How do we strengthen the climate justice movement in order to allow for stronger and more sustained collaboration? I’ve thought about this question often in the last weeks, reflecting on some of my own experiences and instances that have revolved around climate justice and climate hope. Taking into account my lack of education in formal schooling on these topics and the extreme predicament that we currently find our world and societies in I strongly believe that we drastically need to imagine new ways for humanity to hear and answer this urgent call from our planet, one that moves away from the confining spaces of fear and burnout.
This past winter I attended the events surrounding the COP21 negotiations in Paris. I was part of a small group of young adults from Maui, HI that had been recommended forward by our island community to go and have this experience. Our group was fully funded by donations from friends and family and even individuals who I have not personally met. The weeks leading up to departure were intense and the Paris attacks escalated our feelings of exhaustion into a space of anxiety as we received emails and phone calls of worry from our families, often asking us not to go. A few days before the journey we were invited to a kava ceremony, which was conducted by a group of local Hawaiian leaders in which we were each individually, asked to state our group and individual purpose as to why we were going. After we had each presented ourselves we were in turn addressed. We were reminded that the real work was not in leaving but in fact our return, that we were each expected to actively bring our learning’s home. This was the note that we left on.
Our days in Paris were full. A day was somehow not complete until at one point I was washed over completely by tears as we were inundated by images and stories of a reality that we have already inherited. For three weeks I thought relentlessly about how I could most effectively bring these urgent messages home, how I could get people to not only listen but also to find their feet and rise. What became most apparent to me is that we need more people to join this movement of listening to and respecting our earth.
After a long flight I finally arrived back home at the end of December. The first thing that I noticed while driving to my house was the quiet that persisted all around my car. This was the only time in my life that Maui seemed too quiet and not in a peaceful way. I felt vaguely unsettled. I could easily remember in these initial moments how tourists would sometimes almost complain about the lack of traffic noise and I simply did not understand where they were coming from. Taking a moment to think back I realized that this time in Paris was in fact the most time that I had ever consecutively spent in a city. I would consider myself a traveled person and have been through many cities but they had always seemed like only a place to pass through in order to get to my final destination. It shocked me to my core how quickly my system had adapted to noise and to the near electric current of pace that a large urban environment both invites and holds. For days after I could feel myself being pulled into a quality of quickness that lead no where, as there was no reason to hurry while going through the motions of my everyday home life. I noticed the effort it took for me to reconnect to my environment and to re-appreciate the intense beauty that is my home. From this space of observation I decided to place myself on a 4- week break because while I found myself feeling hurried within to an undefined destination it was also clear that I was completely depleted. In my cause for the earth I had failed to listen to and respect myself, and the outcome was that there was nothing left in me to give. I felt that I had backtracked down a steep hill.
Throughout those 4 weeks I only allowed myself to think about Paris a few times and when doing so only in relation to what my contribution would be as a “Thank You” to my community. The rest of my time I spent resting, letting myself revel in the pleasure of “normal life.” Waking up without an alarm, drinking tea on my porch, playing with my dog, watching my garden grow and sometimes just lying in the grass, looking up at the sky and letting myself cry out into the ground for all that was wrong but also for all that was good. I promised myself that I would began to invest more quality and regular time in letting myself have connection with our planet, because after all this is what I had spent all my energy fighting for. It was from these weeks of rest that I began to shape what my response would be for my community. Taking my state into consideration and reflecting on others who are involved within this type of work as well as the sorry outcome of COP21, I decided that I wanted to create an educational class that would update the general public on the state of our world today, with an emphasis on creating personal resilience through earth connection in order to find the energy and bravery to face these issues. I wanted to share that there can be other ways to work with our present reality besides burnout, anger, fear or apathy. I utilized the preparation for this time as a way for me to personally address and work through my exhaustion. I see a long road ahead for me in this world of active earth protection and I need to find a way to continually develop the space within to receive and hold energy to sustain me for the many losses and wins that I am sure I will witness.
