What To Read: Mary Annaïse Heglar and Amy Westervelt want climate justice

This week, we interviewed climate writers Mary Annaïse Heglar and Amy Westervelt, who write Real Hot Take, a newsletter about intersectional climate politics. This interview has been lightly edited.

What's your Substack about in one sentence?

Real Hot Take is an honest, humane, and humorous conversation about the biggest story of our time – the climate crisis – and all the ways the media is talking and not talking about it. 

What does it mean for environmental analysis to be intersectional, and why is it important to write about this perspective?

The climate crisis intersects with and exacerbates every justice issue: race, poverty, gender, you name it. You don’t get a crisis like runaway climate change – where a small handful of people were empowered to make decisions that condemn the entire human race to catastrophe – without serious power imbalance. But we still rarely hear it discussed that way, so we wanted to curate a conversation both about the various aspects of the climate crisis and about how it’s being discussed in the media. Basically, if you’re talking about climate change without talking about racism and sexism and ableism and even public health or the economy, you’re not really talking about climate change, and vice versa. You’re either talking about all of it or you’re not talking about it at all. We started off doing that with our podcast, but soon realized it was much bigger and we had so much more to say.

Sometimes it can be easy to feel hopeless about the climate crisis. Who in the movement inspires you? 

Amy: Mary! Also, I know it sounds trite at this point but I’m really inspired by the young climate activists (like Jamie Margolin, Xiye Bastida, and Alexandria Villaseñor) and not only their approach to climate action, but also to organizing in general. And then of course, the Idas: Ida B Wells and Ida Tarbell, two fearless muckraking journalists who spoke truth to power. 

Mary: I take most of my inspiration from people who came before me, like Fannie Lou Hamer and Stokely Carmichael and, my personal hero, James Baldwin. I’m also inspired by my work wife, Amy Westervelt.

Anyone who reads your newsletter can see the sheer volume of passion and research going into it. How do you avoid burnout and information overload? 

We do battle burnout. You can’t avoid it and we’ve kinda stopped trying or worrying about it, to be honest. Climate is a complicated, important topic and it’s been trending in the wrong direction for a long time. Amy’s beat has been disinformation for a long time and it’s kinda impossible not to get bummed out and burned out watching people warp information to manipulate the public. So you just kinda go at it knowing that you will burn out and then take breaks when you do. Probably not the healthiest approach, but it’s real!

We also have a way of dealing with the burnout through humor. It’s why it’s so important to us both on the podcast and in the newsletter to make jokes and even to include silly dad jokes to lighten the mood. We also both lean into our anger as a way to cope and we support each other when the burnout comes. Because it will. We’re looking potential planetary collapse in the face. That doesn’t feel good because it’s not supposed to.

In 2020, your newsletter covered both climate news and the election, side by side. Why is following politics important to you and your readership?

Because it was the climate election, meaning that the outcome of this election in particular would decide whether we had a fighting chance to ward off the worst of climate change. That actually has been true for a very long time, but this time it was openly acknowledged, and the choice could not have been starker or the stakes higher. This will be true for the rest of our lives, and we can’t afford to forget that. Every single policy has an impact on climate and vice versa – this is part of being intersectional too, we don’t see climate as some separate issue over in the environment corner. And unfortunately, we’ve got a limited amount of time to move on climate and to do that political will and passing the right policy are really crucial.  

What advice do you have for people who want to get involved in climate advocacy?

Advocacy is a pretty heavy word for the uninitiated. Let’s walk it back to “action.” Understand that everyone’s climate action won’t look the same or start the same. For one person, it can start with solar panels. For another, it can start at a school strike.

The important thing is to start and the next most important thing is not to stop. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re doing enough, and focus instead on what you can do next. It’s fine to take breaks, necessary even, but come back when you can. And remember, when it starts to feel too heavy, you’re not in this alone.

Who's another Substack writer you'd recommend?

Amy: Alicia Kennedy’s From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy and Britt Wray’s GenDread!

Subscribe to their newsletter, Real Hot Take, or follow their publication, Mary, and Amy on Twitter.