I remember growing up in Southern MN, listening to REM’s Green album and feeling a rising, persistent concern for the state of our planet.
At that time, in the 1980’s, environmental issues seemed very tangible for me, with acid rain and the ozone layer constantly in the news. I spent most of my time exploring in a small wooded area along the Zumbro River. My knowledge of the surrounding world grew through observation, a self-guided tour of the natural world surrounding me. I would spend hours just sitting in those woods, observing birds and trying to really engage with those living things around me.
Something occurred there, a quiet way of ‘seeing.’ I’m not saying that I necessarily experienced anything spiritual, but I felt as though the living things around me had let their guard down, in a sense. I could experience everything around me with a clarity that comes from an uncluttered mind.
In my college years, I often tried to recreate this feeling, but it never quite worked out. Even when I tried to rough camp in the woods, it ended with me giving up the lean-to for a soft serve ice cream at Hardees. I kept trying. One night I woke up with a huge buck standing over me snorting, as though I really shouldn’t be there.
As an adult, I have found that my connection with living things around me is very relegated and defined. I might go canoeing or for a hike, but I never get that timeless quiet and that feeling that things around me have divulged a thing or two. I have never written about this loss of connection, but I have often thought about it. This is the first time that I’m really expressing it.
I remember meeting someone recently, and instead of saying, “What do you do for a living?”, he said, “What brings you the most joy in your life?” He completely caught me off guard. I was momentarily stumped, but came out with, “Walking – I love walking with abandon, but I don’t do it often.”
I, along with fellow staff and partners, work on climate change and resilience planning at the Metropolitan Council, and the work is vitally important to our operations, our systems, and the communities and residents of our region.
I can write about how attending COP25 will inform and enhance the regional work, but faced with the question of what I hope to gain through attending COP25, I can’t help thinking about that younger version of myself that sat so quietly, unintentional and connected to the forest floor.
I am the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) Technical Representative for the Metropolitan Council. That means that I attend the MN EQB in support of our Council Member designee to the board. At the most recent meeting, EQB staff were presenting their recent pollinator report, which included legislative and implementation recommendations intended to increase pollinator habitat and pollinator populations in Minnesota.
It seemed, at first, a rather innocuous presentation, devoid of much in the way of sentiment. However, given the emerging science around mass insect extinctions, the pollinator report became a channel for the larger, more unified issues around climate change and the psychological impact that these varied, but interconnected impacts are having on us all.
One of the EQB Commissioners became visibly upset in the meeting, which I’ve never seen before. She stated that she is feeling a visceral pain that is difficult to convey, a pain that goes to her core. The whole room was moved to silence, but there was something incredibly freeing in her words. She had said what we all felt. She had somehow broken through the officious agency atmosphere to express this deep-seated, existential pain.
What do I hope to gain from attending COP25? Well, the usual things – connection and learning from other regions, professionals, practices, innovative approaches. Yet, if I want to answer this question with the guardrails off, I am hoping for something much, much more than this.
I am hoping to scratch at the honesty of what we are all feeling but don’t really know how to express.
I suppose that I’m also mining that deep-rooted, mostly lost connection, to admit to myself that the very rich, varied, and abundant life is still out there in the woods, in our gardens, in our farm fields, and in our city parks. This opportunity to grow, learn, and share really fills me with that unveiling sense I had when I was sitting on a log, trying to hand-feed a nuthatch for hours on end.
Just like the forest letting its guard down to divulge our connection to it, we need to do the same thing. We need to also let our guard down in these very human conversations and interactions with how our world is changing.
The actions and solutions to climate change will come from engaging with this very honest and essentially human connection.