Taking Leadership on Climate Change

Hey Tim!1

I wanted to give you an update on some exciting things I’ve figured out in my life since the care-of-the-environment talk you gave at the East Coast North America Leaders’ Workshop this past year. What you said about deciding to start now and challenging the places where we feel small and powerless, and particularly your direction to talk to five people about climate change, has moved me a lot.

In my sessions I’ve been able to discharge fear more than I typically can. I have also been spurred to work on early discouragement, so I can keep thinking about climate change.

After I got home from the workshop, one of my first climate-change conversations resulted in finding a reading buddy who could help me read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything2 without falling asleep or drifting off from restimulation. We read aloud to each other and stayed close, and I shook a bit. I explained a little RC theory and we exchanged some listening. (Reading this book has been a big step for me in learning more about the current situation as well as working on my material3 about reading.)

I kept having conversations and listening to people. I would start out by saying, “So what are we going to do about the climate crisis?” Often people’s first response was feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. I would ask, “So if you didn’t feel overwhelmed and discouraged, what do you think you would do or want to see happen?” and they would be able to talk a lot about their thinking!

In my conversations I often mentioned the book I was reading. Then with encouragement from some friends, I offered to organize a climate-change discussion group with Klein’s book as the text. After telling some people about it, I got scared and discouraged and didn’t do anything to pursue it. But luckily, some of the people I’d spoken to asked, “So when is it happening?” and said they’d like to join. They were telling their friends, too.

So I made it happen. We were scheduled to meet three times, every other week. I encouraged people to read the book, but I also welcomed them to come to the group even if they hadn’t read it. And I told them to come to the first meeting even if they couldn’t commit to the rest. Ten people showed up4, and consistently came to each one! The group was mostly young adults and a few parents. Most of them had not previously taken action on climate change or even talked much about it.

At the first two meetings, I had people hang out5 together for half an hour or so and then I facilitated a discussion. Many of them were meeting each other for the first time, and I wanted them to have a chance to get to know each other. At the last meeting, I led a goal-setting group, partially inspired by Emma Roderick’s report on her goal-setting group for young adult women (see pages 11 to 13 of the October 2014 Present Time). I had people trade time listening to each other, and I gave them a goal chart similar to the one in the Fundamentals Manual. We ran out of time, but they didn’t want to stop! The pairs are going to check in with each other to see how things are going with their next steps toward their goals. People are clear about how much they like each other and how useful the connection is, especially in relation to an issue that can be so restimulating and difficult to keep one’s attention on. I’m excited to see what sort of actions they are able to take with this group as a support system.

A couple of days ago I got a text message from a person I had spent a few days with while traveling in February. We’d had a conversation about climate change, and I had talked about my being hopeful about the opportunity it creates—if we can organize ourselves to act. She was extremely pessimistic about the future. I hadn’t heard from her since and hadn’t expected to stay in touch. But in her message she said that she had been talking about the state of the world and had thought of me and wished I was living in Detroit (Michigan, USA), because she could use a hopeful friend. I cried when I got the message—it was a helpful reminder of the impact we can make. I like seeing how holding a perspective I’ve gained partially through RC can make a difference in itself, even if the person I’m relating to never learns RC. I think our conversation challenged this woman’s patterned discouragement enough for her to start thinking about how to take action.

Now I’m organizing a more formal book group, through an organization I’m a part of, to read The New Jim Crow,6 by Michelle Alexander, and discuss mass incarceration and racism. I’ve invited everyone from the climate-change group to come, and many of them are planning to. (We’ve had some great discussions in that group about how racism and the climate crisis intersect and are intimately linked.)

Thanks for your persistence with this issue and your clear perspective. At the last meeting of the climate-change group, I shared some of what you had said at the workshop. I talked about how we need to see if we can pry things out of being dead, flat, and unchanging; how we get to just try things; and how mistakes are okay—how they won’t make things any worse than they already are. I said that no one knows exactly what the full solution will look like and that we have to make many mistakes and try a lot of things to find our way there. I also shared your direction to talk to five people and just get a conversation going. Then I read aloud a great quote from Klein’s book about the importance of connection and community building in facing the climate crisis. I think people were moved.

This is the first time I’ve led anything like this outside of Co-Counseling or my job. I’m starting to see myself as more of a leader, and more and more I’m putting my mind toward making things go well in my community and the world.

I’ve also been leading a series of RC classes on care of the environment. One was on fighting early battles,7 another was based on Xabi’s article about connection and disconnection,8 another was on reading and learning, and this last one was on racism. Leading these classes in RC alongside my new wide-world organizing has been really useful.

Shelly Friedmann
Rosendale, New York, USA

1 Tim Jackins
2 A book about the climate crisis and the central role that capitalism has played in creating it
3 “Material” means distress.
4 “Showed up” means came.
5 “Hang out” means spend relaxed, unstructured time.
6 The New Jim Crow is a book about how the mass incarceration of Black people in the United States has become the new Jim Crow. (Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system that operated primarily though not exclusively in the Southern United States, between 1877 and the mid-1960s.
7 “Fighting early battles” means proactively confronting and discharging on early hurts.
8 “Connection, Disconnection, Reconnection, and Liberation,” by Xabi Odriozola, on pages 7 to 11 of the January 2015 Present Time

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00