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Sustainable Missoula: The future is not yet written

Amy Cilimburg and Willow.

As I pause in the liminal space between our climate efforts of 2021 and the year ahead, it’s a common refrain that repeats in my head. We at Climate Smart Missoula are always seeking inspiration to build a future that sustains us all. Climate work can be hard. So, we seek out the scientists, policy nerds, artists, and fellow organizers who help us imagine a way forward.

For the last couple years, one of our favorites is Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who just received Climate One’s Schneider Award which “recognizes a natural or social scientist who has made extraordinary scientific contributions and communicated that knowledge to a broad public in a clear, compelling fashion.”

Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is the co-founder of the Urban Ocean Lab and co-creator of the All We Can Save project (and for us, the originator of the Climate Action Venn Diagram – which we just happen to love).

I think, if you listen to this interview, you too can be inspired for the year ahead. She says, toward the beginning, “…. what gets me out of bed in the morning … is that we have such a huge spectrum of possible futures available to us. And those really depend, which one we get depends on what we do, right…. I’ve no expectation or assumption that the outcome for humanity is necessarily going to be good. But I know that it could be much better than it would otherwise be if we sort of get our act together and move with immense speed and welcome as many people as possible into this work and show people that there really is a place for everyone in this transformation.”

And Johnson follows this with wonderful perspectives about where we can find wisdom. (She’s reading Required Reading: Climate Justice, Adaptation, and Investing in Indigenous Power right now.) She ends the interview with this: “It’s the commitment to responding to the crisis in ways that heal systemic injustices rather than keeping them. It’s this appreciation for heart-centered not only head-centered leadership and integrating the two. And it’s the recognition that building community is a requisite for building a better world that we’re in this together, that this is not about a hero that this is not about yelling the most facts or having the best science. It’s about how we actually implement the solutions in a way that work for people. And I know implementation is not maybe like the sexiest word but for me it’s like extremely exciting because we have most of the solutions we need and the question is like, how are we going to make them all happen in the world.”

Which is precisely where we are headed in 2022. Let’s build community and implement climate solutions locally. Let’s do it with an ever widening and deepening team. We need everyone. And then I turn to who we need, and I reflect on those we’ve recently lost, who have given us so much. From Betty White to Desmond Tutu to E.O. Wilson and Thomas Lovejoy, two giants in the world of conservation.

As a wildlife biology student years back, I learned from both Wilson and Lovejoy to celebrate the wonders of nature and biodiversity in this magnificent world. Wilson was famous for many things, his paper “The Little Things that Run the World” inspired countless people to look closely and appreciate daily.

Said Wilson in The Future of Life (2002): “So we are drawn to the natural world, aware that it contains structure and complexity and length of history as well, at orders of magnitude greater than anything yet conceived in human imagination. Mysteries solved within it merely uncover more mysteries beyond. For the naturalist every entrance into a wild environment rekindles an excitement that is childlike in spontaneity, often tinged with apprehension—in short, the way life ought to be lived, all the time.”

And he also said: “You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.”

Ornithologist Lovejoy helped coin the term “biological diversity” and worked for decades in the tropics. He recently wrote of ominous signs in the Brazilian Amazon. Wildfire smoke and winds “awoke the Brazilian populace and indeed the world to the harsh reality that the precious Amazon is teetering on the edge of functional destruction and, with it, so are we.”

And yet he held out hope for the future of the Amazon and of the planet. “The good news is that we can build back a margin of safety through immediate, active, and ambitious reforestation …The only sensible way forward is to launch a major reforestation project.”

Good news, sensible. Let us all resolve to being a part of a good and sensible 2022. Let’s get inspiration from the finest of scientists and leaders. And if you need a laugh, do watch the film Don’t Look Up. From all of us at Climate Smart Missoula, Happy New Year.

Amy Cilimburg is the executive director of Climate Smart Missoula