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Sustainable Missoula: Everyday climate conversations are key to systemic change

We cozied up in front of our tiny screens during the holidays, like millions of other Americans, to see the latest film, Don’t Look Up. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve undoubtedly heard about it: scientists find a giant comet that is heading directly for Earth in precisely six months and strive to warn everyone they can – global leaders, families, strangers – about the necessity for immediate action to escape disaster.

Let’s say that, despite their best attempts (spoiler warning), they don’t farewell.

The comet is an imprecise analog for the climate catastrophe. Don’t Look Up conveys what it’s like to be a climate-conscious person right now, trying to balance the seriousness of the situation with the ordinary reality of our everyday existence. The film resonates and leaves us thinking about many topics, with a blend of outrageous comedy and absolute sincerity: What does it mean to live entirely in these difficult times? How can we build momentum for climate action and successfully bring people together to solve the climate crisis?

Committing to having more climate talks with friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers is an excellent place to start – or return to when we feel overwhelmed (and sure, even world leaders if you have the chance).

Seventy-one percent of Americans are “somewhat concerned” about global warming, while 35 percent are “extremely concerned.” However, according to Yale’s Six Americas, 61 percent of Americans “rarely” or “never” discuss global warming with family and friends. How can we expect to garner widespread support for climate action if most of us don’t speak about it?

A panel of Montanans from diverse backgrounds presented their experiences and opinions on conducting meaningful climate dialogues last night. Here are some major takeaways:

These discussions don’t have to be scripted, and you don’t have to be an expert on the subject. Concentrate on your own experience and why you care about climate change and be open to hearing other people’s tales. Pay close attention to what others are saying; you could be shocked! Concentrate on areas of agreement before connecting the dots to climate consequences.
Share your solutions. What excites you, what is fresh, old, and doable?
Give examples of how to take action. Whether lobbying for legislative change or talking about the climate problem to mainstream these talks and encourage more people to take systemic action, having a sense of agency may help someone go from being aware but disengaged to being worried and actively involved.
Set a single aim for the discussion: to have another dialogue.
Given the present political environment, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed or despair that we’ll ever see the type of broad systemic change required to address the urgency of the climate catastrophe. Our existing economic and political institutions, typified by massive inequities, racial injustice, and disdain for environmental boundaries, often seem to be “simply the way things are” rather than human creations that our values and standards can modify.

Dr. Kim Nicholas said, “system change is a circle, not a cascade.”

Consider a dominoes circle. What effect does talking have? This spring, Katharine Hayhoe (climate scientist and renowned climate communicator) said that it is vital to have a significant difference.

“To cure climate change, we have to knock down all the dominoes,” she argues. What’s the first domino to fall? The first domino is currently engaged in discussion. Having a conversation sets in motion all of the other dominoes: changing what we think of ourselves, what others think of us, our social norms in our community, town, state, country, and the world; our sense of whether we can change anything, and, ultimately, our ability and willingness to act.”

Conversations are essential for systemic change. (You can watch Hayhoe’s whole speech here.)

Do you want to improve your climate discussion abilities and confidence? Join Families for a Livable Climate for a skill-building workshop on climate talks on Thursday, March 3, from 12-1 p.m. (MST). We will learn and practice successful climate discussions with our family, friends, and coworkers. Alternatively, please attend one of their welcome calls to meet other parents and caregivers who make a difference in our community.

Are you wondering what you can do – your unique method of contributing to climate solutions? As a helpful tool, we like the Climate Action Venn Diagram. What is the sweet spot between what offers me delight, what has to be done, and what I can accomplish or bring?

And if, like us, you saw Don’t Look Up and want an opportunity to get together in person, join Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate for an informal happy hour discussion about the film at Imagine Nation Brewing on Wednesday, February 9 from 5 – 6:30 p.m. We’ll gather outdoors beneath the huge tent (which will be heated!). The use of fingerling potatoes and store-bought pie is recommended!

Let us all look up, listen, communicate, and connect.

Winona Bateman is the Director of Families for a Livable Climate, and Abby Huseth is the Outreach Director for Climate Smart Missoula.

Most weeks, Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource provide you with this Sustainable Missoula column through the Missoula Current.

Happenings Concerning Sustainability

Here, we suggest long-term ways to remain connected in our community. Consider subscribing to Climate Smart’s eNewsletter for further information. Also, join up for the Home ReSource eNews by visiting their webpage.

Missoula’s WINTER Farmers Market is still open at Southgate Mall on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Until April 23, 2019.

February 7 The Missoula Rattlesnake Valley Transportation Plan is open for public feedback. Read the plan and provide feedback here.

5:00-6:30 p.m. on February 9. At Imagine Nation Brewing, there will be a Don’t Look Up happy hour film discussion. Have you seen the latest spoof on climate change, Don’t Look Up? Did you laugh, weep, or do both?! Let’s discuss it! Join Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate for an informal happy hour discussion on the film – and an opportunity to catch up with other comet believers over drinks. We’ll meet outdoors in front of the enormous tent (and heaters). Fingerling potatoes and pie are strongly recommended!

You are running Up for Air — Mt Sentinel, February 12. Montana’s participation in this 12-, 6-, and 3-hour race is sponsored by Runner’s Edge. Furthermore, your involvement contributes to Climate Smart’s efforts to improve air quality. Learn more about the series and join up here – or give to help participants (including Climate Smart’s staff!).

From February 18 to March 3, The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival takes place in Montana. Many films deal with environmental issues. The festival takes place in Missoula from February 18 to 27 and online from February 21 to March 3.

Wednesday, March 3rd Climate Conversations: A Workshop on Skills. Learn and practice the skills needed to engage in successful climate dialogues with family, friends, and coworkers.