Breaking the climate silence

We know it’s getting worse; we’re not climate deniers. We’re well informed and aware of the facts. And yet we go about our lives as if nothing has changed. We live the same way we lived five years ago, before the wealth of new climate science confirming that the situation is worse than first thought. Maybe we travel even more than before or live in a bigger house than we did then. (Guilty on both counts.)

What’s wrong with us?

We’re obeying the hush-hush rule on climate change. When the President can’t even utter the word climate in his State of the Union speech, at a time when climate change presents emergency levels of economic, health, and national security risks—and that’s just in this country, never mind the millions of people in other parts of the world whose homes and lives are already lost and endangered—you know something is seriously wrong. Even Stewart and Colbert seldom devote time to it.

Climate change—the elephant in the room. The one thing we don’t talk about—not to one another, and especially not to our children.

But not talking about climate change is not helping. In fact, it’s costing us. A lot. While Europe plans to boost its economy through tougher greenhouse gas emissions standards and China invests billions in renewable energy, we in the United States basically sit on our hands. And, worse, we clap our hands over our own and one another’s mouths. Climate change? Don’t go there.

Climate silence is a form of denial. Perhaps we are overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and the grave consequences that loom if we continue as we are. But climate silence is costing us not just dollars and cents but also collective will and energy. This nation is in an emotional as well as economic recession, suffering from sapped energy and collective inertia. As psychologists—and business leaders—have long known, denial is a huge energy sink. Through our silence about the climate, we are hamstringing ourselves, preventing the release of energy, will, resources, and innovation that might actually get us out of this pickle before it’s too late.

A friend of mine, Annette, recently heard poet Gary Snyder speak. During Q and A, someone asked Snyder how people can be inspired to “save the planet.” Snyder thought for a few moments then said,

The planet doesn’t need us to save it. The planet needs us to save ourselves. If we learned how to be better people, we would be doing good work.

The roomful of activists sat in stunned silence, trying to absorb his words. He went on (as Annette wrote),

The planet, if we notice, takes care of itself. Watch a place for a while. Look to the seasons, the weather, the animals, our own inner rhythms. Walk trails and notice things. We don’t have to do a thing.

In the spirit of Gary Snyder, I am therefore pledging to do (almost) nothing. I am pledging only to break the climate silence.

I would like to gather a few people to form a climate support group. A group where we do nothing—on behalf of the planet—except receive and give support for being better people. We will not cook up lists of things to do. We will not brainstorm solutions. We will most certainly be involved in solutions, like planting gardens or closing coal plants or writing to policy makers or biking instead of driving, but we will not take planning those actions as the focus of our gathering.

We will instead practice opening our hearts—to each other, to the enormity of the climate problem, to the animals and plants and microorganisms who share our lives and our geography and will also share our fate.

Call it heartstorming instead of brainstorming. We will open our hearts to the reality of climate change.

And we will talk. By meeting together about climate change, we will break the climate silence. But we will not talk about solutions so much as provide support to each other for being more open, more truthful, more radically kind.

Because, as a wise person said long ago, the truth will set you free. And the truly radical acts will be those that sprout from the compassionate ground of an open heart.

I imagine our meetings might go something like this:

We will gather to laugh and talk and of course share food and drink. When possible, we will meet outdoors to commune with the hope that resides in the living Earth. One or two might bring a short piece of inspiration—something that gave hope this week, like a poem, a child’s drawing, a thought, a story of good news, the presence of a nearby tree or flower or rock. We will share each piece of good news slowly, giving it our full attention and drinking in the juice of hope. Then we will talk about the challenges we face in living more truthfully and kindly in the face of climate change. Together we will break the climate silence. Being truthful about the climate crisis will challenge us to bring our lifestyles into line with reality. How do we do that? How can we help each other be better people in the midst of climate crisis? How do we keep our hearts open?

I envision climate support groups happening in communities across the country—in various neighborhoods of every city. Bill McKibben says that building local community is one of the most crucial things we can do in the face of climate change. As the world changes, we will need the solidarity of relationships, the sweetness of affection and support.

But to build our communities, we’re going to have to talk together.

The climate silence is killing us. Literally. I’d like to help break it. How about you?

* * *

  • Reposted at New. Clear. Vision. on March 23, 2011.
  • Reposted at Climate Chronicle on March 26, 2011.

21 Responses to Breaking the climate silence

  1. Rick Chamberlin says:March 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Heartstorming! I love it. As someone, maybe Ram Dass, once said, “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

    People speak of the enormous (monstrous?) power released by breaking the atom, but a broken heart may be a more useful, and far less dangerous, power source.

    Thanks for another thoughtful and heartfelt post, Priscilla.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 16, 2011 at 9:10 am

      And a Buddhist book I once copyedited (by Sylvia Boorstein) was titled IT’S EASIER THAN YOU THINK. I believe one of the things that stops us is the feeling that we have to solve the whole mess by ourselves. No, it’s easier than we think, both literally and figuratively. Not thinking but opening the heart. Not doing but being. The broken heart as the real power source–I love that image.

