Climate Confident

The Power of Local: Small Actions, Big Impact on Climate Change

March 27, 2024 Tom Raftery / Laird Christensen Season 1 Episode 163
The Power of Local: Small Actions, Big Impact on Climate Change
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Climate Confident
The Power of Local: Small Actions, Big Impact on Climate Change
Mar 27, 2024 Season 1 Episode 163
Tom Raftery / Laird Christensen

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In this enlightening episode of the Climate Confident podcast, I, Tom Raftery, have the privilege of hosting Laird Christensen, the Graduate Director of two pivotal graduate programmes at Prescott College, focusing on Resilience, Sustainable Communities, and Environmental Studies. Laird shares his journey from environmental activism to fostering future leaders equipped to tackle the nuanced challenges of climate change through community engagement and sustainable practices.

Laird's insights shed light on the significant, yet often overlooked, intersection of climate activism with mental health and community resilience. He emphasises the necessity of local and personal actions amidst global environmental crises, underlining the power of grassroots movements and the importance of adapting our daily lives to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Furthermore, Laird touches on the critical role of emotional resilience for activists, introducing the concept of 'Active Hope' and the therapeutic potential of communal support in navigating the psychological toll of climate anxiety.

Our discussion also ventures into the realm of effective communication and political engagement, exploring how these can be leveraged to foster more inclusive and sustainable communities.

Join us as we unpack the layers of climate action beyond the technical solutions, highlighting the transformative potential of empathy, local initiatives, and personal accountability in crafting a more sustainable future.

Your feedback and thoughts are always welcome, so please don't hesitate to reach out via social media or email. Together, let's continue to explore and advocate for actionable solutions to climate change.

Also, don't forget to check out the video version of this epis

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Podcast supporters
I'd like to sincerely thank this podcast's amazing supporters:

  • Lorcan Sheehan
  • Hal Good
  • Jerry Sweeney
  • Andreas Werner
  • Devaang Bhatt
  • Stephen Carroll
  • Marcel Roquette
  • Roger Arnold

And remember you too can Support the Podcast - it is really easy and hugely important as it will enable me to continue to create more excellent Climate Confident episodes like this one.

Contact
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If you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover the show.

Credits
Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send me a message

In this enlightening episode of the Climate Confident podcast, I, Tom Raftery, have the privilege of hosting Laird Christensen, the Graduate Director of two pivotal graduate programmes at Prescott College, focusing on Resilience, Sustainable Communities, and Environmental Studies. Laird shares his journey from environmental activism to fostering future leaders equipped to tackle the nuanced challenges of climate change through community engagement and sustainable practices.

Laird's insights shed light on the significant, yet often overlooked, intersection of climate activism with mental health and community resilience. He emphasises the necessity of local and personal actions amidst global environmental crises, underlining the power of grassroots movements and the importance of adapting our daily lives to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Furthermore, Laird touches on the critical role of emotional resilience for activists, introducing the concept of 'Active Hope' and the therapeutic potential of communal support in navigating the psychological toll of climate anxiety.

Our discussion also ventures into the realm of effective communication and political engagement, exploring how these can be leveraged to foster more inclusive and sustainable communities.

Join us as we unpack the layers of climate action beyond the technical solutions, highlighting the transformative potential of empathy, local initiatives, and personal accountability in crafting a more sustainable future.

Your feedback and thoughts are always welcome, so please don't hesitate to reach out via social media or email. Together, let's continue to explore and advocate for actionable solutions to climate change.

Also, don't forget to check out the video version of this epis

What If? So What?
We discover what’s possible with digital and make it real in your business

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

Support the Show.

Podcast supporters
I'd like to sincerely thank this podcast's amazing supporters:

  • Lorcan Sheehan
  • Hal Good
  • Jerry Sweeney
  • Andreas Werner
  • Devaang Bhatt
  • Stephen Carroll
  • Marcel Roquette
  • Roger Arnold

And remember you too can Support the Podcast - it is really easy and hugely important as it will enable me to continue to create more excellent Climate Confident episodes like this one.

Contact
If you have any comments/suggestions or questions for the podcast - get in touch via direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn.

If you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover the show.

