Sustainable Missoula: Replacing climate guilt with conversation
I’ll admit it - I have a lot of climate guilt.
I used to live just a few blocks from my job, so it was really easy to walk or bike to work. This became more difficult when I got pregnant - especially during the icy winter. One day, as I was getting ready to head to the office, my husband texted. He told me that he had slipped and fallen twice on his way to work so I needed to be extra careful. I debated with myself whether it was safe to walk, and ended up driving.
That whole day, I felt pangs of guilt. “It’s so silly of me to drive two minutes to work when I can just walk instead,” I thought.
And then my inner voice of reason kicked in: “You are pregnant, and the sidewalks are caked in ice out there. If you fall, something serious could happen. The Earth can handle you driving to work for a couple days.”
Once I made this realization, I became angry that I had ever felt guilty. Our culture has pushed this narrative of individual responsibility so hard that I couldn’t even make a simple choice prioritizing the safety of my unborn child without feeling badly about it.
As a young environmentalist, I really internalized the concept of personal responsibility. I fantasized about living in an off-grid, minimalist, solar-powered tiny house, living off of food grown in our no-till, organic garden, producing zero trash and avoiding consumption whenever possible. I thought reducing our personal carbon footprint to as close to zero as possible was the end goal, and would fulfill all my environmental wants.
While I’ll admit this off-grid dream is still attractive to me, my understanding of climate change, its symptoms, its causes, and its solutions has broadened. Placing disproportionate burden on individuals when the problem is systemic is a clever way for the fossil fuel industry to let themselves off the hook - and to keep the public preoccupied on smaller things, like which brand of lightbulb is the most efficient, or whether driving to work makes you the Earth’s mortal enemy.
And what I’m realizing I want is NOT to have to do all the research and work and suffer the burden of making the more difficult but “right” choice - what I want is for the right choice to be the easy, accessible, and obvious choice. What I want is a system where workers are valued, water is kept clean, ecosystems are healthy, air is breathable, and our climate is stable, all inherently. I want a system that enriches rather than pollutes. I want a future that is livable for all.
The research and framework of climate scientist, author, and expert climate communicator Dr. Katharine Hayhoe helped me solidify this realization. She asserts that personal solutions to climate change are important, but they aren’t enough to fix the problem. What we need is systems-wide change. And, according to Katharine Hayhoe, the way to bring about systems-wide change is to talk about the issue and normalize its solutions. She says, “Why does having a conversation matter? Because if we don’t talk about something, why would we care? And if we don’t care about it, why would we act?”
Families for a Livable Climate recently hosted Katharine Hayhoe for a virtual discussion of her book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope & Healing in a Divided World. During the discussion, Hayhoe addressed a number of important skills, including connecting with people over authentically shared values, mobilizing people who are already concerned, pushing forward solutions that address multiple issues at once, and practicing hope. We discussed how to have effective climate conversations, and how to use our voices to advocate for change.
A recording of the event is available on our website. We hope it is shared widely.
After listening to Hayhoe at this event, I reflected on what I would say if someone asked me what they can do about climate change. When I was younger, I might have given them a bunch of tips on how to reduce waste and reduce their impact (and you might still catch me doing this with people who are interested). Now, I would share two thoughts:
1) Learn to communicate about climate change (Katharine Hayhoe’s book is a great start!) and start talking about climate change in your circles. Families for a Livable Climate is offering Climate Conversations Skills workshops as an opportunity to practice, discuss, reflect, and build our communication skills. The next workshop is on Thursday, October 27 at 12 p.m. and will be held virtually - you can sign up here.
And 2) Connect with a local group taking action. Families for a Livable Climate offers a variety of approachable ways to engage with the issue, from community-building events like our Climate Protector Ride, to action-oriented campaigns like our push for NorthWestern Energy to transition to clean and affordable energy, to parent support and outreach. Join us to learn more and get involved!
I’d be lying if I said all of this has completely resolved my climate guilt. And you certainly can still find me implementing the personal climate actions that are meaningful and accessible to me - because it helps build my sense of self-efficacy and motivates me to continue engaging.
But rather than primarily emphasizing personal actions and getting stuck on all the ways I have failed the climate, I now talk much more about a larger vision for our community and world. A world that is healthy and vibrant and just. I truly believe that future is possible, and am excited to be a small part of bringing it forward - one conversation at a time.
Sarah Lundquist is the Communications Director for Families for a Livable Climate
Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.
Oct 10. Bear Tracks Bridge Dedication. This Indigenous Peoples Day, starting at 12:30 p.m., the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee will join Missoula County, the City, and others to officially dedicate Beartracks Bridge on Higgins Ave. The commemoration will start on the south end of the bridge and CSKT elders and other tribal members will then take part in a procession across the bridge. The celebration will conclude with a powwow at 2:30 p.m. in Caras Park featuring drums, dancers, food trucks, tribal vendors, educational materials, and more. The event is free and open to all. More details are HERE.
Oct. 13, 6pm: What's the PSC, and why does it matter? Join the Montana Renewable Energy Association and MEIC to learn more about the PSC and why you should be paying attention to its work this fall. The Public Service Commission is one of the most important influencers for Montana’s energy future. Full event details & Zoom link are HERE.
Oct 21. Home ReSource’s Benefit Auction: Celebrating Reuse, Building Community. 5:30 – 9pm, Missoula County Fairgrounds. Details and reservations here.
Oct 22. Missoula Climate Ride & Fundraiser. Join or support this fun community bike ride and help raise funds for local organizations: Climate Smart Missoula, Free Cycles, Soil Cycles and Climate Ride. All donations raised will be matched! Ride starts at 9am. The 30 mile route heads out past Bonner with shorter out and back options available. The day ends with a party at Free Cycles! Registration and route & details are HERE. If a bike ride is not your thing? You can still support local climate action and have your impact doubled by contributing to the Missoula Climate Rise team HERE (you'll need to click the 'Roster' tab and select a participant. You can then give to a participant's fundraising, which will help our team reach our goal.
Thursday, Oct. 27, 12 p.m. Climate Conversations Skills Workshop hosted by Families for a Livable Climate. This virtual workshop and practice session is for people dedicated to having more, and/or more effective, climate conversations with their family, friends, and in their community.
October 30 - December 4: Intergenerational Advocacy for a Livable Climate: Fall Speaker Series hosted by Montana Interfaith Power and Light. Five talks held virtually, 6:30-8 pm; all are welcome! Registration required.
- October 30 - Youth Advocating via the Judicial System for Their Rights to a Livable Climate.
- November 6 - Faith, Hope and Action: Climate Justice Advocacy
- November 13 - Developing Your Personal Story for Climate Advocacy
- November 20 - Communicating Across the Political Divide: How to Communicate with Those with Different Views
- December 4 - Networking with Environment & Climate Action Groups in Montana
Nov. & Dec. Lifelong Learning Center classes. Community classes on Electric Vehicles and Solar Electricity for your home or business, taught by solar industry veteran and battery enthusiast Dan Brandborg of SBS Solar.
Materials donations are always welcome at Home Resource. Keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.