Concerned but confused about climate-change action? This might help

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“I have hope that if we work together we can fix it.”

That optimism was voiced by 6th grader Gresham Crone, speaking briefly at the start of the climate-change panel discussion last Tuesday at Our Lady of Guadalupe‘s Walmesley Center.

He had gone to the previous Friday’s Global Climate Strike rally. It was one example of the event’s theme – what you can do about the climate crisis.

The venue itself was another example – a LEED-certified building, as explained in opening remarks by Vince Stricherz, a co-chair of the Green Ministry, which OLG and Holy Rosary started in response to Pope Francis‘s call to care for the planet. The event was also meant in part to look ahead to next year’s 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, and Stricherz recalled some of the flashpoints that led to it.

The panel’s moderator is in fact leading the plan for Earth Day Northwest 2020, Forterra founder Gene Duvernoy.

With him onstage at OLG were (right to left below):

*Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington and university director of the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center
*Lylianna Allala, program director for the Equity and Environment Initiative in the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment
*Rev. Paul Benz, co-director of the Faith Action Network, member of the Earth Day NW 2020 Leadership Group

“It’s time we look at ourselves again and get moving,” said Duvernoy. “We have to both improve our environment and improve the human community – they go hand in hand. … The best way to have the environment we want in the Pacific Northwest are to live in cities and towns” that must be “equally welcoming to all.”

Like the student who had spoken first, Duvernoy said there’s hope that people are ready to act – five years ago, “60 percent of us didn’t think there was anything to worry about” but now “64 percent think it’s a crisis.” Troublingly, he added, only 44 percent think it’s primarily human-caused. Yet, people have long known “there’s something wrong.” He quoted Rachel Carson from 1951 talking about glaciers receding. “We have squandered seven decades.”

Before proceeding with the panelists, Duvernoy introduced a bonus guest, former Mayor (and West Seattle resident) Greg Nickels, who led the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement during his time in office.

“16 years ago, climate change was not really at the top of my agenda as mayor, but something happened in the winter of 2004-2005 …the ski season was canceled because there was no snow in the mountains.” That also meant a water shortage. “We got through that, but …that wasn’t a one-off event.” So “as the world was about to engage in the Kyoto Protocol, I stood up on February 17, 2005, and pledged that Seattle would take action.” He called or other mayors to join him. He hoped for ~140 mayors … and ultimately got 1,050 mayors to sign on.

The city encouraged lifestyle changes such as light bulbs and low-flow showerheads. “How do I fit into this? How do I help find a solution?” people ask, Nickels observed, saying that’s evidence that the local level is where meaningful action can be taken.”That’s something that Seattle is particularly good at … Seattle has a role to play still. (The rest of the world) can look at us and feel safe in taking action.”

With that, the panel began. From Snover: “We’ve seen consequences of climate change unfolding around the world … Our own home has changed. The Northwest has warmed 1.5 degrees F over the past century … the coldest days are 5 degrees warmer than they used to be. … The scientific calls for alarm are becoming more urgent,” in terms of what it will take to stabilize temperatures, to prevent the climate from warming further. Halving emissions by 2030, zeroing them out by 2050, is imperative.

She too cited a poll, saying more than 50 percent of people think everyone – top down – should be doing more. “The problem is, bigger impacts are coming.” Studying what’s ahead is the job of a UW group for which she works. Flood risks, for example – infrastructure has to be readied for “the climate and conditions of the future.” But: “The future for all of us is in our hands … We need to limit warming and prepare for the changes that are under way.”

Next, Allala talked about those experiencing the effects of climate change “first and worst” such as hurricane victims from Puerto Rico, affected agriculture workers from Latin America. It’s been just two months that she’s been working for the city, which has made a lot of commitments yet has many problems to fix – playgrounds next to highways, polluted air reducing life expectancy in some neighborhoods. “How do we listen to those voices and uplift them?”

What’s at stake, said Rev. Benz, is no less than “the survival of our planet and all our species.” He had advice, including:
-Focus locally – “that’s where we build our relationships”
-Be intentional -“as we speak, we listen” – speak with the “seventh generation” in mind
-Don’t “be satisfied with anything you’ve done”
-Carbon footprint – assess yours and that of every group/organization/etc. you’re involved with
-Environmental justice – “how are our communities of color, how are allies and neighbors helping?” (He recommended involvement with Front and Centered and Got Green)
-Action steps, such as meeting with your elected officials

How do you reach those who do not recognize the crisis, Duvernoy asked, and how do yu convince those who do, to do more?

“I think, we demand change,” replied Snover. She is frustrated that so much focus has been on individual actions when we are “trapped” in a system that doesn’t offer many choices. “It’s about demanding system change. … And also demand(ing) that folks pay attention to the changes that are coming. Every single days investments are being made, decisions are being made, in our name, with our money.”

What’s the one thing you can say to someone who doesn’t understand? Snover’s reply: Ask them what they care about, and be sure they understand that WILL be affected.

