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Sustainable Missoula: Everyday climate conversations are key to systemic change

Like millions of other Americans, we sat down in front of our televisions to watch the recent film. Don’t Look Up, which we enjoyed well during the holidays. You’ve heard about it, if not seen it: scientists find a giant comet that will collide with the planet in precisely six months and seek to warn everyone they can — global leaders, relatives, and strangers – about the necessity for immediate action to escape catastrophic consequences.

Let’s say that, despite their best efforts (spoiler warning), they don’t have much luck in the end.

Although a flawed one, the comet is a good analogy for the climate situation. “Don’t Look Up” portrays what it’s like to be a climate-concerned person right now, striving to balance the seriousness of the problem with the banal reality of our day-to-day existence. After seeing the film, we are left thinking about many things, which combines outrageous comedy with absolute earnestness. For example, what does living entirely in these challenging times mean? How can we build momentum for climate action and bring people together to solve the climate problem in a meaningful way? What are some ideas?

One place to start – or to come back to when we feel overwhelmed – is to commit to having more climate dialogues with friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, as well as with our elected representatives (and sure, even world leaders if you have the chance).

Global warming is causing 71 percent of Americans to be at least “somewhat concerned,” with 35 percent stating that they are “extremely concerned.” However, according to Yale’s Six Americas survey, 61 percent of Americans say they “rarely” or “never” address global warming with their family and friends. How can we get widespread support for climate action if most of us refuse to speak about it?

In a panel discussion last night, Montanans from various backgrounds and viewpoints shared their personal experiences and opinions on how to conduct meaningful climate talks. Some major takeaways are as follows:

These discussions are not required to follow a script, and you do not need to be an expert in the field of science. Concentrate on your narrative and why you are concerned about climate change, and be open to hearing other people’s tales. Pay attention to what people are saying; you could be shocked! Concentrate on the common ground first, and then draw the connections to climate change consequences.

Solution-sharing is encouraged. What do you find fascinating, fresh, old, or doable? What do you think is achievable?

Provide concrete examples of how to take action. Being able to advocate for policy change or speak about the climate catastrophe to help mainstream these talks so that more people take systemic action might assist someone in moving from being aware but disengaged to being concerned and actively involved in various ways.
Set a single purpose for the talk: to facilitate the initiation of another conversation.
In light of the present political environment, it’s reasonable to feel overwhelmed or discouraged about the prospect of achieving the type of sweeping systemic change that will be required to fulfill the urgent needs of the climate emergency. It is possible to believe that our existing economic and political institutions, which are characterized by massive inequities, racial injustice, and a disdain for ecological boundaries, are “just the way things are,” rather than being human creations that can be affected by our values and standards.

“System change is a circle rather than a cascade,” argues Dr. Kim Nicholas, describing the reality of system change.

Consider the image of a circle of dominoes. What is the impact of talking? Last spring, Katharine Hayhoe (climate scientist and skilled climate communicator) stated that collaboration is vitally necessary to make a significant difference.

“If we want to stop climate change, we have to knock down all of the dominoes,” she argues. What is the first domino to fall? Having a dialogue is the first domino to fall. Having a conversation sets off a chain reaction that causes all of the other dominoes to fall into place: “to change our perceptions of ourselves and others, our social norms in our community, our town, our state, our country, and our world; our belief that we can make a difference; and, ultimately, our ability and willingness to act.”

Conversations are essential for systemic change to occur. You may watch Hayhoe’s whole speech here.)

Want to take your climate talks skills and confidence to the next level? Check out these resources. Attend a climate discussions skill-building workshop hosted by Families for a Livable Climate on March 3 from 12-1 p.m. (MST). We will learn and practice strategies for having successful climate talks with our family, friends, and coworkers. Alternatively, you may participate in one of their welcoming calls to meet other parents and caregivers who are actively involved in our community.

Are you wondering what you can do to contribute to climate change solutions in your unique way? The Climate Action Venn Diagram is one of our favorite tools for identifying and addressing climate change. Consider the following question: where is the sweet spot between what offers me pleasure, what has to be done, and what I can accomplish or contribute to the table?

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

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

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

Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource collaborate to bring you this Sustainable Missoula column, published every other week in the Missoula Current.

What’s Going on in the World of Sustainability

We’ve compiled some suggestions for long-term ways to be connected in our local community. For further information, consider subscribing to Climate Smart’s eNewsletter, which may be found here. Additionally, you may join up for the Home ReSource eNews by visiting their webpage here.

This winter, the Missoula Farmers Market will be held at Southgate Mall on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Until April 23.

February 7. The Missoula Rattlesnake Valley Transportation Plan is open for public feedback through March 31. You may read the plan and provide feedback here.

February 9, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. At Imagine Nation Brewing, there will be a happy hour film discussion on Don’t Look Up. Have you seen the new satirical film Don’t Look Upon climate change? Did that make you laugh, weep, or a combination of the two?! Let’s discuss about it! Participate in an informal happy hour talk about the film with Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate – and use it as an opportunity to get together over a few beers with other comet believers. Those who choose to gather outdoors beneath the huge tent should do so (and heaters). Fingerling potatoes and pie are highly recommended!

Mt Sentinel, on February 12, is a great place to get some fresh air. Montana’s participation in this 12-hour, 6-hour, and 3-hour race is sponsored by Runner’s Edge. Furthermore, your involvement contributes to Climate Smart’s efforts to promote clean air. Visit this page to find out more about the series and join up – or make a donation to help participants (including Climate Smart’s staff team!)

From February 18 through March 3, The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival takes place every year in the mountains of Montana. The environment is a topic that appears in many films. The festival will be held in person in Missoula from February 18 to February 27 and online from February 21 to March 3.

March 3 is a Thursday. Climate Conversations: A Workshop on Communication Skills Improve your ability to engage in successful climate talks with family, friends, and coworkers by learning and practicing these strategies.