Poet, essayist and cultural commentator Lisa Wells takes on the complexities of our relationship to the climate crisis in Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World, a thought-provoking and heady mix of memoir, journalism and philosophy. Wells isn’t writing as a scientist or futurist here but as a former teenage idealist—someone who, as she puts it, “drifted into adulthood” after dropping out of high school and spending months in a wilderness survival program to gain the knowledge and skills needed to “form egalitarian villages on the post-apocalyptic frontier.”
Wells grew up in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s and threads her personal journey throughout the book. “When we were kids, my friends and I went looking for a unified and stable theory of how to live—propping up idols and knocking them off their pedestals,” she writes. Eventually Wells realizes, “There is no solution to the problems we face, but there are solutions.”
Exploring those solutions drives the narrative of Believers. Wells seeks out a variety of people whose radical responses to the climate crisis challenge and defy the norm. The characters she profiles are varied and fascinating, and their stories may resonate with older readers who remember their own idealism during the 1960s counterculture movement.
One particularly strong presence in the book is the late Finisia Medrano, whom Wells met while Medrano was leading a group of ecological activists in the dry desert landscape of eastern Oregon. Wells dubs her “an itinerant outlaw,” dedicated to rewilding the American desert with foragable food so people can survive the eventual collapse of society.
Wells also explores the growing severity of wildfires in the West. One section details the work of Indigenous Americans such as Ron Goode, the Tribal Chairman of the North Fork Mono in California, to revitalize the landscape by reintroducing traditional practices like controlled burns and to shift our cultural understanding of the West’s fire-adapted landscapes.
While Wells is adept at communicating her own coming-of-age story and life journey, Believers is most compelling when the author allows the fascinating people she meets to speak for themselves, providing a rich mosaic of perspectives on life in the 21st century. Believers is a reckoning with climate change and a testimony about how to live on our threatened planet that will engage thoughtful citizens everywhere.