When it comes to the larger climate change conversation, which leaders are you listening to? Whose voices really speak to you, and what is helping you shape your personal response? Enjoy this sampler of questions and answers from ten individuals who, like you, care deeply about the future of our planet. Click the link at the end of each excerpt to read (or listen) to the full interview.
ALEXANDRIA VILLASEÑOR, youth activist and organizer
Q: Historically, kids have often not had a voice in politics, globally and locally. What avenues should there be for kids to have a larger voice in important issues?
A: I’m only 15, and I still can’t vote, but I can go outside and protest. I can write and call my leaders. I can bring awareness to the issues that are affecting my generation right now. Young people are more vocal and visible than we have been in the past years, and that’s only going to grow regardless of whether or not we can vote. Adults in power are hearing us, and they’re responding.
We have made ourselves a spot at the table. Of course, we have had a lot of politicians and people in power come out and invite us. But young people are the ones actually putting themselves there. We are demanding a spot. We need to normalize young people at the table. I think that having us there really helps when it comes to intergenerational dialogue.
And so I definitely think that there should be an easier way for young people to get involved, but I think that we are actually making that system right now. And we’re starting to teach each other exactly how to make your voice heard in those rooms of power.
The episode emphasized how climate change harms the wildlife around us and our relationships with our communities, friends, and family. Why do you think so many people don’t understand these deeper costs of climate change?
For a long time, a lot of climate change communications centered only on the science of how our planet was warming up. Because of this, the media didn’t really go deeper into the social and political issues that climate change is causing. So the media drives a lot of the public conversation about climate change. And there’s so much work to do in communicating about climate, so people get a broader perspective and deeper understanding of the issue. That’s what I love about the episode, is that it makes it a more personal issue, and it actually does bring those community relationships and people up so you can get more of a personal climate story from them. That’s what people relate to, is hearing other people’s stories. We need to know the science, but when it comes to communicating and reaching people, we need those stories.
- Alexandria Villaseñor in Women’s Media Center interview
BILL McKIBBEN, author and enviromentalist
Q: You recently started a new organization called Third Act, which will mobilize individuals over the age of 60. Why do you think it’s important to engage individuals of a certain age? What do you hope to achieve?
A: Since I started working on this in my 20s, I’ve gotten to work a lot with youth around the world, and they’re doing an unbelievable job. The youth activism around climate’s fantastic. Everybody knows about Greta Thunberg. They should. She’s great. I adore her and love working with her.
But there are 10,000 Greta Thunbergs around the planet, and they’ve got 10 million followers, and that is fantastic. But it does not really seem okay to just assign the worst problem the world’s ever gotten into to a bunch of 17-year-olds as a kind of homework. It seems unfair, and it also seems unlikely to succeed.
So look at our society, people over the age of 60 – and there’s now 70 million of us, so a population larger than France. We vote in huge numbers, so our political power is outsized, and we have most of the money. Seventy percent of the financial assets in the country belong to Baby Boomers or the Silent Generation. Millennials have five percent. So if we’re going to move economic and political institutions, we’re probably only going to succeed if we can get older people involved.
Now, there’s this idea that as people age, they become more conservative. We can’t afford to let that happen. And I think for this generation in particular, it’s not necessarily going to happen. People who are above the age of 60, in their first act, they saw a profound, cultural, social, political transformation. They were around for the start of the women’s movement or the first Earth Day or whatever it was.
And maybe our second act, taken as a whole, was a little more bound up with consumerism than with citizenship. Perhaps, that ship has now sailed. We’re in our third act, we’ve got skills, resources, maybe some grandkids, a real feeling for the legacy that we’re about to leave behind, and it’s not a very good one. So [maybe these older] people are eager to join and follow the lead of young people, make real change, make it happen, make it count.
- Bill McKibben in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
KATHARINE WILKINSON, author and teacher
Q: Regardless of a person’s eschatology belief, how do you respond when someone says they are not responsible for climate change?
A: I don’t think there’s a hard-and-fast “right” answer here. One of the lessons of Between God & Green is the importance of understanding the underlying values and beliefs that drive an individual’s or a group’s position. What’s meaningful to them? What do they care most about? How do they understand right and wrong? I find there are many footholds for engaging people on sustainability issues, but we have to get out of our own heads and hearts to uncover them. I also think it’s important to remember we don’t have to share the same views to take beneficial actions together. We’re so worried about mindsets, but behaviors are the critical piece. We can arrive at those behaviors from many different avenues, and action itself can, and does, reshape our perspectives.