Credits
Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Laird Christensen:

The most important thing that we can do as climate activists, or people who are just concerned about climate, is to, to go through those steps, to recognize that we're not alone, and even if we're taking small steps that are easy for other people to diminish to say, Oh, that's, that's not going to do any good to know that well, yes, it's doing good because it's keeping me going to these meetings or sending these letters to my representatives or whatever it may be.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices in climate emission reductions and removals. And I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to episode 163 of the Climate Confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery. And before we kick off today's show, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude to all of this podcast's amazing supporters. Your support has been instrumental in keeping the podcast going. And I am really grateful for each and every one of you. If you're not already a supporter, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable with options starting as low as just three euros or dollars. That's less than the cost of a cup of coffee and your support. We'll make a huge difference in keeping the show going strong. To become a supporter you simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode. Or visit. Tiny url.com/climate pod. Now. Without further ado. With me on the show today, I have my special guest Laird. Laird, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Laird Christensen:

thank you so much, Tom. Sure. I am the Graduate Director for two graduate programs at Prescott College in the United States, a Master of Science in Resilience and Sustainable Communities and a Master of Science in Environmental Studies.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Superb. And Laird, how did you get into sustainability day one? Cause it's not a science that has been around for a particularly long time. I remember when I was in university, the closest we had to anything like it was ecology, and I'm guessing, I'm, I'm guessing it's an out branch from that or a branch of that now, maybe not. Tell me how did you get into it and what's your background?

Laird Christensen:

Yeah, well, that was certainly the case for me. I started off as an environmental activist way back in the day working in defense of ancient forests out in the Pacific Northwest, which is my home bioregion. And for most of my career, I was focused primarily on the preservation of wild spaces. And it was only when the impacts of global climate change on those forests that I loved so much and I would try to get out as far as I could, you know, away from any human influence that I could. But before long I was starting to see the impacts on those forests and recognizing that the best way to begin to defend those forests in this time is to begin to work with people in cities and reconsider the way that people go about their business as usual and hopefully begin to limit the impacts of carbon emissions on the climate. So I come from that place of a real sense of belonging or at least a sense of safety that I've always felt in wild spaces. And I recognize that that is a privilege, and we can talk about that more later if you would like to. But I feel like I'm still doing the same work, I've just had to go about it in different ways and train people. Provide the skills and knowledge that they need to help transform human societies one community at a time.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And what kind of impacts were you seeing happen on the old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest?

Laird Christensen:

Yeah, we're seeing a lot of impact with die offs of different species either because of of drought or because of diseases that are able to spread more easily. And we see this throughout North America as well that the the natural spread of some blights and other diseases is accelerated by the weakening of ecosystems due to climate change, due to drought, so you can travel through northeastern Oregon, southeastern Washington and see just massive areas, ridge after ridge of trees that have turned reddish brown as they've they're either close to death or dying, and it's it has impacts on so many species within those forests as well. So, it's, it's still, for me, it started as a form of forest defense. But over the years, working with really inspirational students who are addressing different aspects of the current climate crisis in their communities, I've really become excited about other aspects of that job. But that is where it started for me.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And tell me a little bit about how you can work to mitigate the damage of climate change.

Laird Christensen:

Yeah, well, it is as I mentioned, a global problem and it requires global solutions and those global solutions tend to be determined at the international level through the for example, the COP meetings, the representatives of different governments, as well as increasingly the representation of large corporations, and more promising, the representation of people who have suffered loss and damages from climate change. So there's that sphere of activity which Is absolutely essential to reaching agreements on how we can begin to lessen the effects of climate change. But as I think we all know, that process is inescapably tangled up in larger political and economic factors that really leave us somewhat disempowered. If we saw that as the only way forward we would be spending all of our time figuring out how do we try to convince this representative from that nation to agree to this this fund for loss and damages and that sort of thing. And I'm so glad that we have people doing that work. I'm also so glad that it's not me. And so instead I get to work with students primarily in their own communities because there are local and regional manifestations of climate change and some of the ways that we can look at local and regional responses suggest changes in policy. Some of them suggest changes in lifestyle. Some of them require really fundamental transformations in the way that we see ourselves as humans living in human cultures. And those kinds of solutions, adaptation solutions, can be very long term. So at the same time that I'm trying to help students identify ways in the short term of reducing carbon emissions, we're also thinking about what's going to have to happen for us to become the kinds of communities that, for example, are willing to open our doors to other people who have been displaced by the impacts of our emissions here in North America or in Europe or other places as well. And that really requires, as I said, a fundamental transformation of how we see ourselves in relation to other people. And what would it mean to create a culture that is more welcoming and able to, to help heal the damage that we've caused. That's a, that's a huge that's a huge project. It won't take place in my generation, but if we can take small steps toward it and every time I get a new batch of students in, and then they go out into the world after earning their degree, picking up these skills and knowledge, they're hopefully influencing other people as well. As a former community organizer, as well as an environmental activist, I have to believe that that's where much of the change actually occurs, is in the face to face interactions that people have with other members of their communities.

