Guest Opinion | Not a Time for Keeping Silent on Climate Change A call to cooperative action

— from Katie Wilkins —

I have wanted to write this for a long time. I have waited because I didn’t know how to fit a topic as large as climate change into few enough words. But as the price of saying nothing grows higher, I know I will be much happier with myself if I say something, even if the words aren’t perfect. This is not a time for keeping silent.

The evidence for climate change is mounting every day. No need to read obscure scientific papers–just watch the news. Whether it is sunny day flooding in Miami, Florida, the growing number of climate refugees, vanishing species and ice sheets, or extreme temperatures and weather events, climate change is getting harder to ignore. And yet, for the most part, we are ignoring it. We have even elected a president who says climate change is a hoax. How can this be?

In a way, it makes perfect sense. Facing the reality of climate change is rough. I have been numb, angry, sad, overwhelmed, depressed, and at times despairing over the state we have gotten ourselves and the planet into. There is so much to do, and time is running short. It is easy to feel small and helpless in the face of the challenges that confront us. It is also increasing clear that changing light bulbs and buying an electric car isn’t enough. Addressing climate change will require fundamental changes in how we live. It will cost us time, money, and the willingness to abandon or redirect efforts in which we have already invested a lot of energy. It brings up difficult questions: what can I do? What am I willing to do?

Not long after the recent elections, I sat in a large room full of people who were asking themselves the same questions: what can I do? What am I willing to do? There will be as many different answers to these questions as there are people asking them. However, the revelation that stuck with me as I sat there was, “We are all in this thing together.” We are entering a new age as a species, one in which we must either cooperate or perish. It’s that simple. For me, this realization is both scary and encouraging. It’s scary because in my lifetime, we have not had enough cultural practice with working together–we have drifted apart. It’s encouraging because I know as human beings we owe our survival so far to our cooperative abilities. It’s a matter of returning to our true nature. I believe we can do it.

We are entering a new age as a species, one in which we must either cooperate or perish.

The next question is, how can we harness our collective energies to confront the problems of climate change before it is too late? The first step is to make more public and private space for talking about climate change. We can’t even begin to address the issue if we are afraid to talk about it. The topic is still taboo, maybe because it’s seen as too depressing, or too big and abstract, or too political, or as an issue just for environmentalists. The truth is that climate change affects everyone, everywhere on the planet. Only when we can face up to it and engage with one another about it will we begin to see a way forward.

I will venture a way forward that I see, with full awareness that others will have different perspectives and approaches. At the most basic level we must confront two simultaneous challenges: 1) to stop the extraction of fossil fuels on a national and global scale, and 2) to figure out how to live without fossil fuels. The first challenge will mean massive grassroots political mobilization. It will mean a return to cooperation, and many acts of courage, large and small. The second challenge will mean more people working locally to meet basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and energy without dependence on petroleum. Living without fossil fuels will mean, first and foremost, changing how we get our food.

Our current means of feeding ourselves is the most fragile, petroleum-dependent, and climate-polluting aspects of our society. To take responsibility for feeding ourselves is to cut to the root of many of the problems of climate change. This means bringing food production home to our own community, to our own yards and gardens. People all over the world grow their own food at home or close to home, just as they have done since time immemorial. Our biggest challenge in the United States will be overcoming the cultural assumption that we can’t or don’t need to do so. This does not mean giving up all our other pursuits to become garden slaves, or leading lives of boredom and deprivation. Quite the opposite. I believe that if we grow our own food, we will build a culture that is richer, healthier, and more connected. By providing our own food needs, there can be less focus on making money, and more time spent on the things that make life worth living: being creative, being with friends, making music, enjoying nature, looking after one another. By becoming a community of gardeners, we may finally discover the sense of belonging, to the land and to each other, that we have been so desperately missing.

There will be room going forward for technological innovations—more solar and wind power, more efficient homes and transportation, better city design. These things have a place. But it would be a great mistake to place too much trust in these innovations or in a government that will make them for us. We must first look to ourselves and decide what kind of life we really want. And we must reassess what kind of life is really possible that will sustain the life of the planet, ourselves included. One thing is for sure: it will be different from the way we have going. I believe that with imagination, willpower, and cooperation, we can create something beautiful and maybe even lasting. Let’s get started; there’s no time to lose.

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