Climate Change Isn’t the First Existential Threat
Social Graphics

What we’re learning from Mary

We share works from the thinkers, writers, and activists that inspire us. Through this social graphics series, we want to explore existential exceptionalism and celebrate the ideas of Mary Annaïse Heglar. 

@mary.heglar is a climate essayist, podcast host, and overall inspiration in the climate story-sphere. Her writing has been particularly impactful to how I view myself as a white person in the environmental movement. Mary manages to stay welcoming and gracious while calling out the bullshit, and she isn’t afraid to bring it back to the heart of things. Support her work by signing up for Hot Take (Mary’s newsletter and podcast). Read the article that inspired this resource here. 

Today, I want to tell you about what Mary’s writing taught me about Existential Exceptionalism. Essentially, the notion that climate change is the first existential crisis we’ve faced as a society does not align with historical fact. As white people, or people of privilege, it might feel like this is the first time that you’re seeing your future threatened. Your children’s health under siege. Your home at risk of destruction, your way of life and risk of being taken away from you.

To have anxiety about these prospects makes a lot of sense, and it’s where we find a lot of folks who start to identify with feeling “eco-anxious”. But Mary reminds us to put those feelings into context. Because while I may be encountering these feelings of existential dread, fear, and anger about my future for the first time, there are others who have already faced the apocalypse. Black people, Indigenous people, colonized communities – these populations have experienced – and still continue to experience – existential threats everyday because of the violence of white supremacy.

In other words, this story about the climate crisis goes too far back, encompasses too many other tragedies, to be viewed out of context. As Mary says, “This game of what I call “existential exceptionalism” is a losing one. It is not only inaccurate, shortsighted, and arrogant — it’s also dangerous. It serves only to divorce the environmental movement from a much bigger arc of history.”