October 14, 2019

Take Action, Take Heart

Guest Opinion
By Cathye Williams | Sept. 21, 2019

The folks I have met volunteering for environmental causes come from all walks of life. There’s some who spend their days looking through microscopes, some crunching numbers, some wiping noses. Some are retired, while others are still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up. Some of us spend our weekends following rivers and trails; others follow fantasy football.

Our one commonality is our concern for where humanity is heading — and our desire to do something about it. What we do takes many forms. I try to keep it simple and focus on three questions:

1)    What will I do today? 

I will do something. I will not do nothing. Some days it will be a tiny thing: Call my member of Congress, buy local food, turn off the lights. Some days it will be a bigger thing: Make a donation, look for common ground with someone more conservative, plant a native species. Some days it will be a really big thing: Lobby my member of Congress, volunteer in Flint, stop yelling at the radio.

2)    What do I need to know?

This one is trickier. I need to know enough to make sure what I do is effective, but I don’t always have time for what that might be. I try to learn as much as I can, but this question could instead become this: Who do I trust for the best information?

Most of my fellow volunteers couldn’t explain the biology of lifeless soil or list the chemicals in fracking waste. We might not get the physics of shore erosion or the economics that allows Nestle to pump water from under our feet and truck it around the world. We don’t know much about designing a storm drain or the engineering that would keep a family’s home standing in 185 mile per hour winds. What we do know is to trust scientists who study the environment and our impact on it. We know to listen to what they have to say — about how to prevent things, fix things, and do better. 
 
The science that we trusted as we built modern society, cured disease, and went into space is the same science that is now telling us, “Whoa!” It is people using the same transparent, peer-reviewed research methods, driven by the same passion for knowledge, discovery, and truth.
 
3)    Who else can I get to help?

Anyone, everyone, whoever is ready.
 
Are you ready? What will get you there? Sometimes environmentalism suffers under the weight of its own imagery — majestic mountain forests, the ubiquitous polar bear floating on the melting sea ice, the bald eagle saved from pesticides. What the logos miss is that what we are saving is ourselves. The natural world we seek to rescue is not “out there.” It is passing through our lungs, pouring from our faucets, and sitting on our plates. 
 
This reality is more apparent for those who will face it sooner, more severely, and who are least equipped to handle it. As a social service provider, I’m less moved by rain forests or polar bears than by the wheezing three-year-old who can’t breathe the air in his neighborhood. And that he or someone else in his family could be one of the 200,000 premature deaths caused by air pollution in the U.S. every year. It bothers me that people still live in places considered to be “cancer alleys,” or where air smells like gas fumes from refineries, or like ammonia from large-scale poultry operations.
 
What keeps me up is wondering where thousands of Bahamians are sleeping tonight. It is one legacy of segregation and racism we need to face that, as the National Defense Council states, “Communities of color, which are often poor, are routinely targeted to host facilities that have negative environmental impacts.” Minority groups are disproportionately impacted by natural disasters, weather extremes, and food insecurity.Native Americans face similar challenges with disruption and pollution from extractive industries and agribusiness encroaching on their land and water resources.

None of these problems exists in a vacuum. For solutions to work, they will have to work for everyone, requiring diverse voices led by those whose lives and economic well-being are most affected. This basic tenet of the Green New Deal is gaining traction and discussion in an ever-growing and coalescing movement.

If one feels discouraged by the current administration’s seemingly endless rollbacks of environmental protections and assaults on human rights, remember this: Not that long ago, talking about environmental issues, especially climate change, was generally considered anti-business and pretty much political suicide. This year, even in this charged and divided political atmosphere, CNN ran seven hours of programming devoted exclusively to presidential candidates’ climate plans. This wouldn’t have been possible if people weren’t connecting the dots.  

Inclusion and innovation not only will transition us to a clean energy world but also to a just and prosperous one. Wanna help?
 
Cathye Williams serves as a volunteer and media liaison for the Grand Traverse area chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, www.citizensclimatelobby.com. She writes from Benzie County.

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