Engaging the unengaged in climate change


The groundbreaking "Call for Action" last month by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), followed by a warning that only an intensive worldwide effort can stave off potentially disastrous climatic changes, reflects the growing sense of desperation amongst the scientific community around humanity’s continuing failure to take the requisite steps we must initiate if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

Yes, there are hopeful pockets of action around the country and world: Transition and Resilience communities, the growth of solar and other sources of alternative energy, the development of community-based and regional food systems, as well as other mainly local initiatives. These are all absolutely necessary, not only to successfully adapt to the world of climate change that we have already entered, but also because they serve as the potential for the 100th monkey phenomenon to kick in, where seemingly modest efforts coalesce into a societal movement involving all of us.

But time is running out. As we’ve emphasized in recent columns, we are rapidly approaching the moment where human intervention will be too late, when climate change reaches tipping points and spins out of control. We need to act now, not only to continue with the local efforts amongst the minority choir, but to also create a will to act amongst the rest of us, the significant majority of our families, friends, neighbors, work and school mates who, unfortunately, have not felt the need to address this crisis as part of their daily lives. These larger numbers are absolutely critical to creating the grassroots political will imperative to countering the manic pursuit of the last drop in the ground by Big Oil and its political allies. This is a non-negotiable necessity. Failure to implement significant policies, like a carbon tax, only spells disaster, regardless of whatever else we do.

So how do we engage the unengaged? For one thing, we have to make climate change more of a presence in our daily lives. Right now, it’s a subject that people prefer not to think about, to ignore. Much like death, itself, which climate change certainly evokes, we don’t talk about it.

This conspiracy of silence has to cease. Climate change needs to be brought out into the open as the important fact of our present existence that it is, and will increasingly be. We need to acknowledge its reality out loud, publicly, talk with our family and friends, work and school mates about the melting of the Arctic ice, the acidification of the world’s oceans, and the unprecedented droughts in California and Australia. We need to write letters to the editor and express our worries and concerns, our sense of impotence in the face of this unprecedented crisis, as well as our outrage with politics-as-usual.

We also need to sit down together as neighbors and begin discussing mutual aid and community-sufficiency, and what we need to do to take care of each other, and can start doing, right now.

We need to become activist citizens who come together to stop this crime against life -- against us, our children, and other living beings -- that the practice of profits before all else certainly is. From the divestment of fossil fuel stocks, to boycotting events, sports teams and media outlets sponsored by oil and gas companies, as Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Desmond Tutu, has called for, to non-violently direct action to stop fracking, tar sands pipelines, and new coal plants, we need to act as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.

At the same time we’re being courageous, we also must be more imaginative and creative. We need to find a new language with which to communicate that truly engages by calling upon that which is best in us, especially around the sacredness of life. We must move our faith communities to be leaders of what is essentially a moral issue, and our local governments to engage in strategic planning for a crisis that can’t be avoided

Interested parties are encouraged to join with Post Oil Solutions which has initiated a partnership with our area’s arts community to collaborate around climate change. From painters and poets, musicians and singers, and actors and dancers, we’re hoping to help create a rich and powerful expression about climate change.

And please join us at our 4th Tuesday of each month Climate Change Café at Brooks Library, which offers a welcoming environment for all who are concerned about this crisis. The Café features films, talks and presentations, and conversation about what we can do.

The next Café is tomorrow, Tuesday, May 27, 6 p.m. with the screening of the film, "The Wisdom to Survive: Climate Change, Capitalism and Community," followed by a working session around specific things we can do to both adapt to, as well as mitigate climate change.

This won’t be easy. Stopping big oil and adapting to climate change involves enormous change and sacrifice on our part, learning to live without our consumer-dominated society that is based on fossil fuels. There is also the inherent tension between go-it-alone American individualism and collaborative communities that our efforts to create resilient mutual aid neighborhoods will invariably bump up against. The same is true for our penchant for piecemeal silos vs comprehensive, strategic, and integrated, town and region-wide planning, a challenge that can afflict the otherwise admirable relocalization movement. Finally, we cannot resolve climate change and transition to a relatively sane society without at the same time creating the generous, compassionate, socially just society required.

Impossible? Of course. But only until we take the first steps. Which makes all the difference in the world.

Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions and can be reached at 802.869.2141 and info@postoilsolutions.org.


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