.

You do something that drastic, of course, it’s going to change the ecosystem. Of course it is. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham How is the climate movement doing in terms of equity and a liberatory mindset inside of the movement, right? Like are the climate justice and racial gender and class equity movements working together effectively? Or shall we say, is there room for improvement? 

Mary Annaïse Heglar There is 1000% room for improvement. I think there will always be, but I’ll also say that this is not the same climate space that I entered in 2014. My biggest piece of evidence toward that is, so in 2018, I published an article that was basically saying that climate change is not the first existential threat and people have fought for their lives before and using the lens of, you know, the African-American struggle in the height of lynching, right?

Like even if it’s not the end of the entire planet, if you’re living under that type of terror, it’s just as terrifying, it’s just as existential, your existence is your existence. And so there’s a lot to learn from people who have gone through that. And the way that I pissed off people in the climate community with that article. I mean, it’s funny now, but at the time it was kind of like, harrowing. So that happened in 2019; year later, I published something basically saying if you don’t accept that climate change is rooted in colonialism and slavery, you’re basically a climate denier. Didn’t get nearly as much smoke. And I was just prepared for it.  

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You were like, I know what happened last time. I’m ready. And people were like, No, no; she’s got a point. 

Mary Annaïse Heglar So like the, the conversation has changed to where saying, you know, they just rooted in colonialism and slavery is no longer taboo. We’ve gotten far more advanced and sophisticated with how we talk about the emotions of climate change, which I also think is changing it from being this super white space where everything is rooted in hope. 

You know, that was another thing that kept me out of climate spaces. It’s like, okay, so y’all have all this hope, you don’t need me. Right. Like whenever I’ve talked to my elders about what they went through in the civil rights movement, nobody is talking about like, we had all this hope; they’re like, we was pissed.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And they were like, no, we got it cracking.

Mary Annaïse Heglar So, yeah. And I firmly believe that we need more Black people in the climate space. One, because I’m lonely. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Said: I would like friends, please! 

Mary Annaïse Heglar But also, because this is our planet. Like this is our home and we get to decide what happens with it. And I also believe that Black people are the sleeping giant of the climate movement.

And I know that the climate movement has not been welcoming. I know that it’s been just a weird place to be, but it’s kind of like, what Nikole Hannah-Jones said: America was not a democracy until Black people made it one. We have changed this country, in fundamental ways ever since we’ve been here; we have been changemakers ever since we set foot on this soil. And as absolutely what the climate movement needs right now. It’s what we all need, because we need this.

There are so many times I’ve wanted to just walk away from climate work, but I can’t because I live here and everybody I love lives here.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You know, to connect some other dots, I’ve been trying to spend a lot of time recently understanding the Russian invasion in Ukraine. And the one thing that keeps coming up as I read more and listen more is the relationship between fossil fuels and this crisis. Can you break some of that down for us? Cause I don’t know that everybody’s making the link. 

Mary Annaïse Heglar There’s a lot that I don’t understand either. And I think that also has a lot to do with our media, but Russia is effectively a petro state. And so the reason that Russia has so much power is because of their abundance of fossil fuels.

And because the fossil fuel companies are so deeply entangled with Russia. That is why Russia had the power to act the way that it has. I just think about if we started getting off of fossil fuels decades ago, we’d not be looking at the situation that we’re looking at now. And so now the argument is starting to become that we need to dig up more fossil fuels here so that we don’t need fossil fuels from Russia.

And it’s like, there are other sources of energy, girl. And like, if you keep doing this, you’re going to keep winding up in this position where they maintain all of this power. Russia is one of the only places on the planet that will actually benefit from climate change.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Why would they benefit? 

Mary Annaïse Heglar So Russia is cold. Like almost like inhumanely cold, right? So just very simply, it’ll get warmer. There will be places in Russia’s vast landscape that were once unlivable that will become livable. There’s also one of my favorites–the arctic sea ice. With that melting, that opens up a lot more shipping channels.

