Book club discussion: All We Can Save by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson



February 2021 saw the second edition of SFC book club, and with it a contrasting book: All We Can Save by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson is an anthology of essays and poetry centred around the leading female voices addressing the climate crisis. The breadth of the content covered in the book facilitated a wide-ranging and engaging discussion.

About the book

All We Can Save gathers works from scientists, activists, politicians, lawyers, designers and teachers (to name but a few occupations) across races, geographies and ages to weave a narrative of the far-reaching complexity of the climate crisis. The book structures itself around eight key themes: root, advocate, reframe, reshape, persist, feel, nourish and rise – together chronicling the issues, communication and solutions to the climate crisis.

Which was your favourite section or piece, and why? Which did you like the least, and why?

A few pieces in particular were highlighted as favourites.

The essay Reciprocity talks about the interconnectedness of plants and trees to help each other thrive, by transporting nutrients, shielding, shading and defending one another. It demonstrates the importance of biodiversity, where often it is very difficult to quantify via data in order to protect these vital ecosystems.

Dear fossil fuel executives - an open letter from a model to fossil fuel executives, demonstrates the importance of all industries acknowledging and playing their own part, rather than demonising others for theirs.

Reframe was a popular section, exploring language and the communication of the climate crisis. In particular, the essay Wakanda doesn’t have suburbs was praised for exemplifying a humanity which lives in a way that works for the planet. By removing suburbs, Wakanda’s ecological footprint is reduced and biodiversity is able to flourish: through having fewer roads, less fragmented ecosystems and lower greenhouse gas emissions. A few members even re-watched Black Panther to see Wakanda again with this new viewpoint in mind. Reframe also presented the concept of speaking about climate change in a language which your audience will identify with.

The members found the poems less accessible. Did it ever occur to you that maybe you’re falling in love? was praised as one of the more resonant poems, with punchy imagery about the solutions pursued in order to ease climate change. The members agreed that poetry provided an outlet for emotions more than a factual essay could, and that others with less data-driven minds may prefer this medium.

There weren’t any least favourites, although the book felt heavier and sadder towards the end. Due to the varied content, there was something for everyone: be that on the topic of motherhood, communicating with relatives or learning something new.

At least one of the essays discusses the issues of resistance against data and the shift by many climate activists from using facts vs emotion. What do you think about this strategy? 

The group agreed unanimously that new and diversified ways of communicating about climate change are required. Rational and fact-based arguments do not reach everyone sufficiently. The rapid rise of social media and fake news have also entrenched a lack of trust, even in the experts. Facts can leave people feeling a lack of responsibility, overwhelm, or inertia; whereas emotions can push people into taking action. In particular, numerous members agreed on being primarily driven by the intergenerational dimension of climate change, and wanting to leave a safer planet for their offspring.

Whilst facts and science occupy one end of the spectrum, emotions the other, peoples’ values may sit somewhere in between. A productive approach could be phrasing your message in a way which speaks to your audience’s beliefs and values.

The balance of governmental, corporate and individual accountability was discussed. Climate change can feel like a reversal of the usual ‘top-down’ organisational structure, as individuals and communities are self-organising to highlight issues to elected politicians and multinationals. This reversal has shifted the dialogue into more emotive terrain.

This led to a discussion on the difficulty of forming effective policy: an example being the promotion of electric cars, which rely on mining lithium and nickel. These resources have detrimental impacts along the supply chain, including issues with slave labour and deep-sea mining. Policies must be carefully thought through and overcome short election terms in order to be effective.

How could the themes of the book impact the work of actuaries?

It was agreed that the most immediately apparent domain is in investments – responsible asset selection within insurance and pension funds can make a big difference. In the longer term, as customer preferences evolve and our understanding of the risks deepens, product design will change to better reflect climate risks.

Ideally, every decision-making process in the workplace would involve the question “does this have an impact on climate change?”. 

Further, introducing the concept of climate change to those who do not yet engage with it can have the butterfly effect.

Has anything in the book seeded new plans for your participation in healing the climate crisis? 

A variety of ideas was shared:
•    Starting from self, be that to join a local litter-picking initiative or pursuing installation of solar panels.
•    Follow the essayists on social media, to widen perspective and engage with experts on the topic.

Most simply and perhaps most profoundly, keep talking about climate change. In talking about it more, be it in casual conversation or in structured sessions, trickle down effects will arise: someone new becoming interested, or becoming aware of an issue they weren’t aware of previously. Perhaps someone may even sign up to a newsletter, and find a sustainability-themed book club.


You can read more about the book and access resources at:

All opinions disclosed are personal opinion and not the view of the IFoA.

Details of our next book and sign up for our next book club will be in an upcoming edition of the newsletter. Keep up to date with the SFC’s work by subscribing to our weekly newsletter or following us on LinkedIn