This Thanksgiving, like most Thanksgivings, I was thinking of my German-Russian grandparents whom I loved dearly–they practically raised me. They descended from late 19th Century homesteaders who left Russia for America en masse due to political persecution. My great-great grandparents settled in the Knife River Valley of North Dakota. Their families had been immigrants in Russia, lured by Catherine the Great to farm vast tracts of land, and they were immigrants in America, arriving here to do the same. I am thankful that their immigrant values, passed along to my grandparents–waste nothing, share what you have, be kind to your neighbor, are part of my life. I am thankful that my grandparents lessons and stories from the Great Depression–how my great-grandmother helped keep the neighbors fed out of her huge garden, became part of my value system, even though I’m three generations removed. My ancestors were far from perfect, and some of their values I am happy not to inhabit, but I can say that they created community, worked hard, and led when called to lead with no sense of showmanship, just a clear and necessary focus on solutions.
When I consider how we tackle the climate crisis I try to stay grounded in the best of these values and perspectives.
I am inspired by projects like DearTomorrow, where people can write a letter to their child or future self or future communities in 2050, and make a thoughtful commitment to work on climate. Communities across the country have participated in this project, and in Missoula, we will kick off DearTomorrow Missoula on Black Friday as an alternative to the shopping frenzy, and as a lead-in to two months of letter collecting. In late winter, we will invite the community to join a public reading of these letters, along with an art installation and music. We’re excited to commit, share our stories, and connect–the essential steps of building community. (BTW – You can participate from anywhere, just submit your letter to the DearTomorrow website.)
I am thankful for student climate strikers and their supporters. In our group, Families for a Livable Climate, we have been inspired by one of our 11-year-old members who shows up regularly, asks questions, and urges us to act. He will helps us lead a climate strike on Black Friday in Missoula from 12-1 p.m. at the Missoula County Courthouse. We hope to support more students through action.
I am inspired by efforts by some Montanans to show exemplary leadership, such as the ambitious and thoughtful endeavors of Governor candidate Reilly Neill. On December 7, she is kicking off a series of Montana Climate Change town halls in Virginia City to raise awareness about her Montana 2035 initiative. These events will invite communities to join productive, fact-based discussions about climate change, its impacts on Montana, with the goal of building resiliency statewide. I applaud her vision!
But more often, I am confused when I listen to leaders, especially from older generations at the helm of so many powerful institutions, who spout excuse after excuse for their inaction and their lack of leadership.
In Australia, where early spring bushfires have torched hundreds of thousands of hectares, resulting in six deaths and more than 600 homes lost, the prime minister chooses to make excuses for how Australian action on climate alone won’t make a difference. This is true, the whole world must change, but instead of engaging his people with vision, with hope, with a commitment to Australia doing its part to ensure a livable future, he fails, like so many, to see the big picture, which is that the climate crisis is a war, and we must all do our part to solve it, for if we fail, everyone will lose.
In Montana, there are officials and corporate leaders who would offer the same perspective, that Montana’s carbon footprint is paltry compared to India or China. Why should we do anything? We have so little impact? Why shouldn’t we just do what they are doing?
Imagine what would have happened to our country’s resilience during the Great Depression, if, when the neighbors were hungry, my great-grandmother and others like her said, “I could feed them, but others will go hungry anyway, so why bother?
Imagine if the allied powers failed to act because they worried that their individual country’s contributions to stopping Hitler wouldn’t add up to a hill of beans?
We must all do our part. And by we, I mean everyone, including politicians, and of course, most importantly, corporations (according to our Supreme Court they have the same rights as individuals so I hereby confer that they have the same responsibility to step up).
No one state or country can solve the climate crisis, but we must all act together to solve it now. We will inspire others to act by acting ourselves, by showing leadership .
In Montana we are blessed with sun, wind, and elevation; all key pieces to a renewable energy renaissance. We are blessed with a cultural heritage of living on and with the land, which means most of us care deeply about preserving that heritage.
Let’s put these pieces together, and lead.
As we prepare for holidays and a New Year, let us commit to becoming leaders who do what’s necessary to ensure a livable future. The science is clear. Observable evidence is growing. We must come together, reconnect our communities, and act.