Prof. Stephen Sipersteine, a climate change educator at the University of Oregon, reads and writes poetry as part of his difficult work. His poem:
Notes for a Lecture on Climate Change
Striding across campus
to an afternoon lecture, thinking
that I can change the world —
no, not the world, but maybe
adjust the lens so students will see
a little more clearly
the inner workings
of capitalism, colonialism,
power and climate –
then pausing beneath
cedars hundreds of years old
I begin to worry:
If only I were more prepared, more
patient, more compassionate, more
like someone I once believed
I would grow into.
When I arrive at class
I am afraid –
being stranded with nothing
in front of students who expect
answers to a wicked problem.
“But it can’t be solved!”
I want to scream.
“Let me tell you how
we have already lost
so many days not seeing
the weather change.”
Yet their faces do not say
Give us answers, or
Tell us the way.
They say, We are scared.
We are sad. See us
for who we are, here,
here on this day, in this
room, in this place.
Listen to us –
We will wait.
Can you imagine hearing yourself say these words or identify with these students?
I’ve been scared. I’ve been sad. I still am. Perhaps like me, you grieve the loss of how you’ve understood your place in the world in your lifetime. Or, perhaps you grieve the failings of the environmental movement of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s to adequately address climate change, and how we have continued to fail, as a society, to take timely action.
Joanna Macy, the Buddhist eco-philosopher, reminds us that we must honor our grief and not dismiss it. Only by experiencing our grief fully can we then begin, again, with gratitude for the gift of life itself to work towards viable solutions. Honoring our responsibility to alleviate the especially heavy burden climate change places on our kids, our young people and future generations requires we listen well.
Listen to the “climate kids” -- the 21 youth, ages 9 to 20 -- who filed a constitutional climate lawsuit against our federal government to secure the legal right to a stable climate. The US District Court judge has ordered that the case proceed to trial, denying the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry’s motions to dismiss the case. Similar cases have been filed in all 50 states and around the globe.
Listen to these “kids” – see them for who they are and what they face. Let us grant them generational justice and a livable climate.
Listen to young adult direct-action climate activists. I find Elizabeth Mount’s story particularly inspiring. Elizabeth, whose preferred pronouns are they, them and their, was one of the thirteen Greenpeace activists who hung from the St John’s bridge in Portland, Oregon in July 2015. These “danglers” effectively created a human drawbridge that blocked and delayed the passage of the icebreaker Fennica, which carried a critical piece of safety hardware to the Arctic where it was needed by Shell Oil in order to drill.
Elizabeth hung on ropes from the bridge for 40 hours and afterwards reflected:
The reality is that the climate has already begun to change noticeably and that we are going to be dealing with the storms, the refugees, and agricultural issues that come with those changes over the next few decades no matter what. That can be immensely frightening, or it can be a chance to really ponder what matters to us and what is most important.
Do I need all the personal items that make my footprint so big on this planet, or could I use networks of personal connection and mutual support that would mean material goods needn’t be as relevant in my life? What does it mean to substitute trust in human communities for personally having everything that I need to be comfortable independently? What would interdependence really look like?
No single day or single action is going to win this movement and nobody is going to be perfect. I know that I be can’t be inspiring all the time, but if each of us can be an inspiration sometimes, it might be enough to change everything. Because, as it turns out, in that time on the bridge, we did help change everything.
Shell pulled out of the Arctic Circle entirely by September.
Listen to our young adults, see them for who they are and what they face. Let us support them and work collaboratively in their fight for generational justice.
Listen well and then use your voice to amplify others’ voices, break climate silence, and echo environmental Bill McKibben’s voice us not to stand alone, but to join the climate movement.
Research tells us “only one in five Americans hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month” – one in five! – “and seven in ten Americans rarely or never discuss global warming with family and friends.” Having more conversations about climate change and its solutions with everyone we know is critical! Keeping those conversations focused on the immorality of inaction is a successful tactic to bring about change – the change we need in the future our kids, college students and young adults face.
As people of faith, our challenge is to listen well and use our voices to become keepers of a new hopeful story our young people envision, climate change educators, and climate justice activists.
After his last class, Prof. Siperstine wrote this poem:
On the Final Day
When the room emptied of your voices
I sat in the back row to read again
what you’d left behind -- visions, futures
scrawled across the blackboard:
Less consumption, less disease.
Trains of light connecting everywhere
to everywhere else. Justice and good food
for all creatures, a tiny house for each
to make its home. Lives of peace.
No war, no cages, no razor wire, no prisons
no corporate money, no student debt.
Instead more forgiveness, more love
more conversation, more compassion
more things powered by the sun.
Better education, interplanetary government,
spaces for wildness, for wonderment.
I wanted to leave your words
to instruct passerbys that what they think
can’t be, you choose to see, and offered free
unknowing the value of your gift.
Yet for some easy routine,
and thought that if not me
someone else surely would
I erased the board and walked out
into the long shadows of the late afternoon.
But your words stayed with me
in the gathering darkness, stayed then
and still do, and all this is just to say
Adapted from Earth Day 2017 worship service, CUUC