  2. Annette says:March 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Inspiring…count me in!

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 16, 2011 at 9:11 am

      Thank you again, Annette.

  3. Julene Bair says:March 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Extraordinarily and beautifully said. And thanks for the link to the Wiles post. I’ve been at war with myself over this issue: what to say to my son and his girlfriend, who are expecting the birth of their first child any day now. I tried to warn them not to have children, but they received this advice as if I were a veritable Scrooge. Now they, we, are having it, and my heart is breaking both with anticipatory love and fear. Let us meet soon!

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 16, 2011 at 8:57 am

      Yes, I think climate change means that the world will be harder to navigate for the children. And yet the children bring hope too, and fresh creativity, and they deepen their parents’ commitment to making the world a good place for them–if parents are willing to listen and learn. Plus, kids give everyone a chance to spread the love more freely. Warm welcome to your almost-here grandchild!

  4. Claudia says:March 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Hello Priscilla:

    Thanks for your post. It really resonates with me. During the last six months or so, I think about climate change almost all the time. I have read a whole lot of books and articles and I am trying to see what other people think, but usually I only get empty glances or the people want to change the subject.

    I agree with you: First of all, it is important that we become better people. Because all our previous approaches (brainstorming, designing strategies, signing papers and organizing expensive congresses) will not work on this one.

    Maybe I can be part of your support group – virtually, I mean, since I am quite far awey from you. I live in Mexico.

    Congratulations for your post and I really love your blog, although it is the first time I post a comment.


    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 16, 2011 at 9:02 am

      Welcome, Claudia! It makes me happy to know you are out there, nursing awareness in the place where you are. I think it will take all of us talking with our own communities. Every movement starts small. Every evolutionary change is local. Thank you so much for introducing yourself!

  5. Laurel Kallenbach says:March 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    This hits home. Lately I’ve been worried about how my life needs to change now that I’m older and have less time left to me on the planet. Yet, I stall, not willing to make the shift necessary. And, I always have a nagging fear that my husband will lose his job because he works at NOAA with a group of scientists involved in climate change research. Politicians like to make cutbacks when they see “climate change” on the line-item.
    Let me know when you get your group started!

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 16, 2011 at 9:05 am

      Laurel, you’re on! I don’t pretend to know what kind of shifts are necessary–aside from the obvious one, of decreasing (and ending) fossil fuel use. But if we support one another, maybe we can figure out what form it takes for each of us.

  6. Kitchen Coach Mary Collette Rogers says:March 16, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Exactly. Change starts at home. I’d love to be part of this group, especially cause it involves food–said jokingly but also seriously. Food choices are such a natural, no-big-heroics, easy way to make a difference if we just act consciously and not in denial and silence.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 16, 2011 at 9:22 am

      Yes, food nourishes us with joy, especially when we share it together. And joy is our greatest ally–and the one most likely to slip out of sight when we feel burdened by the state of the world. We need food and good times with others to keep us living in joy.

  7. Beth Partin says:March 17, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Priscilla, this idea is problematic for me. On the one hand, I see your point. Most conversations about climate change are unproductive, one-way conversations or involve preaching to the choir. On the other hand, I am not sure I see much action coming from this group. I wish I were going to be in town long enough to come to a few meetings and see what would happen.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 17, 2011 at 10:07 am

      Beth, it looks to me like a lot of what passes for activism is telling other people what to do. What if we turned the inquiry to ourselves? Being truthful (in touch with reality) is bound to have a lot of implications for how we live and what we do.

  8. Beth Partin says:March 17, 2011 at 11:06 am

    I think my impatience is causing me problems here. I always want to solve things right away, and when I can’t, then I usually do nothing. Turning the inquiry to ourselves is a useful and humbling experience. For example, I recently came across the blog My Plastic-Free Life and realized all the green activities on which I had prided myself were very small compared to what she was doing. It was even more embarrassing to admit that I didn’t really want to do everything she does.

    Your idea sounds similar to the Transition movement to me. I don’t know if they actively address climate change, but they’re certainly very invested in building community.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, Beth. I think many people want to solve things, and when we can’t–it’s too big–we give up and do nothing. Yes, the idea of climate change support groups is aligned with the goals of the Transition movement, and I could see it becoming a staple of Transition groups around the country.

  9. Morgaine says:March 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I think it’s brilliant, Priscilla. Change actually begins within, and what a wonderful way to experience, exhort, enhance, encourage and foster that Change. You know I can’t attend any meetings from here, but I’d love to borrow your idea and start a group like that near my place on this planet. Would you mind?

    In the Light,


    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

      Mind?! I fervently hope for it! Am delighted if you are inspired to do something similar in your own community. Keep me posted on how it goes, okay? We should compare notes.

      • Morgaine says:March 24, 2011 at 5:59 pm

        Brilliant! I’ll have to do a little heartstorming myself to get started, but that’s the best part, no? 🙂

        • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:March 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm

          It’s transformative–and feels good too. (I suspect they’re connected.)