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Rebecca Solnit on Climate Change, Resistance, Misogyny and “The Mother of All Questions”

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President Trump is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday to dismantle a slew of climate rules put in place by President Obama. The executive order marks the first step to undo President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to limit power plant emissions. The rule was seen as a critical element of the U.S. pledge to cut emissions as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Trump’s executive order is also expected to scrap regulations limiting methane emissions and open up the door for more coal mining and fracking on federal lands. For more, we speak with Rebecca Solnit, one of the nation’s most celebrated writers, who has spent years writing about climate change. She’s the author of more than 20 books, including, most recently, “The Mother of All Questions.”

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Web ExclusiveMar 28, 2017Web Exclusive: Rebecca Solnit Reads from “The Mother of All Questions”; Discusses Hope & Resistance
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump is expected to sign an executive order today to dismantle a slew of climate rules put in place by President Obama. The executive order marks the first step to undo Obama’s Clean Power Plan to limit power plant emissions. The rule was seen as a critical element of the U.S. pledge to cut emissions as part of the 2015 Paris accord. Trump’s executive order is also expected to scrap regulations limiting methane emissions and open up the door for more coal mining and fracking on federal lands. In addition, the executive order is expected to end entirely President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan, which outlined the federal government’s approach to curbing climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: We spend the rest of the hour with one of the nation’s most celebrated writers, Rebecca Solnit, who has written about climate change for years, including one widely read essay headlined “Call climate change what it is: violence.” She wrote, “Climate change is global-scale violence, against places and species as well as against human beings. Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.”

Rebecca Solnit is author of more than 20 books, most recently, The Mother of All Questions. She’s also a columnist at Harper’s magazine.

It’s nice to have you back, Rebecca. Can you start off by talking about climate change and this dismantling of legislation, that so many found wanting even during the Obama years, but President Trump dismantling that?

REBECCA SOLNIT: First of all, anybody who’s surprised wasn’t paying attention even before the election. But I know Bill McKibben talked about it a little bit yesterday, that the dropping price of renewables is inexorable. Natural gas has sort of aced out coal for a while, but which doesn’t mean that it isn’t terrible. And it is really painful for me this morning to hear this news. But, you know, we’ll fight. And one of the things, speaking as a Californian, during the Bush administration, a lot of decision-making about climate devolved to the states. And, you know, California had to fight the Bush administration on setting emissions standards for cars. Even more than we were in that era, we’re going to fight. We’re going to set emissions standards. We’re going to lead on moving away from fossil fuel. And there’s a lot of different scales—there’s an international scale, local scales, state scales—people can continue to work on while resisting this administration, but knowing that, at best, we can prevent them from doing things, not get them to do great climate work, so—or maybe, at best, that we can topple them soon, to jump ahead a little.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you’ve written a lot about what resistance can look like under President Trump. What’s your message for a lot of people who continue to feel demoralized as they see the news, day by day, of new initiatives of this administration?

REBECCA SOLNIT: You know, I think the resistance that arose immediately after the election, and that continues to be active on immigration and human rights and climate and everything else, is extraordinary and powerful and like nothing I’ve ever seen. What concerns me, after 30 years of activism, is that a lot of people will think, “Well, we did something today, and we didn’t see results tomorrow.” So one of the things I’ve been writing about for The Guardian and elsewhere is just trying to remind people that this is a long process, that we may be in, you know, the early stages of really redefining what democracy is going to mean in this nation, reforming the systems that were already moribund and stagnant before—you know, Trump is a consequence of a dysfunctional system, not a cause of it. So we have enormous transformative work to do. And people are actually doing it. If we keep at it, if we’re smart, if we’re skillful, if we’re more passionate about solidarity than the kind of perfectionism of nitpicking small differences, I think that extraordinary things could happen, not that they’re guaranteed. It depends on what we do. But it’s an exciting and even exhilarating moment, as well as a heart-rending and terrifying one. And those things can coexist.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the actual resistance, whether we’re talking about the day after President Trump’s inauguration, where at least three times the number of people came out, same place, same, you know, period of time, and that was women, the Women’s March for Washington.


AMY GOODMAN: Among the issues they were raising, certainly climate change and many others, reproductive rights. And it wasn’t a couple of days before President Trump issued an executive order, a gag order, which sort of might have been noticed by many. The women come out and speak, and then he issues a gag order that says, you know, internationally, women’s groups—health organizations could not, not only provide abortion, but even talk about it as an option, or lose their funding.

REBECCA SOLNIT: It’s funny, when you said “gag order,” I was thinking about the gag order preventing—I think it was the EPA from talking about climate. There’s a lot of gag orders coming out of this administration, a lot of people they’re trying to silence in a lot of ways. But people are fearless. I thought this might be like the moment—the months and years after 9/11, where people were really intimidated, and it felt like a small minority of us were speaking up. There are so many people speaking up. There’s 6,000, at least, Indivisible groups that have formed to try and influence and lobby their politicians. There’s a lot of new groups and a lot of support for existing groups around immigration and human rights, refugees, protecting Muslims. You know, the healthcare debate was partly a debate about whether women are human beings, which they clearly didn’t think, as all those men were saying like, “Why should we fund mammograms? Why should we cover pregnancy?” etc. So, you know, the—

AMY GOODMAN: As if men had nothing to do with pregnancy.