- Katharine Wilkinson in Moms Clean Air Force interview
PAUL HAWKEN, entrepreneur and author
Q: What do you think is the most efficient and impactful way for ordinary people to combat climate change right now?
A: The first thing is to eliminate the idea of combat, that this is a fight. Anytime we use those types of verbs we are “othering” nature and, in this case, the exquisite, complex interactions amongst the biosphere and atmosphere, a system that brings about food, beauty, water, speciation, seasons and hummingbirds. What we want to do is bring human action in alignment with biology. This is harmony, not a battle. Climate is an expression of the biology of the Earth, not something out there somewhere. Nature never makes a mistake. We do.
It is far more interesting to see climate as a teacher, not an opponent. We are being home-schooled by planet Earth. The changes in climate are feedback. Any system that ignores feedback perishes. The most important and effective action a person can take is something that lights them up, that they want to know more about, that they care about, that fascinates them.
Q: What’s the dark horse climate solution, one that is underrated or often overlooked, but has immense potential?
A: The human heart, mind and imagination. Seriously. We have the tools, techniques and practices at hand that we need to reverse the climate crisis. What is missing is human engagement. The solutions are not seen as benefiting the majority of people we share the planet with. Overwhelmingly, most people wake up and immediately focus on their current needs, not future existential threats. How can someone get engaged on climate when they can’t get a job? Or properly feed their family, or have access to health care, education and personal safety?
This has been a blind spot of the climate movement. It is a privileged movement, meeting in five-star hotels every year to discuss what should be done. If we fail, and if a history is written, there will be a discussion on how ironic it was that we failed even though the solutions were under our nose the whole time.
The collective climate solutions that I and my team have gathered and analyzed are extraordinary in this respect. Every “solution” is something we would want to do, could do and should do even if there was not a single climate scientist alive and we were clueless as to the cause of extreme weather. Every solution we offer creates a better, kinder, more fulfilling and compassionate life for humanity and all the creatures that inhabit our extraordinary home. In other words, there is no reason not to do them now. The economy of the future is the healing of the world, and that is regeneration.
- Paul Hawken, interviewed in The Tyee
AYANA ELIZABETH JOHNSON, marine biologist and policy expert
Q: Do you think there are other ways to introduce people to the kind of ecosystem that includes climate change to make them beneficial, proactive participants that include awe and wonder?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I think fear and anxiety and just really unpleasant news is not terribly motivating for most people. It is for some. For me, I actually don’t that often think about the details of how bad the scientific projections are and exactly what’s happening to ecosystems. I focus almost entirely on solutions.
My perspective is like, “It’s as bad as we thought and actually worse, it’s all happening fast.” And then I immediately pivot to, “What are we going to do about it? What can I do to help?”
And I think the thing that’s really interesting to me and actually super inspiring is that we basically have all the solutions we need. We know how to transition to a hundred percent renewable energy. We know how to farm in regenerative ways that restore carbon to the soil instead of emitting it, right?
We know how to transform public transit in cities. We know how to compost food. We already know how to do all this stuff. We know how to make buildings more efficient. We know how to improve manufacturing processes.
It’s just a matter of how fast we’re going to do this. And whether people will get out of their own ways and be able to forsake the self-interest, whether that’s money or power and just get this shit done.
And to me, that is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. I’m like, “How are we going to get this s*** done?” Because we can, because it is a possibility, because we have this wide range of possible futures still available to us. And I want to be part of making sure we get the best one.
And so the things that I get excited about that I think many people could and will get more excited about as media starts to shift from problem to solutions is that coastal ecosystems like wetlands and mangroves can absorb five times more carbon than a forest on land.
Let’s protect and restore those. Let’s think about farming, oysters, and seaweed in the ocean that absorbs a lot of carbon and is a super low footprint source of food. I don’t know. You probably have a take on whether those are good things but they’re super sustainable, I’ll tell you that.
- Ayana Elizabeth Johnson on The Tim Ferriss Show
CHARLES EISENSTEIN, philosopher and author
Q: Tell us about what you see as the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
A: The more beautiful world our hearts know as possible is based on a different view of human nature than the one that runs our society. And it might even provide another lens to look at, oh, who do we consider a wonderful human being, and who is just a horrible human being, as if that were some innate quality of them, rather than a product of their situation, a product of their circumstances. And because I don’t know, if you’ve ever had this realization, when you really understand where someone is coming from, then you think, yeah, you know, if I were in their shoes, I might have done what they did. If I were in that subculture, if I had received that trauma, if I had those surroundings, those physical limitations, etc., maybe I would do as they do.