Tom Raftery:

Fascinating, because I come from a, I studied biology in university, but I come from a tech background professionally. And, you know, for me, I'm used to changing a line of code here and seeing an instant response in, in the output. And you're talking about changes that'll take decades before they start to really show any results. Changing, I, I've said it many times, changing technology is easy, changing people is much, much, much harder. And you're talking about people being welcoming to migrants, for example, which is quite a hot political topic at the moment, because it seemed the tide seems to be going in the opposite direction. How do we make that change so that people do become more welcoming? Because the, the numbers are massive. We saw with the Syrian civil war, something like 5 million Syrian refugees enter Europe. And the ripples of that are still, still being felt, you know, over 10 years later, and that's 5 million. We're talking about a lot of countries in Africa, in Southeast Asia, in even parts of Latin and Central America becoming unlivable and literally hundreds of millions of, of refugees coming to countries where the climate is more livable. How do we deal with those kind of numbers and how do we change people to become, in your terms, more welcoming?

Laird Christensen:

I appreciate that question. There are a couple of things I'd like to touch on in answering it, and I'll begin with the technology piece of that, because there's no doubt in my mind that we need, the advances in technology that help provide alternatives to fossil fuel produced energy. And this is forcing all kinds of uncomfortable negotiations between folks like me who've been in the environmental movement for a long time where we have to, for example, consider that nuclear energy, which was just a no brainer 30 years ago, 40 years ago, that because of the, the waste, that's not something we should be producing. And now we have to acknowledge the fact that it is an alternative that produces less carbon or, or potentially even no carbon. So it's been really interesting to watch my fellow activists go through the contortions that allow us to say, okay, we need some big tech solutions, and also that to have these big tech solutions, we need the funding to do that, which means that some solutions are going to emerge out of a an economic model that probably at least half of my students would say this is a dysfunctional model. This economic model is in fact at the, at the root of the problems that we're facing now. So we need to revise our economy our economic practices and visions and priorities in addition to that. These are two problems that seem to be at odds with each other. And some of my students find themselves strongly on the Extinction Rebellion side we need to dismantle these processes right now, while other students of mine are going to work for government agencies and for corporations and looking into technological solutions. And sometimes they bang heads. But I do want to suggest that I think both of these well intentioned actions are necessary. And that when we see people trying to drive a wedge between people who express their concern and their, and take action in different ways, that's not doing us any good. Michael Mann, who's been in the news a lot recently, in his book, The New Climate Wars looks deeply into the industrial forces that are behind driving those wedges between different elements of the climate justice community. So, I would start by saying that, yes, there's an obvious disconnect between these two ways of approaching the problem, but if we dwell on the differences, we're losing momentum. Now in terms of how we potentially can become the kinds of people who can be welcoming to other people who've been displaced by our own activities, it requires a an evolution of values, of course, but even more so in this particular day and age, it requires a different approach to communication. We are so polarized, certainly in the in the US, but I see it in Europe as well. And I imagine it's happening in other parts of the world, where we're not able to find common ground anymore and frequently that very idea of common ground is equivalent to political failure and that's too bad you know, the old model the democratic model where sides would come together and make compromises to find common ground now it seems almost historic. Yeah, we used to do things that way, and that was the, that was the engine by which the clumsy mechanism of democracy moved forward in incremental paces. But now we find ourselves not willing to make those compromises. So when I've done this work with students myself, and I've taught a course called Communicating Across Differences Around the Resettlement of Syrian Refugees in a city in Vermont we started with the practice of nonviolent communication. And this is a part of my background as a community organizer, along with consensus facilitation. But non violent communication recognizes that a lot of the patterns through which we communicate with one another are, in fact antithetical to, A, really hearing the other person, B, being able to find empathy for that person. I can continue to tick these off, but to be able to echo back to them what they've said so they know they're being heard and then to express or to ask questions that may lead toward another possible way of seeing things. It's a long, complicated, and very vulnerable process that people who are motivated by one upsmanship by the need to win an argument, they're going to continue to manifest those harmful, I guess, communication patterns. But it begins by listening and acknowledging. And so, in the case right now, we've got a I think a somewhat manufactured political crisis around immigration on our southern border and it's easy for people on the various sides of the issues just to point fingers and say, this is ridiculous, why are they worried about that or whatever it may be. And instead what we need to be doing is It's training people to listen and to ask the questions and gain trust by doing so. What are your concerns? How are you feeling about this? How does it feel to you compared to the way it felt living in this place where you were younger? So that whole first stage is really listening. Helping them feel heard and helping them understood. And then that clears the table for potentially asking those questions that take us into other possibilities. When I was doing this work back in Vermont with the Syrian refugees, my students and I met with a leader of the group that had organized against allowing Syrian refugees to settle in that city. And at the end of our listening session with him he was, he was in tears. And he said you know, I've not felt like anyone has heard me. And I feel so often demonized by my neighbors that it's been really painful. And we never really needed to even move past that point with this gentleman because what we were doing is we were creating a website where we tried to represent as accurately as possible, the different perspectives of people around this issue and his honest feelings, his honest fears. That's all we really needed from him. But in feeling heard he, he was transformed and, and we were transformed. It became impossible then for us to see him in a two dimensional way anymore. This man who had shed tears with us after this conversation. That's not the whole solution. That's just where it starts, but it suggests how something that can happen at the personal level or at the community level that begins to move us towards a possibility of becoming a more welcoming culture.