More trade. And so it’s up in the air as to who would control those shipping channels because they’ve never been in use before. It could be China.  It could be America. It could be Canada. It could be Russia. And who’s already gone through? Like driven a ship through there? Russia. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I’ll be damned. And I’m like, I don’t know which part to be more scared about. You know what I mean about like the fact that people are going to keep on fighting even more wars over climate, about the fact that the folks in charge, clearly don’t have my Black ass in mind when they’re making their policy. I know that the American Psychological Association has written about what they call “eco-anxiety” and that apparently at least two thirds of American adults feel some kind of eco-anxiety.

I’m curious how you think about separating out what we are responsible for and what we can let go of when it comes to eco anxiety and climate guilt. Like, what is ours to own and what is ours to press others to do? 

Mary Annaïse Heglar Yeah. I don’t embrace climate guilt at all because I ain’t do this. Right. Like I keep lking about things that kept me out of the climate space. One of them was this idea that like our parents and grandparents did this because my parents and grandparents were like trying to get Jim Crow, the hell up out of here. So like, I’m not going to own that. So I don’t believe in the guilt. I think we’ve all sort of used plastic. Some of us live in places where you can’t recycle; some of us live in places where you have to drive places, right?

That does not make you the cause of the climate crisis. You did not create this world in which you have to depend on this deadly fuel. Someone else did that. Extremely powerful people did that. Right? So I get climate grief though, and I definitely deal with it every single day. I don’t use the term climate anxiety because I think sometimes you can feel depressed about it and you can feel angry about it.

There’s so many other ways to feel other than anxious. I think that it’s a good thing that people are feeling it quite honestly, like it sucks. It’s not a great feeling, but I don’t want to become the person who becomes so dead inside that they don’t feel those things. So I take comfort in that fact. 

And you know, if there are folks listening who are suffering from climate grief. First thing is to recognize that you ain’t crazy, right? Like there’s nothing wrong with you. You are not hysterical. You are not overreacting. You’re not catastrophisizing. You are a aware human being. To cope with it I suggest finding community who take it as seriously as you do.

And I suggest getting involved when you can and being soft on yourself when you can’t, because there are definitely days where I can’t get up and do this work and I have to trust that someone else is able to do it. And that’s the other thing is to recognize that you’re not doing this alone. None of us are, none of us can, none of us should.

It is the way of the world and it can crush you until you realize you’re not the only one carrying it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I’m curious what you feel like the action can look like. Do we need to be, if somebody DMs 24/7, do we need to be blowing up somebody’s phone all the time? You know, I’m a protestor, I’m ready to pick it all the time.

Like, what is that action and community look like on those days when we do have the energy for the fight?

Mary Annaïse Heglar Yeah. I think that’s where the real beauty is and where the real excitement is. So I think of this as figuring out what you’re good at and figuring out a way to make that climate. You know, I write about climate change because that’s what I’m good at. 

I don’t organize cause I’m horrible at it. You know? Like I’m very good with words. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham We got to know our gifts. 

Mary Annaïse Heglar Exactly. So it’s kind of like knowing where your skill set is and knowing that the things that we have tried haven’t worked. So there is so much room for creativity here. Not that there’s been no success ever. No one’s ever been successful in shutting down a pipeline. Like absolutely people have, and there’s so much to learn on. There’s so much to build on, but there’s also just so much room for new ideas. And so I think that’s extremely exciting. I also want folks to understand that if you’re already engaged on some other social issues, such as abortion rights or voting rights or police abolition, you’re already kind of doing climate work. Just make it a little bit more explicit if you can, because that is all part of building the new world that we have to build. This more just, more equitable world. And all of those things are touched by climate change because they happen on this planet.

