Why Aren’t WE Talking About Climate Change?

In the past, I’ve asked Friends (Quakers) in interest groups, what makes addressing climate change difficult? I’ve heard about fears and guilt, a sense of being overwhelmed. People talked of resentment that we need to change, and a feeling that living with less means deprivation.

I recently asked two Quaker lists why WE aren’t talking about climate change though James Hansen and so many other climatologists give stark warnings about the consequences of failing to act rapidly and radically.

I appreciate how much people opened up about this. The same ideas, different wordings, apply to struggling in our religious and public lives, in our families, with our legislators.

We must find ways to talk about climate change, as a group, or we won’t find ourselves on the paths to serve God, won’t find ways to address the largest challenges of our lifetime.

One difficulty is that we are unused to talking seriously about this kind of topic, and not sure what to say. Even though I have been leading interest groups for years, writing and teaching, I share this feeling. Many are used to posting articles or links. We are not used to delving into the problems, producing the solutions. When we do produce solutions, they sometimes have the feeling of straw in their eye, log in mine – we can find much wrong with what others are doing, particularly the government. But we don’t see our carbon behavior, or that we fail to visit our legislators, that we are not teaching and writing and making videos and finding creative ways to engage the public and teach children and, well, we’re not addressing it either.

Many of us have no one at home or work to process the ideas with. This can leave us lonely with our thoughts. And such frightening thoughts.

A second concern expressed was the tone of our discussions. Too often people with particular interests hijack them, people who seem unwilling to listen, to investigate, to question. These bombastic posts make it harder for us to feel tender, to feel hurt and hopeless, so that we can move through this stage, so that we can find ways to contribute.

On one list, the hijackers deny that climatologists know what’s what, or try to shift every discussion to pseudo-economics. In other places, people may have different favorites, such as scientists and the government are wrong (evolution), or scientists and the government are wrong (nuclear power and transgenic crops). Each of us knows countless other examples.

A third concern is how to go about educating ourselves. The preferred method is to post yet another article, another link. Seeing information, sometimes even the same information many times, is crucial. The Chinese have a saying, that we need to see a horse three times before we know it’s real.

But we want to do more: to make the transition from reading the news to understanding what is important, looking at our feelings, finding methods, perhaps methods that make us uncomfortable, to respond.

A fourth concern is that some want to stay with current activities, such as the ever-elusive world peace. I have no objection to other problems being addressed! But we cannot claim that as long as we attend to something, anything, we attend to climate change. Honesty is important.

Many of us are already doing much. There is more that we can do. Our future contributions may not be what we expect now. We grow, we learn, with time and experience. We contribute more slowly and more richly than we could have imagined. But only if we begin.

Frequently we are told that all we need to do is write our legislator, sign this petition, buy that car or lumber or coffee. But real solutions require time. They require love for the Earth, for those who follow us, because why else would we give of our time? Why else would we sacrifice our favorite response, our favorite ways of being, to do what’s right?

What are your ideas?

I considered some of the complexities in a previous post as well.

One Response to “Why Aren’t WE Talking About Climate Change?”

  1. Susan Morse says:

    I think that there are two issues that we might look at when trying to convey the urgency of global warming and seek solutions among Quakers. One the the way that the issue is “framed.” There has been discussion elsewhere about the fact that ‘the environment’ does not communicate the essential web of life (our lives) which we are talking about. It is not just a nice cause, it is as some Christian groups call it, Caring for Creation. I have searched for other ways to ‘sell’ the issue…the medical model…life support systems…the basics…air, water. Perhaps when we are reminded that the ‘environment is us” not outside of us, it will help. Everything is connected to the health of our life system (environment): health care, poverty, war…
    A second consideration would be further developing the art of deliberation as opposed to argument. I teach argument, and my course used to include debate, until I investigated the power of deliberation. One interesting source is the book by Deborah Tannan, called the Argument Culture, which helps one realize how opposition prevades our lives.