Tom Raftery:

Sure, sure. But something like that. I mean, how do you measure success of a program like that? And how well does it scale? Which is an even bigger issue given, you know, the, the, the number of immigrants, refugees, whatever, that's going to scale.

Laird Christensen:

It's a really good question, and I think the scale is a part of the problem, and I think that the media is a part of the problem, and by that I don't necessarily mean the corporate media, as much as I'm thinking about social media as well. And one of the problems, and I see this, I just this past week was leading a discussion with my students about ways that they were comfortable engaging in their with their communities, and the most common response was through social media, and that led to a conversation about the ways in which social media creates, yes, an opportunity for communication, but not the kind of communication that involves being sensitive to the responses of people who may question you or may disagree with you. It's very different to post your feelings online than it is to actually go to a community meeting, for example, about a contentious topic. And to really listen and to be able to show other people that you've heard them, to be able to express your own views, not out of a sense of demonstrating Why you're right or why you're morally superior, but this is how it looks to me. There's actually something almost postmodern about that position of being able to see a contentious issue from multiple points of view. To admit, for example, I don't know what this might look like to you if you've had this experience, but based on my experience, it looks like this. So I suppose that's a level of scaling up right from individual conversations to going to community meetings. But how that begins to manifest itself at the, at the national level, at the international level there are so many other factors in, in this system that mitigate against open, honest, vulnerable communication, that I'm not quite sure what that looks like. And so what we see as we did At the most recent COP meeting when we finally were able to see a little progress towards loss and damages for people whose homes have been devastated by the impacts of climate change, you know, we've created a budget now. It's a tiny step forward. And largely that was based, I think, on a response to a civil, I wouldn't call it civil disobedience, but Activism. In your face activism. Both at COP, but also around the world in capitals and cities and other places, people saying look, we have to accept responsibility for what we've done in creating these impacts that have harmed or displaced these people. It's small steps, and that's one of the problems, Tom, is that the pace of damage. Being caused by climate change is completely different than the pace of the solutions and in leaning on my friendship with climate scientists and policy folks. I have accepted the idea that the most urgent thing that we could be doing right now is keep it in the ground. We have to do whatever we can to to lower our carbon emissions and eventually get to zero carbon emissions. That's, that's the urgent work. Everything else takes place at a different pace. So right now, for example, I'm here in southwest Virginia. In the United States where there is a pipeline, a natural gas pipeline that is being, that's running from the hills of West Virginia on down to North Carolina, right through Right through the National Forest, where I work as a trail steward right now, and there's strong civil disobedience, strong resistance to that, people being thrown in jail every, every day it seems like, some people in jail without bail still. Those are such heroes to me, the, the water protectors, the pipeline protesters, and one thing I learned years ago while working in forest activism was that for agencies to begin to change the way that they do things. The politicians have to create different expectations for them. And the politicians respond to public displays of outrage, or pressure, or lack of campaign funding, or whatever it may be. So it's this convoluted loop that's really unfortunate, and there are all of these opportunities for misbehavior in that loop. But it starts with the outrage, impacts the political system, impacts the policies, and then we can get to a place where, for example clear cutting of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest was pretty much came to an end, at least on public lands. But that took years, and we don't have years now. And in fact, I was just looking at some reports this morning. We just had the hottest February on record. Over 1. 7 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels, which gets us past the 1. 