On explaining and testimony for climate action

Monica Sanders
2 min readJul 31, 2023

To paraphrase William Faulkner, to be a Southerner is to be required to explain. This is true across many lives and many contexts. Over the course of my life growing up in the South and then having the opportunity to travel, people always want an explanation. Why do we live there? With them? Whomever the them may happen to be… Distinctly, being from Louisiana after every storm that has blown through, the inquiries about the whys and the hows of why we live there always seem to come.

Credit: Americas Quartley. Photo of Hurricane Mitch Aftermath — mentioned in Article

As a woman of color with roots deep in the South and blood and bond connections to the Global South, I find that explaining is often not enough. We have to justify why and how we live. The choices of where and amongst whom we live must be presented with justification, often before strangers with words of denial prepositioned on their lips. These are not explanations. They are testimonies. When it comes to weathering storms and bearing the brunt of climate action too often calls to action and pleas find themselves transformed into testimonies. All the requirements and burdens of bearing witness coming with the external gazes and inquiries.

Recently, I was honored to be asked to write an essay for the Costa Rican national newspaper “El Observador” as one of the 23 Voices of Climate Change in the Americas. It is in Spanish and can be found here. I began recounting my experiences being impacted by climate-driven disasters, but quickly found myself infusing the piece with facts and pleas. Essentially I gave testimony. This is what gave way to this writing, a discussion of testimony. As an attorney, I understand the importance of having witnesses testify. They can sway the opinions of judges and the right testimony in the right court can alter the legal constructs which dictate how we live, where we live, and with whom we live.

Whether individuals on the frontlines of the worst of our planet’s suffering are called before a court to give testimony or not, they bear witness every day. What they know and how they are learning to deal with the issues should be guiding perspectives for us all. Returning to my thoughts about Faulkner and Southerners, explanations at a minimum should be listened to. Testimonies must be heard and acted upon.

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Monica Sanders

Founder, The Undivide Project (www.theundivideproject.org); Activist-Scholar; Professor@Georgetown; Senior Fellow, Tulane Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy