My climate epiphany came through my work with Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy.
I was aware of the climate change issue, but I didn’t understand how urgent, how interconnected and how important it was until I was literally enveloped by it. But I was also extremely fascinated and drawn to it and chose to dig in deeply. It began with hearing Will’s powerful eyewitness story in 2006 when I first interviewed for the Executive Director position. Knowing that EVERY ice shelf Will has crossed has disintegrated – and what it took to cross these vast ice shelves that disappeared in weeks and minutes – and that none of his expedition accomplishments could ever be repeated caused me to look at what places I’ve traveled, been, seen or love or feel intimately familiar with – how are these places changed. It brought me back to Ely, to Burntside Lake, to the Boundary Waters.
I come to the climate issue from a love of nature, winter, all four seasons even, wild places like the Boundary Waters, and the solitude and peace that I derive from these places and times of year. I come to this issue because I know that these very places – and seasons that are special to me – that provide life for other living things – are threatened by this issue.
To hone in on a place and how climate change will affect it, the Boundary Waters immediately comes to mind. My grandparents started a successful business in the 1940s, providing canoe country trip experiences for families, with and without guides, and meanwhile fighting tirelessly, often with threats to their personal and professional lives, to speak out on behalf of the protection of the Boundary Waters as wilderness through the 1970s until the Boundary Waters was protected as a wilderness area in 1978, the year I was born.
Scientists tell us this place – the Boundary Waters – and its unique boreal forest ecosystem, pristine lakes and waters, will be forever changed by human-induced climate change. The trees that define this ecosystem will not be able to survive in a warming climate. I’ve already seen the arrival of deciduous trees like maples near our family cabin on Burntside Lake. I’ve seen the encroachment of invasive species. I’ve seen the community struggle to find new jobs and a new identity in a changing time.
I envision a future in which we are more engaged at the community level and solutions are being brought up through communities. These solutions are scaled up to the state and national and international level. I envision people feeling inspired and not depressed or fatigued by the overwhelming and depressing nature of the science, or the timeline, or the scale at which we need to change our system and our individual behavior. I envision people with the tools to engage and the motivation and excitement to contribute to a better, more just, equitable and sustainable future.
I envision a future where our way of living – of being – of doing things – is no longer dependent on fossil fuels.
I am uplifted every time I see a young student we have mentored create solutions on his/her high school campus or in their community; or when an educator feels confident and is proud of their teaching of the topic in his/her classroom.
As the author and activist Mary Pipher says: “we can never fully know the significance and impact of our individual actions, but we can behave as though our actions are significant.” I believe our actions are significant!