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How Was Your Trip to Scotland? they ask… Climate Justice is What I Want to Share

How was the conference?, so many folks have asked as a normal, kind pleasantry. They know I attended the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland only a couple weeks ago. I’m nervous to say too much as I am afraid I will get emotional and share my anger about the climate crisis and lack of justice too overtly. Yet, I go ahead and tell them it was intense, overwhelming, eye opening, and quite the opportunity to get to be there. I ask them if they caught either of the last weeks’ local newspaper article or the editorial I authored, and very few have read them which disappoints me yet I understand as I too do not read everything in every weeks' paper. I spent a lot of time crafting the editorial and the process of reflecting and writing was rather therapeutic for me to work through so many ideas, emotions, and feelings after attending the UN Climate Change Conference.

Relating my experience to people in my community seems so challenging. Perhaps it is because I am still trying to process through this deeply moving experience that has shaken my worldview at the heartstrings. Understanding how to hold the weight and gravity of the current global crisis of climate in-justice is really tough. Now, being back home in one of the most affluent areas of America that constantly encourages excess and the ‘culture of more’, trying to figure out how to talk about the immediacy of dramatically reducing consumption is seemingly impossible. During the last 15 years of living, working, and volunteering in this community I cannot remember a time when I have ever heard community leaders speak of ‘climate justice’ explicitly. Yet, beyond this bubble, out in the the world of climate change leaders and activists it is THE most important conversation.

The message I want to share is not already being shared by others who I hear or see in this community. I am afraid of being seen as being too radical or off the rails. I don’t know who I can trust to have these conversations and not be disregarded or loose my credibility as a respected environmental educator. And, I am environmental educator who is committed to teaching people about climate change; yet I am confused and upset that I find sharing about this experience of attending COP26 so difficult. I feel alone in this in my local community.

What I want to share with people are the views and perspectives I had never witnessed myself until these last few weeks: the deep pain of the people of the Global South, the realities of climate refuges’ lives, the concept and examples of 'false solutions', my new understanding of the irreversible wounds of carbon colonialism, and the tremendous momentum and power among women, indigenous, and young people rising up.

I want others to really understand the work I have been committed to and why it’s critical today. Climate change action and empowerment education is the thing I have been doing. This is different than just teaching climate science literacy. For the past 5 years, I have been teaching young people how to see themselves as essential members of the community where they live, that their public health and environmental concerns are valid, that their voices are needed, and how to step up and take action and communicate with policy makers. So few educators are encouraged or supported to take on this work. So many do not yet have the skills or courage to risk doing this most important work of our time, teaching the skills of civic participation to all students. Yet, public education in America was founded on the principle of teaching people how to be active citizens in a democratic society.

I also want to share where I get my grounding to continue to do this work: my family, my faith in God, my regular spiritual practice, time in nature, and inspiration from radical world leaders including Jesus, the saints (of the past and living among us today), the Christian mystics, and others all of whom work(ed) and fought for justice for all people. I show up every day in a very secular world and never talk about my spiritual life with my colleagues, students, or friends; yet perhaps we should all talk about this a bit more openly as it may help other climate change empowerment leaders realize that many of their colleagues also rely on their personal spirituality and then perhaps fewer people would feel so alone.

In this sharing I also want to those in my community who are also genuinely committed to climate justice work to come out of the woodwork and introduce themselves to me. I want to build and belong to a community of strong, grounded, authentic friends who are at a similar stage of awareness and engagement to live into this journey forward together. This is our life’s most important work.

And I’m still not sure what in the heck I am going to share with the local Rotary Club chapter next week about my experience at COP26…


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