Mutual aid as a climate solution

Mutual aid is commonly defined as people coming together, pooling resources, to help other people; with the understanding that their wellbeing is wrapped up in, and inevitably connected to, your own, as a fellow community member.

This term was first coined by Russian philosopher Peter Kropotkin, who used it to argue against Charles Darwin’s theory of social darwinism, which favored competition over cooperation. He said that groups who worked together were found to be more evolutionary prosperous, than those who did not.

Mutual aid has long been a tool utilized by various activist groups and social organizations throughout history. From 1969 to 1980, for example, the Black activist group the Black Panther Party, organized Free Breakfast for Children, a program supplying tens of thousands of youth with free meals that would ultimately serve as the inspiration for our nation’s free school breakfast policy.

Recent studies have shown that mutual aid might even be an effective method for mitigating the effects of climate change.

Research published earlier this summer claims: “Mutual aid offered by group-based models and social movement networks provides routes to community resilience that support community-led responses to climate change focused on collective advocacy and care.”

We’ve seen this play out after major disasters. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which swept through most of Florida and the South leaving devastation in its wake earlier this month. Crowdsource Rescue, a non-profit rescue network, created a map for first responders showing where vulnerable coastal communities lie in the event of extreme weather.

Social media has created pockets of support by region — some using platforms like Twitter to successfully find missing family members following climate disaster.

Mutual aid contrasts with the sort of climate doomism, or “longtermism” that has begun to plague much of our climate fight.

Doomism, which causes widespread fear about the climate crisis rather than inspur hope about change, can be seen through widely circulated maps like this one, which went viral on twitter earlier this week.

“Like other strains of doomism, longtermism obsesses about the possibility of human extinction rather than admit that climate change is happening right now and the most privileged among us have yet to suffer its impacts,” writes Currently’s Partnerships Coordinator, Meg Ruttan in a recent Op-Ed on the issue.

Perhaps mutual aid is the climate solution we're all looking for — a way to preserve finite resources, giving them time to replenish rather than continue to be overexploited, while managing the impacts of climate change in a way that centers the collective, rather than just the individual.

— Zaria Howell