Climate change activism needs anybody

Neighbors find common ground in fighting global warming

 

I’ve made some unlikely new friends since becoming a climate-change activist. One of them is an 83-year-old retired engineer who is passionate about electric vehicles and doesn’t shy away from an argument. Another is a dairy farmer turned college student, who is so quiet it’s hard to know what he is thinking. Others include a retired pilot, a graduate student in economics and a retired science teacher, who are all still puzzles to me, as well as a guy who works at a homeless shelter and gets everywhere by bicycle, although he lives at the end of a long steep road in the soggy Pacific Northwest.

There is not a single person I would have identified as obvious friend material. I do not mean this unkindly, and in fact, they have taught me a thing or two about what this movement needs to succeed.

Two years ago, when I decided to launch a chapter of the nonprofit Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I pictured working with people I already knew and liked, or at least people I would be easily comfortable with because we had so much in common. But instead of my friends coming to the monthly meetings and lingering afterward to socialize, strangers filled my living room. Not only that, these strangers made me nervous.

I didn’t feel equipped to run meetings with these people. Many of them were retired men. Was the radical guy judging me for being too mainstream, the moderate guy thinking me too far left, the detail-oriented engineer criticizing my poor leadership skills, the cyclist disliking my two-car family?  I hated being in charge, worried no one would show up to the next meeting, and felt awkward and self-conscious. I nearly quit. 

Then about eight months in, I began to see that we did have one thing in common.  We all understood that we are living in extraordinary times, and that everything we needed and loved was at risk. We all wanted — or perhaps needed — to do something about it. Some of us were cynical, some optimistic, some moderate, some radical, some angry, some just searching. 

But we were united because we had all reached a threshold and knew that we had to take action. People said, “We work on climate for our children. We do it because not doing it would leave us with a world of regret. We do it because there is a chance taking action might make things better. We do it because living an ethical life requires it.” We might not have used the exact same words, but I understood that we felt the same way.

This awareness allowed me to stop worrying about whether these people liked me and whether I liked them. If they would come to the next meeting, help write the next letter, plan the next event, lobby a congressman, that was what mattered.

It’s a sad fact that we humans like to band together with people who share our views, values and politics to fight a common enemy. You can see this in our communities and our statehouses, and most dramatically, in our national politics. In recent years, the Republicans have been bound together by their hatred of Obama; the Democrats by their hatred of the Koch brothers and their contempt for the Republican Congress. I wanted to join with my friends to fight climate change, but my friends didn’t want to come to the meetings. So I had to find other people, and they had to adapt to me, too.

Our common enemy today is the destabilizing climate. If we can’t get over our clannishness and unite as humans to stabilize the climate and adapt to the changes we’ve already set in motion, we will all fall together. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby I’ve chosen to work with is nonpartisan, and I was drawn to that approach. Yet I had my own clannishness to overcome. 

Now, every time the engineer, the student, the pilot, or the science teacher arrives at a meeting or volunteers for a task, I feel gratitude.  I still don’t know them the way I know my close friends, and they don’t really know me. Yet as long as they want to help fight climate change, I am truly happy to see them.

As a conflict-avoiding introvert, I’ve spent most of my life carefully choosing who I spend time with.  Now, I’m ready to join forces with anyone who wants to work on stabilizing Earth’s climate. Anyone at all is welcome -- you are all on my team, you are all my friends. I think the future of humanity may depend on it.

Carla Wise is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News (hcn.org). She is an environmental writer who lives in Oregon and volunteers with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which has 200 chapters around the country.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • SENIOR ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking a Senior Environmental Planner to lead the Nature in the City team. This interdisciplinary position is housed in...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) is seeking a dynamic community engagement assistant. The individual will work to identify and empower members, supporters, volunteers, and others...
  • VOICES OF WISDOM 2019 SOUTHWEST
    May 25 & 26 At the bank of the Colorado River, at Riverbend Park in Palisade, Colorado, the Sacred Fire Community in the Grand Valley...
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney