By Jessica Engel
The 7th Annual Northwest Climate Conference took place November 14-16. It was as if the timing of the conference was perfectly planned to take place directly after this year’s Presidential election and there were no shortages of discussions about our country’s chosen candidate.
I wanted to focus my blog post on the conversations that were had during the conference regarding the current political environment, because it has such a significant impact on many of our jobs, programs, and communities. But also because there were some common themes and messages that I am really excited to share. The overall theme of the conference, and one that I feel will be very important for each of us in the next four years is: communication.
We need to start communicating with each other in order to understand each other’s perspectives and values so that we may work together towards climate change goals. For many years, the climate community has been able to sit back on their heels and reach for the low hanging fruit when attempting to gain more climate “believers.” Jeremy Jones, pro snowboarder and founder of Protect Our Winters, said it perfectly during the conference’s first night of plenary: the “Republicans,” “non-believers,” and those who disagree with climate change have always been the missing puzzle pieces in our fight to push climate goals forward. Now, those folks make up the whole puzzle. We need to get re-energized and start tackling those tough conversations, reaching people at the core of their values. Whether those values are job creation through renewables, protecting the recreation that they enjoy with their families, or national security through military preparedness (as highlighted by David Titley, Professor at Penn State and former Navy Rear Admiral).
You may have noticed that I added parentheses around non-believers and Republicans. The reason for this is because another overarching theme from the conference is that climate change should not be a political issue or a belief system; it is based in science. We need to convince people of the evidence. “Ice doesn’t vote Democrat or Republican. It just melts,” David Titley said.
I don’t think any of us have gravitated towards climate work because we thought it would be easy and we all deal with difficult conversations with people about our jobs (everyone has that good old uncle who gives you grief at Thanksgiving). Therefore, the positive side of this election outcome is this: we are now forced into spaces we may not have ventured into before, but these are the spaces we have always needed to be present in. We need to enter those spaces with an unbiased view of the people who occupy them and focus on the issues we are all facing within the horizon of climate change.
We are all lucky to work in a field we are passionate about. We are capable and should all be up for the challenge. Let this election outcome re-focus and re-energize us….all of us!
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