Bridget Jones, Climate Hero

You're perfect just the way you are

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BRIDGET JONES, CLIMATE HERO

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things Bridget Jones and Winston Churchill have in common:

  • Thoughtful but fairly eccentric moms

  • Bosses who at least seemed to loathe them

  • Famous underwear

  • Boldly sharing their commitments with the world

  • Publicly failing at many of those commitments

  • Drinking

  • Sequels not quite as good as the original

  • Coming through when it fucking counted

In this essay, I will argue that Bridget Jones is the perfect climate-era hero, because she is all of us.

On the one hand, Bridget Jones narrates her life out loud as the perfect 2024 Millennial doomer — hyper-aware, full of self-loathing, unfounded confidence and brutal cynicism, drowning in ice cream and doomscrolling.

She is resolutely dedicated to self-improvement, and breaks every commitment she makes to herself.

She loves her job.

She fucking hates her job.

She also fucking hates her boss, who 1) is awful and 2) wants to sleep with her, which she is 3) not adverse to, despite a slalom course of red flags.

Bridget Jones once diarized, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.”

And she’s not wrong! If there’s a better metaphor for the climate transition, I’d like to hear it.

But on the other hand, when it counts, when everything is on the line, in the horrific moments after a SMOLDERING Darcy reads her diary and leaves, Bridget Jones embodies hope in a way we could all learn something from.

Not hope in a feely-feely kind of way, but in a “I have exactly one chance to chase Darcy down, right now, and it’s going to be in my jumper and underwear” kind of hope.

Hope in the very practical way “Men Explain Things To Me” and “Hope in the Dark” author Rebecca Solnit and, yes, Winston Churchill agree is the only way through life’s challenges, through sea level rise, or The Blitz:

By realizing in that last moment that it’s “not too late” — and then fucking doing something about it.

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency.

To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

— Rebecca Solnit

What Bridget and Winston realized in that pivotal moment is that the only way out is through.

That ignoring that incessant little flame of hope inside their ribs would — surprisingly, but assuredly — go against everything they’d recently learned about themselves and about this world.

That it couldn’t be ignored. It had to be acted upon. Right the fuck now.

Love, relationships, people, jobs, society — these things are all imperfect and inextricable from who we are. Not unlike personal and/or systemic climate actions!

It’s really easy to shit on one-way mask wearing, trying to recycle literally anything, riding a bike to work when the bike lane is an old stripe of paint running down the side of a busy road, or if you want to be a total dick, driving a hybrid, or even paying off a stranger’s medical debt.

Sure, yes, these actions are all drops in the proverbial (hot) ocean of shit we have to solve.

But you have to start somewhere.

You have to try to cook soup, and have it come out blue. As documented so vividly in The Splendid and The Vile, you have to constantly text FDR for money and ships and get absolutely nothing in return.

You have to go through hell, to feel that tiny last prick of hope — nearly dashed — and still fucking do something with it.

You have to let go of all of your bullshit and open yourself up — emotionally — to the possibility that this action will change nothing, but that doing it every day, but especially this day, will do something.

Committing to action — maybe immediately after an painfully honest conversation (or inner monologue) about where we are and why — is how we get through.

Through (waves hands) all of this, and to the other side.

When you subscribe to our newsletter you get an automated email that asks you to reply and tell us why you’re here.

I need you people to understand that:

1) I read every single one of your responses and that

2) I’m a crier. A fucking crier.

But my big secret (well, not anymore) is that I genuinely don’t care why you give a shit, just that you’ve shown up and you’re ready to be pointed in the right direction.

Your game or voting history might not be pretty, but if your attitude is “Put me in, coach”, I will play you over any of these other talented no-shows, every time.

As I have tried to teach and show my kids, showing up is most of it.

Showing up is what we do for our friends, for the planet, and for the people who have drastically less than we do, because some motherfuckers make it that way.

The correct answer to “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it, and we’re gonna hurt some people” is always, always, “Whose car are we gonna take?”

I don’t care if you’re here because you lost someone to COVID, you’ve got lead in your water, you’re a teacher who can’t afford school supplies, or you manage a college endowment.

If you’re here, I automatically assume it’s because you want to take that infuriating little flame of hope burning in your chest/esophagus and turn it into something real.

You might be here to answer the question, “What can I do?” but my job is to not only give you the answers to that question, but to challenge you back: “What WILL you do?”

"Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act."

— Marcela Mulholland

Will you run down the street in your knickers?

Will you run through New York City to get to a New Year’s Eve party to profess your love to Sally before midnight?

Are you ten and will you tear through airport security on Christmas to say goodbye to Joanna, who I think came back like a week later question mark?

Will you crash Elaine’s wedding and then ride in the back of a bus together slowly coming to terms with what you’ve done?