Allala talked about the Texas town where she has family – and where they haven’t been able to drink tap water “for over 30 years.” She talked about the “false choices” people there and elsewhere have had to make, such as selling oil rights, and how she cannot condemn people for making a choice they felt was necessary to ensure their children’s future. She agreed with Snover: “We have to demand a better system.” As for the “one thing” to convey to others, she counsels “deep listening.”

Benz said education is a key, as are organizing and mobilizing. And: “Up the ante. I’m not getting any younger … nobody (is) … but,” think of the upcoming generations, and bringing people into a world “where Glacier National Park is a misnomer.” Look at educators, faith leaders. Are they talking about this? Are they teaching this? Will it lead to action? “What’s the agenda of your next neighborhood association (meeting)? Does (the group) have a carbon-footprint plan?”

Summarized Duvernoy: Individually we can and should “up the ante” but that includes agitating for systemic change.

Audience Q&A followed.

First: We had a summer finally without many wildfires. How do we get a stronger focus on our forests?

Snover acknowledged, “Climate change is one of the factors increasing our fire risk.” Much can be done via forest management – thinning, prescribed burning – but “the problem is the massive amount of forest land we have (that needs help) …. it exceeds the resources we have.”

Allala revealed that she had worked as a wildland firefighter as well as an assistant working on climate policy in US Rep. Pramila Jayapal‘s office. “Moving jobs from an extractive economy to a renewable one” is something that also requires federal action, and helping advocate for budget decisions that invest “in job creation and jobs” as well as what needs to be spent on firefighting.

Next question: How do we take action?

Allala: Call your representatives! “The phone calls matter. … We take tally of the number of calls that come in every day, of the subject matter … the number and topic of phone calls help drive where some energy goes.” Make an appointment to meet with your electeds, “come in a group” if you can. If they’re not available, meet with their staff, “try to brainstorm ways to affect the issue you’re bringing up.”

Snover: “Talk about climate change with your friends and neighbors … it’s in the news a lot but people still aren’t talking about it.”

The next attendee brought up the earth’s swelling population and concern over the Catholic Church’s position on contraception, saying, “Reproducing without limit is at odds” with the planet’s future.

Duvernoy acknowledged that a planet that long held hundreds of thousands of people now has “7 billion, on the way to 9 billion.” Paul had left by then so there wasn’t a faith perspective to answer but Snover observed that many young people are grappling with whether to have children, a contributing factor to “environmental grief and anxiety.” Climate change has a “mental health toll. ..It’s hard to grapple with the future that we see … no matter how optimistic we are about the changes we can make.”

Parting words:

Allala: “How can we come together to leverage our collective power to make the changes that we need?” That means the systemic change she and Snover had mentioned – including a better transportation system, so the choice isn’t for example between a long slow bus ride and a quicker (but more environmentally destructive) car trip.

Snover: Keep in mind the need to be gentle with ourselves in the choices we make … we don’t all have good choices. Do what you can. Some action is better than none. Real-world example – she has a friend who is vegan all week – then eats meat on the weekends. “It’s more than I do.”

Duvernoy: “We have a lot of work to do; let’s get it done.”

13 Replies to "Concerned but confused about climate-change action? This might help"

  • Richard Maloney October 7, 2019 (5:56 am)

    Sadly, we pay no more than lip service to the deteriorating environment.  Who is going to quit flying? Get rid of the car?  And the dog?  Who among us is willing to make the very considerable personal sacrifices necessary to having even a chance to save human kind?Government policies are essential to possibly delaying the demise.  But, even those of us who think we care are not willing to make the personal choices needed to make a difference.This is so sad, but never will we act as we must in order to reverse that which has been set in motion.

    • V.S, October 7, 2019 (11:56 am)

      “Never” is a long time. It is my fervent hope that we can change things, even if it’s just a little bit at a time. As was pointed out during this panel discussion, perhaps the biggest change we need is in our system of doing things, so that governments and corporations, as well as individuals, are working together to address the problems.

    • Nancy R. October 8, 2019 (10:42 am)

      We don’t have to “quit” flying.    But I find that I am taking fewer unnecessary trips now,  and I take the bus and water taxi a lot more.   There is a lot of each one of us can do personally.  But its true that we also need policy changes.    But I’m optimistic that with all of us working together,  we can make it happen.   Compare where we are now to where we were with the Tobacco industry 50 years ago.    First they denied a connection between smoking and cancer (parallel: global warming isn’t happening),  then said that the science wasn’t clear (it is now in both cases),  then said that it was a freedom issue-  each person had the right to smoke because each person has the right to decide and to live their lives.   In the case of climate change,   each person’s decision to pollute or advocate against carbon pollution policies,  affects the broader community.    Unlike tobacco in lungs,  the air that we breathe is a shared resource-  an externality in economic terms.   We need policies in place that incent us all to do the right thing.  

  • sc October 7, 2019 (8:18 am)

    “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;and a little child shall lead them.”Isaiah 11:6 

  • Eli's Mom October 7, 2019 (7:22 pm)

    Way to go Gresham!