5 that we've been using as a benchmark that we need to stay under. And it seems to me, I'm sorry to say it, that because we're not able to put on the brakes quickly enough in terms of carbon emissions, and we are beginning to move past these benchmarks. We will continue to see, increasingly damaging impacts of climate change, which I suppose the best case scenario is that experiencing those impacts will lead people to demand political accountability, political change, but not at the pace that we need. So, More than ever, and I'll just make a quick transition here. You know, I've had students dealing with the impact of climate anxiety, especially over the last few years, and it seemed to emerge around the same time as the the, the pandemic and the kinds of fears and vulnerability people felt during that period. And out of that, we also see this Sustained feeling of despair and helplessness around a problem that is so vast that the magnitude of the problem suggests that there's nothing you can do about this as an individual. Sure, you can ride your bike instead of driving your car, that sort of thing, but that's not going to make much difference. Well, in working with students and trying to help them become more emotionally resilient as they do this work I turned to an old mentor, Joanna Macy whose work with Chris Johnstone has been published in a book and an online training called Active Hope, and they make the point early on that hope is a practice in, say, the Buddhist sense of the word. It's not something that you just have. I'm a hopeful person. It's something that you cultivate over a period of time. And I began to offer these sessions with my students through colloquia and teach ins and that sort of thing where we move through the Act of Hope steps and step one is acknowledging things that you're grateful for because that puts us in a position of resilience when we recognize, oh, there are some good things in my life and I want to give thanks for those. The next step, which is always very jarring is honoring our pain for the world. It sounds counterintuitive to honor the pain, but when we recognize that the pain that we feel, the grief, the anxiety, the anger, is basically a signal, a negative feedback loop from the system that is alerting us that we need to change our course. It's the warning bell on the Titanic you know, heading for the iceberg, that we recognize, okay, this feels horrible, but it serves an absolutely essential function and I want to honor that function. That's a transitional step for a lot of people. The third and the fourth step are really about how do we move forward. Seeing with new eyes is the third step where we begin to look around us and find examples of other people doing the work that needs to be done. We take inspiration from them. We begin to see ourselves as part of what Paul Hawkins calls the largest social movement in the history of humanity. And then the fourth step is to take action. And those actions can take place at very small steps. That may not seem like they're likely to have an impact on global carbon emissions, for example but we are empowered when we take action, and that empowerment, along with the rest of this process, allows us to keep from being so discouraged that we just disengage. So, the most important thing that we can do as climate activists, or people who are just concerned about climate, is to, to go through those steps, to recognize that we're not alone, and even if we're taking small steps that are easy for other people to diminish to say, Oh, that's, that's not going to do any good to know that well, yes, it's doing good because it's keeping me going to these meetings or sending these letters to my representatives or whatever it may be. Small scale change, slow change, slower than we need, but it needs to be happening as the other more immediate types of action are also happening.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, it's interesting. I've published 160 something episodes of this podcast and several times the topic of climate anxiety, for example, has come up and I think you're the first, if I'm right, person to talk about how to self care in that kind of situation and the steps you should take. And of course it is hugely important. One of the reasons I set up this podcast was so that I would be hearing good climate news stories at least once a week so that I wouldn't be going into a kind of a fetal position on the floor with tears streaming down my face kind of thing. So kind of, it, it, it, it is interesting. I, I understand what you mean as well. Just doing small steps yourself. Sure. It can feel like it doesn't make a difference in the grand scheme of things, but it does to me, or it does to you, if you do make those changes or take some steps. Yeah, I can see your point. Makes it makes a lot of sense.