Will you knock on doors for school board candidates who aren’t racist-fascists, will you show up at public utility commission meetings, will you sign up for clinical trials, will you splurge for those teacher supplies even when your kid doesn’t go to school their anymore, will you move your investments to a fossil-fuel free 401k?

Fun fact you can do most some of these from your knickers. Bridget did. Winston did. If they can, so can you.

I can’t think of a single action (or person or group!) we recommend that’s objectively perfect.

That’s mostly because perfection is stupid and impossible, because there’s tradeoffs to everything and everyone.

For example, my children will never be late to a swim practice — not on my watch, goddammit — but I’m also self-aware enough to know my “it was on the calendar!” dictator bonafides shine through more often than they should.

(TLDR; I’m working on it (along with everything else))

You know this already but let’s say it out loud: walking to work isn’t going to keep the jet stream from slowing down, but it’ll sure as shit help you feel better.

We spend 75-ish years bouncing around in our vulnerable meat sacks trying not to die and/or accidentally procreate. Only sometimes do we affect the world back, (metaphorically) punching back at the tides of circumstance that keep crashing against your increasingly exposed shoreline.

(Literally) punching the waves (something I’ve 100% done with zero intentional irony) will solve absolutely nothing about global heating, but if this otherwise-harmless practice exhausts you enough to sleep better at night, to wake up refreshed to fight another day, then punch away, Adonis!

Come on back when you’re ready for actions that’ll actually move the needle.

I love every action we endorse and every Shit Giver in our community because any one of you doing any one of them counts, full stop.

Should you celebrate picking up your own knob-free (goddammit) induction stove from Best Buy? Of course! Your house is suddenly far less poisonus.

Should you stop there? Of course not!

You should obviously also yell at your city council to subsidize induction stoves for low-income households. I can promise you that this sort of (rare) local participation is the ultimate high.

Compound Action is how we get better. Not perfect. Better. Winston didn’t win the war himself. But he did keep telling everyone that we could win.

Winston, Bridget, the rest of us — we’re wildly imperfect. Old Winnie was what the world needed in 1940 but nowhere near perfect as a prime minister, before, during, and especially after the war.

You can read any of the eleventy-billion biographies on the man to get a taste, but he was only extremely reluctantly offered the top job in 1940 because Belgium was toast and France was unexpectedly going down, hard and fast, the UK was obviously next, and Chamberlain was an appeaser.

If Bridget Jones knew herself like none of the rest of us will ever admit to — “the smoking, the drinking, the vulgar mother, the verbal diarrhea” — Winston did, too. Churchill was as self-aware about his drinking and bathing rituals as Bridget, and he was his place in time and history — shit was going sideways in both their worlds, and fast.

But Churchill wasn’t the only one keenly aware how quickly everything was going to shit. However much new leaders were needed, his was a very specific case.

One mass observation diarist wrote, “If I had to spend my whole life with a man, I’d choose Chamberlain, but I think I would sooner have Mr. Churchill if there was a storm and I was shipwrecked.” And 1940 was one hell of a storm.

In his first few days as PM, Churchill basked in this kind of public support — often intentionally, not only a master orator but also a showman — and then went home and confessed to his military adviser and confidant, “Poor people, poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time.’“

Believe me when I tell you that some of our action steps are in the same boat. Compound Action just takes time.

Like Bridget Jones, Winnie was not wrong. For as much progress as we’d made in the decades prior to that moment, things were very bad. And part of Winnie’s style — like Bridget’s — was to admit this, in public, for everyone to hear.

But they both always aimed for more, however daunting the odds, however impossibly slow their progress.

“Churchill brought to No. 10 Downing Street a naked confidence that under his leadership Britain would win the war, even though any objective appraisal would have said he did not have a chance.

Churchill knew that his challenge now was to make everyone else believe it, too.”

— Erik Larson, The Splendid and the Vile

Eventually, like Bridget Jones, FDR and Stalin (sigh) hit their “all is lost” cinematic moment, forging the war machines and alliances Winston had spent two years begging for — all because the clear and sudden alternative was a world gone fascist.1

Churchill wrote later, after millions dead and the Nazis defeated, “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

I mean, sure!

The allies didn’t storm Normandy because it was fun.

And Bridget didn’t actually want to run down that snowy cobblestone street. But they had to! They couldn’t ignore the sliding doors moment before thenm, and they sure as shit couldn’t ignore the hope.

They couldn’t ignore that somehow, some way, there was still — after everything, inexplicably — one last shot.

That only now, having spent the entire movie/war discarding what we wanted for what we needed, and after exposing our truest selves to…ourselves, and everyone else, that this was the moment.

One final moment to act.

“...we can only do our best, and give the rest of what we have — whatever there may be left to us.”