And if you’re an artist. I think the artists are the ones who are most confused as to how they get involved in this. And the point of the artists as Toni Cade Bambara said is to make the revolution irresistible. So there’s so much room there for people to get involved. I’m a big fan of bullying fossil fuel companies on Twitter; it’s one of my favorite things to do because they tweet like they’re like, you know, an environmental watchdog or something meanwhile they’re out here, like drilling up oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

So I think it’s incumbent on all of us to call out the bullshit, I think it’s incumbent on all of us to support one another. So if you can’t be the one who goes out to the protest, the one who’s organizing the protest, maybe you can take care of someone who can, maybe you can call Joe Manchin and tell him how upset you are.

Maybe you can support candidates in West Virginia maybe, or even elsewhere. Right? So there’s so much room to get involved and everything is connected. So that would be the main thing I’d want people to understand.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You know, petty is as petty does. Uh, I know about that little carbon footprint calculator Tweet that you sent out to them folks.

So here’s what happened. So BP, the oil and gas company Tweeted out back in 2019 that the first step to reducing your emissions is to know where you stand; find out your hashtag carbon footprint with our new calculator and share your pledge today. And your response was “Bitch, what’s yours?” which was brilliant in its brevity and so clear because there is no possible way that you or I have a carbon footprint bigger than BP. 

Mary Annaïse Heglar Yeah. But the thing about BP is that, so they supply all of this oil. Right. But as part of their emissions, their company’s emissions, they don’t count the oil they sell to everyone else. Like if BP sells gas at a gas station or supplies it to a utility to then be burned, they don’t count those emissions from the oil that’s burned that they sell.

So their carbon footprint is so much bigger than they even take claim for it. Also BP created the concept of a carbon footprint to then shift the responsibility for the climate crisis, to the consumer that they are selling the oil and gas to. They also burn a shit ton of oil and gas on their own before they even sell it to you. They also spill it in the Gulf of Mexico. Yes. We’re still salting.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah, no, they deserve all the petty energy. All the smoke. I feel like Harissa, I don’t like that. Not you inventing a thing to put the blame on us. Only for you to lie about the thing that you invented? Nah. 

Mary Annaïse Heglar It’s some, it’s some real evil shit.

So when I saw that Tweet that morning, my petty thing at that point was that I would report tweets to Twitter and say it was causing harm to myself or someone else. Right. And then I couldn’t get the report function to work. Like it kept jamming. So I just replied and I was like, Actually, this feels so much better.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Well, I want you to know, I want everybody to know that the art decider on Twitter decided that your Tweet was art. Indeed. It is. You know, I know that you said that your impetus for this is not hope that you’re pissed off and I’m pissed off with. But I will say that you are so damn smart and I have hope in our ability to figure this thing out with people like you in the work.

So I appreciate you and I most certainly appreciate all you do in the world. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

Mary Annaïse Heglar Thank you. This was lovely. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Ooh, that was juicy. I didn’t know climate talk could be this juicy, child.

Mary Annaïse Heglar writes about climate justice for the newsletter and podcast “Hot Take,” a no-bullshit look at all the ways we’re talking and not talking about climate.

Y’all. I think I’ve been mourning an old way of life. Like I certainly miss the far more carefree days before COVID. But there’s something deeper there. Joni Mitchell never lied. You don’t know what you got til it’s gone and I’m discovering I mourn a world I didn’t realize was quite so fragile. One I didn’t realize was changing quite this fast.

In my blissful naivete, I thought we had a little more time to course correct and to get serious. I’m grateful to Mary for challenging me to welcome the mourning and do it in community. The ideals of Western white dominant culture, place efficiency and individualism above all else. Meanwhile it is those same ills that have helped cause climate change in the first place through colonialism projects and white supremacy.

So it’s not a departure to move our movements back to the communal, connected organizing, more aligned with many cultures of color. It’s coming back home. And in the case of climate justice, we have no time to waste fighting for the home we got. During our conversation, Mary said that if moderation could have saved us, it would have done so already. It’s time to get radical, time to get down to the root. 

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is the fantastic Rachel Ward. 

Our associate producer is the equally fantastic Alexis Moore. 

Thanks also to our awesome teammates Treasure Brooks and Hannis Brown. 

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or most places you check out your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. Most importantly, thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.