Laird Christensen:

And it also provides opportunities for people to gather together in small communities. Having lived in, in small villages and in larger cities. I really appreciate the, the notion of, of human scale functions, and some of the functions that were traditionally provided by human societies have been shunted off as we've moved towards increasing independence in the modern world and Yuval Harari talks about this in the book Sapiens where we basically made a trade off at some point for us to be able to leave the little village where our family had already lived and no longer be seen as the butcher's son or whatever and to be able to go and find the world that that really makes us or find the life that really makes us feel fulfilled. We had to give up some things and those things that we've given up. The traditional functions of community are largely filled in by either the state or the market right now. So we seek these I guess these nourishing aspects, whether it's health care whether it is, community relations, whether it's a sense of personal identity. We, we, we express our personal identity by what we buy, what we wear, that sort of thing. So the market has subsumed that. But in fact, when we find ourselves in times of crisis, and this became, very obvious during the pandemic with the emergence of mutual aid groups around cities, making sure that folks who were not able to leave their homes were getting food, were getting medicine, that sort of thing. It was so inspiring to me. Finding these opportunities in the time of crisis to gather together with friends. Three friends, five friends, ten, ten friends. And, for example, to share our fears and anxieties, to bring them out into the open, where they no longer can just fester within us, and to find out, Oh, I'm not the only person who feels this way. There is a therapeutic function in that. And then to move on where people can share examples that they know of other folks who are doing inspiring work, whether that's getting arrested at a pipeline or whether that's going to COP26 or whatever it may be. And then recognizing, okay, what can we do together and putting it out there in a way that we are held accountable to it in a different way. And it may be something as simple as you know, I'm going to try not to drive my car on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I don't need to, or I'm going to write a letter to this representative, or whatever that may be. When we come out of that together we are re embedded in the oldest form of human community that strengthens us. We're no longer alone and not being alone. We're no longer disempowered in the same way. It doesn't have to be that many people. I've actually heard of folks going through something kind of similar with grief, grief cafes or death cafes or something like that, where people get together to share the experiences that they've had over losing a loved one. And they come out of that feeling supported, feeling stronger. So that's a part, that's something that can happen, really, in any community, if you're willing to be vulnerable enough to reach out to folks and say, Listen, I'm feeling really overwhelmed by this and I think it would be great if, if you would join me and a few friends and we'll go have a cup of tea together and reflect on this. That's the way that it feels most comfortable. The way that I see it, as somebody who's studied the sociology of religion and that sort of thing, is these are rituals that we do to to ground us and to empower us.

Tom Raftery:

So it's kind of group therapy for climate activists, Climate Anonymous, if we want to call it that.

Laird Christensen:

I love that. Yeah. Absolutely. And there are multiple opportunities for things like that. It can even happen in the first 10 minutes of a meeting for, for another purpose. Let's just take a few minutes and share our, what we're most concerned about. Now let's think of somebody who inspires us, that sort of thing.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Okay. And of course, if you're doing it locally, the solutions you come up with locally will be for local issues. And that's empowering as well, because if you are solving local issues, you actually see progress.

Laird Christensen:

Exactly, sometimes I'll have students who live in very large urban areas, and they tend to feel much more disempowered than folks living in smaller towns. And in those cases, I'll frequently suggest that they try to identify something at the neighborhood level. Because that ability to take action and have an effect is so empowering and can scale up from there. And maybe it's not individually anymore. Maybe you have several neighborhood communities working together to create a change. And, you know, that's one of the, when I think about the skills and knowledge that people coming through my graduate program pick up along the way, one of the things is knowledge about how policy works in their own communities. Obviously, there's international climate policy, which is a whole other issue. but let's say, for example, that you wanted to take out your lawn and turn your, your front lawn, your front yard into a garden. What are these zoning ordinances in place? What are the regulations in place that might prevent you from doing that? And because my students are all over the world in these online classes, they're sharing with each other what they're finding out about those policies. They're seeing first that, hey, the way things are done in my community is not the only way they can be done. Second, they're seeing examples from other students that may be inspiring. And third, they're also learning what are the processes by which existing regulations can be changed. What, what channels would I have to go through? So it's a step by step empowerment to making change at the local level. At the national and international level, because we have to rely on really inefficient political systems. It may be that some people decide the best thing that they could do is to try to restructure or revision the political system so that for example, personal contributions aren't skewing the system towards people being elected to those positions who may not have the best interest of constituents at heart. So campaign finance reform may not seem like an obvious task for climate activists, but it very much is. And I tell students, you know, trust that you are going to feel called individually to a particular kind of action. And don't worry too much about whether that focus distracts you from other things that you could be doing. Trust that other people are going to be called in those directions. Pay attention to what each other's doing. Support one another in those actions. Be a good ally. But, but listen to what feels most urgent to you and and find a way to, to make a change in that area.