— Winston Churchill

Listen, and you too can hear Winston’s words ringing in Bridget’s head as she tears down the snowy street in her long grey sweater.

Here is perhaps a more relevant example of hope in the face of grand adversity:

"Although man’s record as a steward of the natural resources of the earth has been a discouraging one, there has long been a certain comfort in the belief that the sea, at least, was inviolate, beyond man’s ability to change and to despoil,” Rachel Carson wrote in a preface to “The Sea Around Us,” which won her a National Book Award and spent 86 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, well before the publication of “Silent Spring.”*

“This belief, unfortunately, has proved to be naïve.”

— Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

If you can read that, stomach it, and still come back the next day? You’re hired.

"You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

— Jim Collins, Good to Great

Winston was all over this shit.

“The speech set a pattern that he would follow throughout the war, offering a sober appraisal of facts, tempered with reason for optimism.

“It would be foolish to disguise the gravity of the hour,” he said. “It would be still more foolish to lose heart and courage.”“

— Erik Larson, The Splendid and the Vile

I walk a tight line doing this work.

One, I’m a highly-educated and experienced moron. It’s a dangerous combination. Two, I’m emotional. Three, I’m opinionated. On the fourth hand, I am not a journalist, a doctor, a researcher, a policymaker, or anything else of merit.

I, too, am wildly imperfect, but try desperately and transparently to only recommend actions that, taken at scale, will truly move the needle, but which are also the most efficient and impactful use of your time and resources.

All of which means we do a lot of judgy-judging! Operating somewhere between Wirecutter and Consumer Reports, we turn away the vast majority of action steps, candidates, and groups that get sent our way.

Is that filtering, curating, or…gatekeeping? Yes?

On the other hand, I fucking hate gatekeeping.

Gatekeepers in the climate movement — for example — will react to your very best efforts with something like, “Christ, is that blue soup?”

But real friends — Shit Givers — will proclaim, “If you ask me, there isn’t enough blue food.”

Shit Givers don’t give a fuck that your food is blue, they care that you fucking tried!

Hope embodied is Winston texting an isolationist FDR for the 400th — and for all he knew, final — time, “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”

Winston knew the role he was playing in history, however stacked the odds. FDR, at least for a little while longer, did not, ignoring Winston’s naked thirst for destroyers and mostly just texting back, “The best of luck to you.”

But Churchill — dictating from the bath yet again — had no shame. Mighty France got crushed, the UK was isolated, the US was nowhere to be found.

What the fuck else was he going to do? All was lost.

Darcy was gone.

1.5 degrees is gone.

The stakes — the brief window to act one last time — are exactly what made Bridget/the allies’ eventual triumph so rewarding, setting up a much, much better future (all things considered).

"You can feel absolutely devastated about the situation and not assume this predicts outcome; you can have your feelings and can still chase down facts from reliable sources, and the facts tell us that the general public is not the problem; the fossil fuel industry and other vested interests are; that we have the solutions, that we know what to do, and that the obstacles are political; that when we fight we sometimes win; and that we are deciding the future now."

— Rebecca Solnit

Joe Biden isn’t going to live to see the worst of climate change, and he’s also not going to be around when we get to 100% renewables. But for myriad reasons — including extremely persistent and annoying young progressives — he’s fighting the fight. You did that.

Suffrage, integrated schools and pools and bathrooms, clean water, this shit didn’t happen overnight. Things were BLEAK before they got better. Progress has always come at the expense of people who REALLY don’t fucking want it. Marriage equality didn’t happen overnight.

It’s not finished, but it’s better.

And we can — have to — celebrate better.

You have to look at how much a character changes over the course of a film to understand that it is only because Bridget Jones came a hell of a long way — from hiding under a blanket to blue soup — that she could act in that one final moment. It’s called a character arc for a reason!

The UAW didn’t just decide to unionize all of the autoworkers everywhere. Unions are at their lowest point in a century! They unexpectedly followed on the heels of the WGA and SAG and UPS by beating up legacy automakers who had been treating them like dogshit for decades, and now they’re not just hungry — they’re confident — for so much more.

You don’t strike unless shit is so bad, it’s better to not work and not get paid than to continue with the status quo.

But here’s the thing: you’re never alone.

Bridget had friends. Winston had friends. You have friends. And if you start/keep putting yourself out there, everybody will know it, it becomes a part of who you are, and it becomes very, very hard to put all that back in the box.

So what the fuck do you have to lose?

“I am convinced that every man of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender.

If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

— Winston Churchill

Remember what legendary film producer Lindsay Doran said: “The accomplishment the audience values most is resilience.”

Look around. The world is more just and healthier than it’s ever been, and it’s not even close. But we’re constantly making promises to ourselves and each other, and not keeping them, and eventually, Darcy’s going to walk right out that door.

What will you do?

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1  This was obviously not the end of THAT story

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