The Climate Crisis and Our Communities

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The River Derwent overflowing its usual limits at Bamford Mill in March 2020

On the 8th of March 2020, I attended a Leeds-based event called Planetary Dysphoria Blues. Organised by Non-Binary Leeds and Extinction Rebellion Leeds, this collaboration between two distinctive but overlapping communities provided a forum for discussion, clothes swapping, sharing of food, and planning more sustainable and inclusive ways of moving forwards in this ever-changing and often hostile world we find ourselves in.

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A much calmer River Derwent at Bamford Mill in June 2013

We started out by acknowledging the work of those who have gone before, and have made it possible for us to assemble as trans* and non-binary activists within a larger community of LGBT+ and environmentally focussed activists. This led on to the idea of Leeds as a particular hub for various forms of activism, and the reasons for that development. We recognised that we need to factor in the environmental costs of various forms of activism, and that an awareness of intersectionality should lead us to make events, whether focussed on awareness-raising or direct action, accessible to as many subsections of our communities as possible,

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Reservoir levels above normal in March 2020

A lot of recognition was given to issues of housing and issues of what marginalised groups can and can’t afford. Lower-cost housing tends to be of poorer quality, and is more likely to be in areas that will be impacted earlier by climate change. Housing instability can impact on the measures individuals can put in place to live more sustainably, and sustainability measures put in place by authorities and big businesses may impact on marginalised groups in ways that have not been adequately assessed. A prime example given was the phasing out of plastic straws, which while done for good environmental reasons, disproportionately affects people with disabilities who may not be able to use paper straws or to provide and maintain reusable alternatives within the limits of their own resources of time, money and ability.

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Very low water levels elsewhere on the reservoir in December 2018

After thoroughly depressing ourselves over the state of the world, we tucked into a hearty meal of vegan food, and rummaged through the clothes that others had brought (to my credit in terms of wardrobe reorganisation, I arrived with a bagful of unwanted items and left with only one T-shirt). The second half of the event was then devoted to small-group discussions of how we can contribute to making improvements in our own local areas. I joined those talking about housing, and we came up with proposals for how those in need to short-term accommodation emergency can be put in touch with people able to offer a spare room or even just a mattress for a few nights. This was considered particularly important in areas where hostels and other schemes may not always have spaces available that members of our community would considered particularly safe or accessible.

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Reservoir overflow in March 2020

Other groups discussed ways in which sections of our communities can come together to grow food communally and how we can make information available that specifically addresses environmental issues in ways that take account of other difficulties and prejudices various overlapping subgroups might face. The evening ended with us all, I think, feeling more positive as to what we can achieve as individuals and groups in facing the challenges ahead, and with greater understanding of how climate change is likely to impact us and our families, whether biological or found.

Inspired by last weekend’s discussions, I went out this weekend and took some photographs of water levels in the rivers and reservoirs around where my parents live. In the past, I’ve focussed on the effects of prolonged drought. This time, I was looking at how different the landscape appears after a winter in which we seem to have had nothing but rain. The power of the water as it cascades over weirs and down overflows is impressive, but also quite worrying. I’m not sure I remember seeing some of the levels quite that high before.

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High water levels at the viaduct in March 2020
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Same reservoir, different viaduct in October 2018. There are signs of how high the waters usually come on the pillars.