I was chatting with a few friends last night—writing friends, not ‘climate change’ friends. We got sidetracked by the heat and instead of talking about writerly things, we commiserated about the fires, drought, and dying trees. We talked about how climate change is here now, and not some abstract notion in the distant future.
One friend said, ‘what should we do?’ I heard the sadness and fear in her voice. ‘How should we be living?’ She asked. ‘Should we fly less? Stop eating meat, put solar panels on our roofs?’
I call myself a ‘climate change warrior.’ I’ve been talking about and taking action around climate change for the past eight years. I know more about the science of climate change, am more familiar with dire predictions and have had more climate conversations with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle than many people—but in the end, I had nothing to say to my friend.
I sensed there was a much deeper, more profound distress that sat below the surface of her ‘what should we do’ question. She may not have all the nuanced climate facts, but her eyes and heart are open. She sees the heat, fires, drought, food shortages, water shortages, climate refugees and understands that we are perpetrating a kind of violence on ourselves and mother earth.
I didn’t know how to respond.
I had nothing to say that felt useful, comforting, or insightful.
I was angry at myself and embarrassed that I call myself a climate change warrior. I wanted to offer something. “Personal choices matter.” I tried to sound authoritative. “But we need to make policy changes. The system is broken. Great to install solar panels, but the conversation needs to take place on a national and international level. Not one roof at a time.”
My words felt feeble. Breadcrumbs for someone who was starving. I wanted to soothe her distress. Give her an action plan or gentle wisdom. I wasn’t able to provide either.
For me, taking action and being part of a movement larger than myself pulls me forward and keeps the sadness at bay. It distracts me from the dire predictions. Some days are better than others.
It saddened me that I wasn’t able to answer my friend’s question. Instead, I walked away with even harder questions to consider.
How do I live with uncertainty? How do I learn to understand the violence we level at one another and our natural environment? How do I let in the sadness, grief and pain without becoming overwhelmed by it? How do I find joy in spite of, or because of the chaos?
I don’t have answers.
But it occurs to me that maybe I should rethink my idea of ‘climate change warrior.’ Maybe she is someone who has thrown herself into the ring, wrestling not to discover answers, but wrestling to discover how to be a human being.