As a parent concerned about the climate crisis and my child's future, this has been a frustrating and often disheartening legislative session. As I've been reflecting, my biggest takeaway is that we need to be having more conversations about what matters to us and what we hope for our families’ futures -- with everyone in our lives, but especially those who seem to disagree with us. 

What we value in our communities and state--our common priorities--often seem set in stone. When thinking about making lasting change in the climate action equation, once we’re in a policy battle, we know the stakes are high and we find ourselves wishing we had started earlier to find common ground.

Unfortunately, most people avoid climate conversations altogether. But there’s hope! When we share our concerns, hopes, and visions for the future through personal stories and honest conversations, we have the opportunity to cut through the soundbites and polarizing rhetoric and actually shift policy priorities.

Our recent guest speaker, atmospheric scientist and climate communicator Katharine Hayhoe, is one of the inspirations for our work at Families for a Livable Climate. In her Montana talk, “The First Step to Tackling Climate Change,” she suggests that we can come together on climate and for climate action, by connecting respectfully across differences about why climate matters to us.  (And when you dig into the data most people--72% of Montanans in fact--agree climate change is happening.)

Having one conversation and then another can lay the foundation for transformation. Dr. Hayhoe offered the example of one man in the UK who was inspired by her ideas, and went out and had 10,000 conversations in his community--helping overcome climate opposition and then pass strong climate commitments!

While most of us don’t have time for 10,000 conversations, we could probably have ten or twenty over the year, and begin to walk together, step by step, toward change.

So, what’s the first step to sharing our concern in a personal, relatable way? 

Writing or sharing our personal climate story (or stories) can be an empowering place to begin, or identifying which things at the top of our list that will be impacted by climate change. The truth is climate change impacts everything we care about. 

Next, using our stories and priorities, and letting go of our natural impulse to “win” or “convince” someone, start climate conversations with friends and family and focus on the things from our story or list that we care about in common with the other person (birds, fishing, farming, outdoor recreation).

This is especially true with friends and family who are disengaged or avoid the topic because they are overwhelmed by it. For example, I care about my child having clear beautiful summers to garden and enjoy the beauty of Montana’s rivers and backcountry as I have had the privilege to enjoy them.

Increasing wildfires and wildfire smoke are harming that hope, causing us to stay inside for long stretches in the summer, and raising concerns about health issues from smoke exposure. There are countless examples like this one that can be powerful places to start a conversation. 

As Dr. Hayhoe summed up beautifully, “If you don’t talk about something, why would you care? And if you don’t care, why would you do anything to fix it?” 

Think of our last national election. Why did so many voters turn out? Many reasons, but all of them drove a lot of conversations and discussions about why it was a monumental election requiring everyone to take action. Climate action is even more important, yet climate silence is still prevalent. To make change, we must overcome that silence. 

“Wherever we live, we can make the connection between what’s happening (with climate) and impacts on our lives,” shared Dr. Hayhoe with our Montana audience. And, from here, we can share stories from our hearts and lay the foundation for a future worth celebrating. 

To keep ourselves nourished and inspired on this journey, celebrations are vital: Our child’s first roly poly discovery. The safe return of backyard songbirds. The full moon rising over Mount Jumbo. Reuniting with friends and family after a very long year of separation. All reasons to celebrate and elevate connection and love over difference.

Would you like to join, celebrate and find connections? 

Today is Arbor Day--a wonderful day to plant saplings and seeds for our future. With our partners through Our Kids Climate, we’re launching #OurOtherMother across the U.S. This global campaign aims to create an outpouring of love and creativity for our ultimate mama--planet Earth--in the run up to Mother's Day on 9 May. 

We hope you’ll join us! It’s simple. 

Create an illustration or piece of art celebrating #OurOtherMother (planet Earth). Or write a message, poem, story or song. Engage your kids by creating and sharing collage work, drawings or download coloring sheets from illustrator Anita Bagdi. Download images here: image 1, image 2, image 3.

Post your creation on social media before and on Mother’s Day, Sunday May 9th, using the hashtag #OurOtherMother and tag us @livableclimate, too. Not on social media? Send it to us via email (livableclimate@gmail.com) to share. 

And please spread the word. Let's nourish ourselves by joining an outpouring of love and creativity for our shared home.

Winona Bateman is the director of Families for a Livable Climate. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe’s Montana talk was co-sponsored with Moms Clean Air Force - Montana and Montana Mountain Mamas. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community – some virtual and some (safely) outside. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Now through June. Spring Shift and Transit Scavenger Hunt! Mountain Line, Missoula in Motion and others are partnering to shift to sustainable transportation this spring, and beyond! Learn more and join HERE.

Now – May 15. International Wildlife Film Festival. So many good films. Virtual and outdoors. Check out 2040, Youth v Gov, and the Condor and the Eagle. More HERE.

Now – May 9. Our Other Mother. In honor of Mother’s Day, join Families for a Livable Climate to create a piece of art or a message (illustration, poem, story, photo or song) that shows our love for moms and #OurOtherMother – planet earth. All art is welcome! Details are HERE.

May 6 -7. Missoula Gives. A 24+ day of Giving to support myriad local non-profit organizations building a stronger more vibrant and equitable Missoula. We hope all who can will participate!

This is the final week of the Montana Legislature – and bills are still moving! To follow efforts for clean energy, climate, conservation and sustainability, consider connecting with (and getting the low down and action alerts from):

May 8 & 11 — Missoula’s Bike & Pedestrian Count. May 8, noon to 2pm; May 11 4pm to 6pm. Zoom training offered beforehand. Info/sign up here to volunteer. This count helps Missoula better serve bikers & walkers! 

Ongoing. Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.