So part of the surroundings, or the circumstances that we are in, we – meaning most human beings on this planet, at least to the extent that they have received a modern education, that they use money to participate in a market economy, etc., it’s a pretty broad we – we are immersed in what I call the story of separation that tells us it’s a mythology. Basically, it tells us who we are, what’s real, how to be a man, how to be a woman, what’s important, how to live life, what the purpose of a human being is, tells us the nature of change, how change happens. It narrates our political reality, our social reality, and even maybe our material reality.
The basic premise of all of my work is that this story that has carried civilization for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and intensified in our time, is breaking down, leaving us with a crisis of meaning, a crisis of identity, an uncertainty, a panic even, but also a sense of a possibility, a possibility of transcending the age old circumstances that we’ve called human, the human condition. And that’s why I call it the more beautiful world our hearts know as possible. Because that feeling often goes against what the rational mind, which is steeped in the old story, believes to be possible. But the heart knows that the world is supposed to be and can be so much more beautiful, authentic, joyful, harmonious, and alive than what we’re accustomed to.
- Charles Eisenstein on the podcast Front and Center with Steve and Michael
NAOMI KLEIN, journalist and filmmaker
Q: You’ve been writing about climate change and environmental disasters for more than 15 years. How has that shaped the way you think about love?
A: Love, broadly defined, is central to whether or not we are going to survive the shocks ahead. I think the flip side of that is, I describe neoliberalism as lovelessness in public and lovelessness as policy. I mean, in the aftermath of every disaster, you see these amazing expressions of love. People risk their lives to save others. I’m describing a sort of abundance love, a love without scarcity. I’ve covered enough disasters to know that this is a profoundly human impulse. When disaster strikes, people are not asking, “Are you Christian? Are you Muslim? Are you related to me?” People are just faced with taking extraordinary risks to save each other, whether it is a home-care worker saving the life of the elderly person who they’re taking care of or whether it is somebody risking their life to save somebody else’s kids.
Q: Outside of a crisis, are there ways we can make that kind of abundant love a reality?
A: Yeah, I think so. The question is, what are the structures that would enable us to have this sort of abundant love being more than a flash in the midst of crisis? When a society says, “You know what, the basics are going to be taken care of,” you have a really powerful intersection between policy and love. Nobody is locked out.
I think when you live in a society as we do, certainly everybody in the United States does, that clearly tells people, we do not have your back. We will not leave a social safety net to catch you. When you live in a society that tells people they can take nothing for granted, whether it is housing or food or water or health care, that lights up the parts of ourselves that are very fearful. That makes us take a scarcity approach to love, and scarcity love justifies barbarism. It can play out at a familial level or a neighborhood level, a national level or a race level, but the governing ethos is out of my love for my own, however “my own” is defined. I justify whatever it takes to protect my own.
- Naomi Klein in the Multiverse issue of GQ
WILL ALLEN, urban farmer and MacArthur Fellowship Genius Award recipient
Q: In his land ethic, Leopold wrote about the fact that no matter where you are in the landscape, you have a connection to the earth. Do you think about that connection that you’ve made consciously or is it just part of who you are?
A: I think a little bit of both. It was kind of who I am, the way that I was raised, you know? I understood at a very early age how you treat the earth with respect and you don’t really own the earth. My grandfather was Native Cherokee, and that influenced me too. I think we’re all connected to the earth, but a lot of people don’t want to admit it. But in fact, touching the soil can be the most powerful thing, the most spiritual thing one can do. I see it happen when kids come in here after school. As soon as they touch the soil, they mellow out. It’s an unbelievable thing that happens. Every time, it happens. And when they see the worms, and they hold worms, same thing happens. It just puts them in a different place. It’s a very therapeutic thing, a very spiritual thing when you touch the soil.
Q: Leopold said, “There are two things that interest me – the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land.” And that’s what you’re doing here. You’re not only connecting people to the land, you’re connecting people to each other too.