Tom Raftery:

Cool. Laird. This has been fascinating. Most of the episodes I've done in the podcast, we've been, you know, talking about technical solutions, whereas we're really talking more around the lines of mental health, if you want, and, and moving people's mindset rather than any, any big technical changes. So it's been a, a fascinating conversation. As I say, we're coming towards the end of the podcast. So is there any question I didn't ask that you wish I did, or any aspect of this we haven't covered off that you think it's important for people to be aware of?

Laird Christensen:

I think I would return for just a moment to the resettlement of people displaced by climate change, which, as you mentioned, we're probably looking at hundreds of millions of people by 2050. And when we imagine what that might look like to open our own communities to people who've been displaced by the impacts of our daily life what would have to change for that to become a welcoming community? And we've talked about this a little bit just in terms of the communications in a polarized setting, but I guess that I would say there are other ways to become more functional communities that opens the door potentially for making decisions like that, that some people, people would find very threatening. And a part of that is, is simply to function as a community with people that you may disagree with politically. I had an experience in a small town, Vermont, where I lived for a while, where I was playing bluegrass music weekly at a little jam. And the people who would come to that jam came from all different walks of life. Carpenters, mechanics, artisans, teachers, that sort of thing. We played music together. And often we didn't even know how much we might disagree about some of the fundamental political issues of our time. But we function together and there's something about playing music where you're harmonizing or you're filling in spaces that is very much an example of people working together as a community. And I became good friends with people who I would probably not have spoken with if we had started from a place of politics. And so I would say at the most basic community level finding opportunities to engage in a friendly fashion with other people who are a part of your community so that it makes it harder for them to see you as the villain. And it makes it harder for you to see them as the villain. And instead you see yourself as two people, working from different experiences, engaging with different media, that leads you to come to different solutions. But it's a very different situation to say, this person has made a different decision than I have, than it is to say, this person is evil. You know? So I really potlucks are a wonderful way, neighborhood potlucks that might bring people together. There are skills that we can learn that allow us to set guidelines in place that help us avoid some of the contentious issues that might arise. And for some people it's all about being contentious. It's like, there's that person, look at the hat he's wearing. I can, I can tell his politics. I'm going to get in his face. That doesn't do anyone any good at all. Take off the hat, you know. Sit down next to somebody. Find out what they do for a living. Find out. You know, something about their family, Catherine Hayhoe, climate scientist who wrote the book, Saving Us a couple years ago, because she comes from a fundamentalist Christian background. Her book is really useful. Excuse me in providing models of ways for talking with people who are skeptical or antagonistic to the the science of climate change. I would recommend that book highly and we use it in a couple of our classes. We need to, we need to start by being good neighbors, being good family. Having conversations that allow us to build real relationships, and then on top of that, we can begin doing the work of long term cultural evolution.

Tom Raftery:

Sure, sure, sure, sure. Fascinating. Laird, if people would like to know more about yourself or any of the things we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?

Laird Christensen:

Well, I guess, probably the page for my graduate program, the Master of Science in Resilience and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College. They can contact me through that. My email is there and I welcome the chance to talk to people individually. I've got a LinkedIn profile as well if folks just want to know more and see other podcasts or videos or that sort of thing that I do. But yeah, please send them to that link. I'd love to hear from folks.

Tom Raftery:

I'll put those two links here, LinkedIn and that page in the show notes of this episode so people can find them there. Fantastic. Laird, that's been really interesting. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.

Laird Christensen:

Thanks for having me, Tom. It's been fun.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to tomraftery at outlook. com or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.

(Cont.) The Power of Local: Small Actions, Big Impact on Climate Change

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