The months leading up to my class I sought out areas in my life that I found simple happiness in as well as the frameworks of study that helped to harbor in me a deep sense of understanding and courage. I wanted to share the feeling of being informed as well as the joy one can find in larger connection and creativity, which is essential when working on large complex issues. In March I launched this expression, an educational experiment that I called ‘Earth Is `Ohana: An Immersive Study and Response to our Rapidly Changing Earth Systems’. I was hoping to find out if it would be possible to re-imagine a new way to provide a truthful education on the state of our earth that would hopefully not overwhelm but instead inspire and motivate change on an individual level. In order to do this I provided a curriculum, which held many layers. Taking the whole of a person into consideration I decided that I wished to meet my participants by providing content that meant their intellect, held their emotions and provided space for action. I utilized two major systems of study, Spiritual Ecology and The Planetary Boundaries Framework. Spiritual Ecology provided a space of deeper emotional reflection for my participants while the Planetary Boundaries gave hard facts through an academic lens. I wanted my participants to feel safe to deepen their personal connection to these issues but also wanted them to feel confident in their understanding of what is exactly is happening to our major earth systems. Why it is so important to be invested in this work. Finally I made sure that every week the curriculum hit each point on my holistic spectrum. Utilizing the book ‘Spiritual Ecology- The Cry of the Earth’ essays were assigned reading to be followed with journaling and writing prompts. Articles explaining themes concerning Planetary Boundaries, Resilience Thinking, and Climate Justice were also assigned. Lastly and most importantly I placed an emphasis on spending quality time outside even while doing the reading and writing. When we met in person each week dialogue was opened on these topics and personal writing was shared. For 10 weeks I closely tracked my own response to this course as well as my participants. It was amazing to witness classroom dynamics as well as what content met resistance and what areas were met with excitement. Through these few months I felt an incredible amount of happiness in myself. ‘Working’ on my class never felt like work and I noticed that I instead gained energy through this offering. This feeling felt reflected in my participants and by the end a few people even felt comfortable enough to let us fully witness them into the core of their pain surrounding our present situation.
While putting this piece together I thought back to a particular instance that defined for many years my idea of appropriate response to this collective hurt that so many of us feel around our current reality. When I was 16 years old I was taken to see a family counselor at my doctors office following the recent divorce of my parents. My session was done alone and the moment I entered the room the counselor asked me how I was doing. Completely unaware to even me I suddenly burst into tears and starting sobbing about our world. I knew something was not quite right in the quick development that was overtaking our island and in the natural disasters, which seemed to intensify, but none of these topics were discussed openly in my home and so my understanding was fragmented. I had never told someone before how sometimes the idea of where the world stood scared me. I am not sure I had ever before admitted even to myself that I deeply and truly cared. At the end of my crying my counselor handed me a prescription for a mild sedative and told me that it was all going to be okay and that I could pick my prescription up after our session. I felt both embarrassed and as though a weight had been lifted, which were conflicting and confusing feelings. This reaction of being handed a prescription told me that my feelings were ‘too much’ and that I needed to suppress myself. Fortunately my parents did not believe in taking medications and so my prescription was never filled but the feeling of embarrassment did not leave me for some years and I was careful to not fully invest myself in conversation on topics, which seemed ‘too big’ or ‘out of my control.’ Taking the whole of my life into consideration I still find myself at times surprised that the culmination of my life has led me to this type of work. In my schooling I have only one distinct memory of learning about human induced environmental change, in which we covered forestry. Again there was the vague feeling of being unsettled by the curriculum that I read through in my textbook but there was no information provided by my teacher that matched this internal conflict, which I eventually pushed away.
If our education systems and other areas within our lager societies are unwilling to meet us on these topics then it is up to us, the people to do so. Often times in activist networks I see that we can end up talking again and again to each other, to those that are already engaged, forgetting or maybe not willing to put the time into individuals who are not fully aware or may even disagree with us on these big topics. I believe we are underestimating the power of creating informative and safe spaces where explorative and non- judgmental dialogue can come forward. As I write this I am participating in an all women’s skill based gathering in the Redwoods of Northern California. Yesterday I sat in on a class called ‘Calling the Salmon Home’. We sat outside next to a small section of the Navarro River and learned about the heart- breaking predicament of the salmon. Within this class were quite a few woman who wanted to step further into this type of work and one woman was even a commercial salmon fisherman who’s entire life revolves around this species. Each of us was were met with gratitude by our facilitator for even showing up, and by the end questions like, “What can I do?” were being discussed. Classes like these I believe are deeply impactful and important when considering how to continuously invite fresh faces and perspectives into this this movement which is only successful through mass co-creation.
This movement I believe is the work of our lives and if we are realistic our children’s and maybe even their children as well. Because of this it is absolutely essential that we began to really think about how to make this movement accessible to those who might not find it otherwise and continue to support and nurture those of us that are already engaged. It brought me an incredible amount of joy when at the end of my course one of my participants wrote to me, “I’m excited to share this work with others… It was personal really, a call to participation and assurance that our actions are important.”
Above: Participants of Earth Is `Ohana during class time
Above: Myself third from the top left with Earth Is `Ohana on a field trip to The Merwin Conservancy!