A: Right. I think, one of my strengths is developing relationships and all those relationships matter. We have to have everybody at the table. We can’t kick people away. We can’t say, well, we don’t like your politics, you’re away from the table. Because that person you kick away could be a key person in terms of how we really fix these problems that we have around the environment. So we’ve got to have everybody at the table. Everybody’s important. Everybody’s to be respected. That’s really important to me. That’s what I try to do, to develop relationships with people who care so much about the entire planet. Not just their little rural town or their big city. We have to care about the whole planet because if something is bad happening anywhere, it’s going to affect us whether we realize it or not.
- Will Allen in Aldo Leopold Foundation interview
JOANNA MACY, scholar and activist
Q: In our society, we talk about despair as if it is primarily a psychological matter, coming out of personal life. Your understanding is that despair also comes from a different source.
A: Yes. I learned, when I began to work with groups 20 years ago, that despair arose in relation to something larger than individuals, personal circumstances. There is a complex of strong feelings that I call ingredients of despair. One is fear about the future based on what we’re doing to each other and to our planet. Another is anger that we are knowingly wasting the world for those who come after us, destroying the legacy of our ancestors. Guilt and sorrow are in the complex. People in every walk of life, from every culture, feel grief over the condition of the world. Despair is this constellation of different feelings. One person may feel more fear or anger, another sorrow, and another guilt, but the common thread is a suffering on behalf of the world or, as I put it, feeling “pain for the world.”
In American culture, we are conditioned to try to keep a smiling face and remain chipper at all costs. A lack of optimism somehow indicates a lack of competence. Feelings of despair are treated reductionistically as a function of personal maladjustment. This doubles the burden individuals carry. Not only do they feel bad about their world, but they feel bad about feeling bad.
Feeling the pain of the world is not a weakness. This is God-given or, put another way, an aspect of our Buddha nature. This openness of heart that characterizes the caring individual is a function of maturity. Don’t ever apologize for the tears you shed on behalf of other beings. This is, in its essence, not craziness, but compassion. This capacity to speak out on behalf of others, because you have the right to, because you can suffer with them, is part of our spiritual nature.
- Joanna Macy in Transforming Despair interview
DAVID POGUE, journalist and author
Q: Where do you find your hope?
A: Until very recently, I had very little hope – and a lot of cynicism. The climate breakdown was so visible and measurable, but humanity just didn’t seem to care. It felt like being in a bus headed for the cliff, but the driver chooses not to step on the brake.I was devastated knowing that each passing week was making my children’s future lives harder.
I feel like that’s changed in the last year. Much too late, of course – we should have started years ago. But in the last twelve months or so, a huge number of the world’s corporations, investors and even governments have made fairly stunning pledges to reduce emissions.
Meanwhile, the numbers make it clear where we’re going with energy: Solar power is nine times cheaper – and wind power forty percent cheaper – than ten years ago. Eighty percent of planned coal plants in Asia’s developing companies have been canceled, and no more coal plants are scheduled for the U.S. And General Motors – General Motors – announced that it will become an all-electric-car company by 2035.
Those are big, meaningful changes by big, meaningful players, and better yet, they send a signal to all the other players that the tide has turned.
Q: All of this is pretty anxiety-inducing, and you even write about that as a climate impact.
Yeah, that’s a big one. My editor refers to How to Prepare for Climate Change as the first uplifting book about climate change. Because the entire premise is: Depression is not just being in a bad situation, it’s being in a bad situation and feeling like you can’t do anything about it. So that’s the really big cause of anxiety and stress. And the act of taking some control over your situation – any of the things suggested in this book about how to protect yourself from climate change – is taking action [toward] feeling better.
David Pogue in Next Avenue interview
Read about these 70 diverse “Earth Advocates” and consider adding them as valuable guides to energize your engagement and activism. Speaking of engagement, we invite you to join the Climate Action Team. We meet every third Monday on Zoom. Reach out to Nicole Haines at email@example.com for details.
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Our Climate Action Team is a member Green Team with Georgia Interfaith Power and Light. GIPL has collaborated with UUCA, providing advocacy training and more.The organization’s spring fundraising campaign is aiming to raise $15,000 by July 15. If you can make even a small donation HERE, your support will help GIPL continue to grow its efforts to educate and empower people of faith across Georgia on faithful solutions to the climate crisis and advocacy efforts for climate legislation. In the photo, UUCA’s Bert Pearce, Lizanne Moore, and Jon Reese spent time with EPA Region 4 Administrator Daniel Blackman at last month’s GIPL Green Team Summit.