Becca Balint: The planet is burning

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Have you heard about the wasp super-nests in Alabama that can be as big as a Volkswagen Beetle? It's not just "click bait" on social media to appeal to a city dweller's fear of the natural world; these nests are real. And they're huge. Some contain tens of thousands of wasps which will sting repeatedly to protect their nests. Alabama officials are alarmed at how early in the season these super-nests have appeared, and they blame milder winters. Natural die-offs of wasps don't occur without hard freezes, so these colossal colonies just keep getting bigger.

Will it happen and when, are the wrong questions to ask about global climate change. Our warming planet provides constant clues that we're in real danger now. We're unprepared for the sweeping impact of global climate change.

But it's difficult to convey a sense of urgency with facts and figures. People remember how you made them feel and not necessarily the details of what you said. We are storytellers and story consumers, and we must tell personal stories about climate change. This is what will stir us all to powerful collective action.

I have a colleague and friend in the legislature who will often turn to me and whisper when someone goes off on a rant about a rather minor issue: "Meanwhile, the planet is burning." I understand his frustration. It's difficult for many of us to meaningfully engage the public and our colleagues on the subject of climate change policy. And I know my constituents feel stymied, too.

Last week I moderated a panel at a showing of the National Geographic climate change documentary "Paris to Pittsburgh" at All Souls Church in West Brattleboro. It was hosted by the congregation in cooperation with Vermont Interfaith Power & Light and the Vermont Climate & Health Alliance. It outlined the climate crisis in stark terms and highlighted solutions being implemented across the country.

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During "Q and A," a Putney resident voiced concern that there's not been better leadership thus far from the governor or from the legislature on the issue of climate change. We exchanged ideas and opinions about how to make real progress on the ground. We disagreed on some things: should politicians shape the conversations or should communities control the narrative from the ground up? But I can't stop thinking about his essential question and very real concern: How do we stir people to action NOW? We are running out of time.

As I write this, scientists are still calculating the terrible toll of Europe's deadly June heat wave. A similar heat wave in 2003 killed 70,000 Europeans, and this one appears to be just as deadly. University of Oxford scientist Dr. Friederike Otto recently told The Guardian, "This is a strong reminder again that climate change is happening here and now. It is not a problem for our kids only." Her underlying message: Stop talking about climate change as a future scenario; it's already happening, and the effects are all around us.

We don't have freaky stories about massive wasp nests to gather media attention, but we do have the real stories of Vermonters who watched their homes carried away during Irene or saw their beloved town bridges swept downstream. We have the experience of farmers across our state who struggle to learn the new "growing season" patterns and the thousands of Vermonters who are battling Lyme disease because of the explosion of deer ticks.

Tell your stories, please. Not just at climate rallies and actions. Tell them to your neighbors, colleagues and your elected officials. Change the narrative — and the urgency — one story at a time.

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as Senate Majority Leader in the Vermont Legislature. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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