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.”
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.”