  • Kathy October 7, 2019 (11:58 pm)

    I am behind the kids 100%. I am old, but I joined the kids in the Climate Strike and I also rode my bike in a Climate Action ride past City Hall to protest the foot dragging regarding installation of a safe connected bike route network throughout the city. I strongly encourage everyone who is able to do so to use “people power”  – walking or taking wheels (bike, scooter, skateboard, whatever) –  to get to their destinations inside the West Seattle peninsula. Consider a pedal assist e-bike that pulls a trailer to do your shopping. Or just walk with a shopping cart.  Nearly 60% of car trips are under 6 miles. That is an easily walkable or bikeable distance.  From the Alaska Junction to Downtown Seattle is under 6 miles.  Sadly, from the number of comments on today’s traffic story more people are interested  in removing bus only lanes to ease vehicle traffic than they are in finding other ways to get around.  There is far too much car traffic in West Seattle which leads to pollution, climate warming, and dangerous conditions for people walking and biking. How many of those car trips were absolutely necessary?If you want to get into using a bike and trailer to get around, Stu at Alki Bike and Board is a sustainability champion in our community and he can set you up with a cargo bike, manual or electric for help on the hills, and gear to make your ride safe, dry and comfortable. If you want to join the fight for safer routes for people biking and walking, you can get involved with West Seattle Bike Connections or Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. We would love to have some youth  engagement in those groups as a lot of our members are getting on in years including yours truly. 

    • B.W. October 8, 2019 (1:15 am)

      Thanks for biking. That’s my leisure activity. Biking in the rain to get to work is not for me. 

      • Kathy October 9, 2019 (11:14 am)

        My Irish friend used to ridicule me for popping out an umbrella for a little rain. She wanted to know why these big tough “macho” Americans were so afraid of a little rain. We are not witches, we won’t melt. Walking and biking in the rain is not unhealthy.  Still, if you want to stay dry, there are umbrellas, waterproof shoes, shopping carts with rain covers to carry your stuff, and rain gear designed for biking.  If you want to be part of the solution, you can take the Ride in the Rain statewide challenge:

  • anonyme October 8, 2019 (6:13 am)

    Never may be a long time, but forever – as in extinction – is even longer.   And the bible is part of the problem, not the solution.  Expecting governments, individuals, and even more laughably – corporations, to cooperate to solve the problem is a pipe dream, as is the fairly widely held belief that ‘God’ will intervene to save humanity (an ironic belief, given that humans have destroyed ‘his’ creation).  Most scientists agree we’ve already passed the tipping point, and most of our so-called leaders are Neros fiddling while Rome burns.  Real change would require strict, immediate, dramatic worldwide changes regulating vehicle structure and use, dietary changes that greatly reduce or eliminate livestock production, construction/heating/cooling switches to solar and newer technologies, and restrictions on human breeding.   None of that is likely to happen, and it needed to happen at least 10 years ago.  Richard is correct; people love to pay lip service to climate change.  But then they jump in their SUV’s and drive to Starbuck’s.  Climate change is only one aspect of the human-caused crisis that also involves severe depletion of resources (water, fish, forests), pesticide poisoning, pollution, and overpopulation.  You can “hope” all you want, but we’re cooked.  Literally.

  • ckc October 8, 2019 (1:27 pm)

    350Seattle ( another organization focused on the environment and our climate emergency. They have many people working on various aspects of the climate crisis. There are workgroups that focus on indigenous rights, transportation, fossil fuels, divestment from fossil fuels, frontline allies, and many more.  There are many ways to plug in!!

  • sally October 8, 2019 (5:03 pm)

    After he attended the Climate Change walk-out,  I asked my son about some of the things he had learned.  One of these things he mentioned was that he learned he should be angry, angry that the adults hadn’t made enough changes once they realized what was happening, and are still dragging their feet on doing more.   I accept that, and am glad he is still also hopeful.Thank you to the WSB and the forum speakers for sharing these concrete ideas.Hope the kids will hold us accountable.  I know in our family, we need to make tough choices and sacrifices. We can’t continue to take the easy way out when those choices are ones that impact the climate.  We all need to put the words into action.

  • Mike October 8, 2019 (10:41 pm)

    *cough* SF6 *cough*

  • Nancy R October 9, 2019 (11:06 am)

    As for the comment that we are “cooked” and there is nothing we should do,   I respectfully disagree.  Yes there is a “line” we may cross (if nothing significant is done) that will cause the planet to constantly warm forever.  But even if we OK with that,  the planet continues to warm further and faster if the current rate of carbon pollution continues.   At some point our children and their children will have to make significant lifestyle changes, more than just not driving an SUV to the Starbucks,  if we want the world to be inhabitable by humans and animals.   The good news is that these lifestyle changes are not actually that hard to do,  right now.   Our family has cut out about half of our flying.   The Northwest is a beautiful place to vacation,  and one can participate in many business meetings and conferences via the internet.     Our Northwest will also be absorbing many climate immigrants.   From a national perspective,  we are already seeing climate immigrants from South America come north because they are experiencing draught, their crops are failing,  and they cannot feed their children.    Desperate parents are willing to risk everything for the health of the children.    There are so many reasons why all of us should care about this issue, take whatever action you can personally, and advocate for clean energy policies.

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