REBECCA SOLNIT: You know, men who were not born of women maybe don’t, you know, and they can step forward now. But it’s—you know, I still feel like we need to address what connects all these things, what common basis of egalitarianism, humanism and compassion, nonviolence, we might connect all these issues with, as we go forward. But the resistance really is extraordinary on all these things. And it’s states. It’s the judicial department—not in all cases, but in many cases—religious groups and a lot of people inside the federal government. And the immediate appearance of sort of Alt National Parks, Alt EPA, Rogue NASA, was really exciting. And one of the things that fascinates me about all this, too, is that the only power a president has is to give orders, and that’s only a power if those orders are obeyed. And you can see that it’s not a sure system anymore. It’s really crumbling in a lot of ways as he loses respect, loses belief.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about—you mentioned states. You’ve been a longtime resident of California, which is a state right now that is the polar opposite of what is happening in Washington, D.C. Can you talk about what California is doing and how it might still be able to affect the—especially when it comes to climate change, the national conversation and policies?

REBECCA SOLNIT: Yeah. The day after the election, Kevin de León, the president of the state Senate, and his colleague in the lower house issued a proclamation of defiance, and it was bilingual as part of the defiance. It was a beautiful thing. Jerry Brown, who still needs to stop fracking in California, but, you know, has also been really openly and fearlessly defiant. We’re a huge state. We’re one of the largest economies in the world. We’re really far away from Washington. We’re a Latino-majority state at this point. And we set our own policy and—in a lot of ways. And when we do things, it tends to lead the rest of the country. Partly because we’re so big, you know, there’s that kind of impact. We’re trying to set new emissions standards. We’re moving towards a renewable energy policy statewide that will make most of the state run on renewables. Cities like San Diego have already committed to go 100 percent renewable. So we’re really carrying on according to our own beliefs and not letting them interfere with us that much.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Kevin de León is talking about making the state a sanctuary state.

REBECCA SOLNIT: Which is a beautiful thing. And I find him an incredibly exciting politician as a climate activist, a feminist, you know, an immigrant rights champion, a Latino leader. And I hope to see him continue to rise.

AMY GOODMAN: You have also written about the war within the Republican Party, talking about everything that’s happened in the last few days with the failure of Trumpcare.

REBECCA SOLNIT: Yeah. No, I think that both parties are in different kinds of crisis. But the Republican Party is kind of in a fascinating—it’s sort of fracturing. And you can see all these people who don’t seem to have a lot of principle decide: Is it safer to go with Trump or to go against him? At some point, I think he’s going to be in free fall, and the rats will be scurrying off the sinking ship. But, you know, he’s also saying we have a lot of old guard people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain who have been outspoken about the collusion with Russia. And it’s just a really strange moment. You know, what do they stand for? That’s—I feel like the Republican Party has always been kind of sneaky and disguised and dog whistle sort of, you know, enabled. And now it’s all kind of naked and hanging out there for the public to see. And Trump has sort of taken all the things they said they were for and taken them to an extreme. There’s a lot of room for outsiders, the Democratic Party—should they ever find leadership—you know, media people, etc., to really drive wedges through them. And the Democrats are doing some great things, like making them vote weekly on whether Trump should reveal his taxes, and kind of putting them on the record, which could impact a lot of congresspeople in the midterms.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about your latest of your many books, Mother of All Questions. What is the mother of all questions?

REBECCA SOLNIT: You know, that’s the title of an essay I wrote about the kinds of questions women get asked all the time—”Why don’t you have kids?”—with, you know, the assumption—and questions like that, that assume that women are just sort of breeding units, that all women are the same, that happiness can only come from domesticity and family life and reproduction, and that women’s private lives are public business. And, you know, it’s really part of a larger business of telling people what a good life consists of, that you need—you’re supposed to have lots of sex, be married, have kids and then have lots of toys and money and etc. And we all know that lots of people have those things and aren’t happy, and that lots of people don’t have those things. I hang out with a lot of celibate Buddhist priests and abbesses and things, who are really pretty happy people, who don’t have any of those things. You know, so it’s really a revolt against the formulas and the questions that aren’t real questions interested in understanding more deeply, but that are really trying to shame people and herd—you know, push them back into the herd, force them to conform.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to do Part 2 of this conversation after this broadcast. We’ll post it online at democracynow.org. And I want to ask you about women, and sometimes men, being silenced, what that silence means, and the difference between silence and quiet. That’s just some of the questions we’ll ask Rebecca Solnit. Rebecca Solnit, writer, historian, activist, author of 20 books, including, most recently, The Mother of All Questions. She’s also a columnist at Harper’s magazine. Her most recent piece, we’ll link to, in The Guardian, “Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option.”

This is Democracy Now! By the way, we have a full-time news production fellowship. Visit our website for—democracynow.org, for more information. You have to apply immediately.

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Web Exclusive: Rebecca Solnit Reads from “The Mother of All Questions”; Discusses Hope & Resistance

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