The Craft Moves of Climate Stewards: Thinking with Xiye Bastida and Greta Thunberg

Photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

One way to provide an entry point for students who often feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the climate crisis is to explore a text pairing that puts ideas in conversation with each other.  This juxtaposition can bring key concepts into relief, as well as help students articulate the priorities of each writer because there is a basis for comparison.  While studying the words of Bastida and Thunberg side by side, we began practicing root cause analysis, a necessary step before considering how these TED Talks could be powerful mentor texts for our own writing.

Thinking like a Climate Steward: Diagnosing Root Causes

When businesses turn sustainable, when the power grid runs on renewable energy, when the school curriculum teaches us that taking care of the Earth is part of our humanity, maybe I can do gymnastics once again.  Listening to Xiye Bastida describe the necessity of being a climate activist in her 2020 Ted Talk, If you adults won’t save the world, we will is an illuminating experience.  Written as a letter to her abuelita, her speech explains her reasoning for participating in climate strikes.  As she weaves references to the example set by her family members, and to the influence of Greta Thunberg, who called for the first global climate strike, Bastida models craft moves that my students can try out in their own writing.

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As we reviewed the transcript of Bastida’s talk, my students and I highlighted the lines that diagnosed key problems regarding the human relationship to our planet.  An important aspect of helping students become responsible climate stewards is articulating the difference between the root causes of our climate crisis and the symptoms that show up as signs of these root causes.  Looking at the quote below, we zoomed in on the phrase “the universal disconnect to our planet.”

At first, my students were tempted to identify this “universal disconnect” as a root cause of the climate crisis, but we used the “5 Whys” strategy – an iterative approach to problem-solving – to help us understand it as a symptom of underlying causes.

Bastida’s identified problem – a universal disconnect to our planet – generated a series of Why responses.

Why is this so?

  • Because people don’t go outside and consciously use their senses to enjoy the outdoors
  • Because people are too busy working or don’t have access to the outdoors
  • Because many communities lack parks/open green spaces
  • Because “redlining” practices (residential segregation) caused many communities to be “park poor”
  • Because most people don’t strive to live in balance with Nature or value this practice/mindset for all

As we worked our way through our responses, we finally articulated a root cause that expressed the underlying harmful mindset at work.

ROOT CAUSE: Most people see themselves as existing hierarchically above other living beings, instead of existing at one point of a web (within interrelated ecosystems).

Using this strategy is not meant to suggest that only five “Whys” will elicit a root cause, or that only one root cause is operable in this scenario.  The strategy gives students practice in using questions for generative responding and building on ideas.  One important outcome of using “5 Whys” was students began to discuss the intersection of environmental and social issues from an equity lens, without immediately getting lost in what can feel like a sea of jargon.  For students new to thinking about the behavioral shifts needed to mitigate the climate crisis, observing how Bastida communicates her “origin story” as an activist gives them both a rhetorical model for doing so and a collaborative opportunity to begin to problem-solve through root cause analysis.

Discussing Greta Thunberg’s message in her TED talk, The disarming case to act right now on climate change, was a stirring follow-up to thinking about Bastida’s message.  In contrast to Bastida’s, Thunberg’s 2018 talk is peppered with scientific data and rhetorical questions that echo uncomfortably for listeners who might be tempted to divert their attention elsewhere.  Both speakers draw attention to their age, their reasons for participating in climate strikes, and the inability to defer action to a later date.  This link provides opportunities to look at key quotes with your students, both in terms of “idea noticings” and “craft noticings.”

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Using the “5 Whys” strategy helped my students think about the difference between symptoms and root causes.  By pairing Bastida’s and Thunberg’s talks, we could see that the way one “frames” the message or narrative about sustainable habits is an important aspect of developing buy-in.  As seen in the chart shown below, one feature the speeches had in common was a focus on the relationship between generations.  While Bastida repeatedly talks about the example of her family members, Thunberg enters into an imaginative awareness of what her descendants will think of what we did, and did not do, in the present moment to sustain our planet home.  By juxtaposing the texts, my students and I better understood that we don’t learn in an isolated vacuum; our goal always is to develop a lively curiosity about the world we shape and inherit, and to collectively imagine solutions for problems when they may seem impossibly overwhelming on our own.

My Moving Writers beat is devoted to sharing strategies for promoting ecological literary and eco-activism that can be used in any classroom.  I’m looking forward to sharing more text pairings and strategies for building a sustainability mindset at my upcoming Webinar, “Reading and Writing as Climate Stewards,” on Tuesday, November 2, at 8 pm Eastern Time.

 Come learn about

  • the craft moves of mentor texts that offer place-based calls to action
  • poems and stories that help combat disconnection from Nature
  • a solution-oriented approach to communicating about environmental threats
  • strategies for discussing the findings in the recent UN Climate Report

This link will take you to the webinar registration page.


How are you helping students become climate stewards?  What text pairings would you suggest?  Share your reflections in the comments below or find me on Twitter @dispatches_b222.

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