Aligning Our Actions, Goals for Climate Change

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Tompkins Weekly        3-9-22

By Cathleen Banford

People of the Finger Lakes region have been fighting sustainability and social justice challenges for a long time; to actually live within a system that supports our lives would be welcome. As Nelson Mandela said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” Today, tangible change is in the air.

On Feb. 12 of this year, Jen Metzger of the New York State Climate Action Council (CAC) and state senior policy advisor for New Yorkers for Clean Power offered her time to help highlight a very comprehensive action plan (see the following opinion piece for an overview: “Let’s be real about climate change”).

Leaders are asking for public comment on the CAC’s Draft Scoping Plan. This is a comprehensive plan, addressing the challenges from a technological perspective. It’s clear that the scope of challenges ahead is enormous when we consider the amount of collaboration and commitment it will take to make all of this possible.

New York state, Tompkins County and Ithaca are all aligning themselves to greater national and global efforts such as the Sustainable Development Goals widely shared by the United Nations.

Some of the people involved with Sustainable Tompkins in 2021. Photo provided.

The opportunity to comment is encouraging, but will individuals participate and will people actually see their needs and concerns addressed? Given the events of the past few years, do we have the energy and will to share perspectives locally that are key to the success of this massive endeavor?

As rational and comprehensive as these plans are, another important question to ask going forward is how do mental health and climate healing relate to one another? People’s overall well-being, including emotional health, is an outcome of being able to meet our basic needs.

Current issues such as youth struggling within school systems and stressed teachers and nurses are piling on to global issues such as climate change. As a very wise 18-year-old recently shared, “It’s not enough to control the situation; we need to learn what the causes are.” Life’s experiences lead to awareness that can make it possible to trace causes and outcomes and reveal patterns that can help to guide our collective path forward.

Maybe it’s not even necessary to fix everything all at once. It may be more important to nurture mutual trust, cultivating a universal sense of agency and connection. As a community, it’s our own belief that we are powerless that keeps us from moving forward. It is absolutely within our power to step back and make room for everyone to embrace intuitive communal wisdom.

In an authentic relationship, our will to connect encourages healing and helps us overcome the most difficult challenges. Oppressive power loses momentum if we reclaim unity and equity in our personal lives.

While the technological shifts needed in order to address our climate crisis are great, our goals are achievable if we are willing to acknowledge the system’s influence on people’s ability to participate with change.

James Clear, author of the book “Atomic Habits,” writes, “You fall to the level of your systems.”

Social activists in tune with a strong sense of compassion and empathy have been putting out fires for a very long time in efforts to shift social systems. As architect, systems theorist and environmental activist Buckminster Fuller conveyed, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new world that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Personal experience may teach us the negative outcomes of responding reactively to fear, yet they can provide an opportunity for learning to listen and connect at a deeper level. These are the moments that teach accountability and can pave the way for positive and lasting outcomes.

It’s interesting to ponder how this is very much the same in larger settings, including governance. Which experiences best inform systems design and address intersectional challenges? How do people cultivate emotional availability to take on systems change appropriately at any level?

As author Kendra Cherry notes in her article on VeryWell Mind, “According to self-determination theory, people need to feel the following in order to achieve psychological growth:

– Autonomy: People need to feel in control of their own behaviors and goals. This sense of being able to take direct action that will result in real change plays a major part in helping people feel self-determined.

– Competence: People need to gain mastery of tasks and learn different skills. When people feel that they have the skills needed for success, they are more likely to take actions that will help them achieve their goals.

– Connection or relatedness: People need to experience a sense of belonging and attachment to other people.”

People have an intuitive understanding of their needs. This includes learning from each other enough to move past generational trauma toward understanding what our commonalities are. Imagine applying authentic compassion as the foremost criteria for developing policy changes.

Many of us have proven ourselves during the pandemic, showing up for both community and ecology. Reflective pauses present moments that not only align us with others but also with nature. Developing habits such as these feed the wellspring of courage that will inspire lasting accountability in support of ecological and regenerative living.

Along the journey toward collaborative systems design, there’s often someone to learn from who is further along on this path. Personal stories and examples such as those shared in our communities or in periodicals such as YES! Magazine offer inspiration.

Ultimately, each one of us needs to figure out our own way of engaging with the ongoing redesign of our social systems. Author Shawn Ginwright shares in YES!: “By first transforming and reimagining ourselves, we all have an opportunity before us to truly transform our organizations and reimagine our work.”

It’s a dance that involves trust and intentional mental shifts. Ginwright identifies these as the “Four Pivots”: from lens to mirror, from problem to possibility, from transactional to connection and from hustle to flow.

Reality is brought about by visions, dreams, authentic sharing, sleeves pushed up and feet on the ground. Inspiration is vital given humanity’s emotional nature. Inviting ourselves to continue collecting stories that inspire, as our community has been doing, adds a sense of grace and celebration to the work at hand.

As for sharing ideas, giving away food and clothing, helping each other afford green heating and cooling solutions, starting programs that help build strong communities, looking out for our neighbors, donating when we can, fighting for systems changes, joining in celebrations such as the anticipated return of the infamous Ithaca Festival parade and experiencing the beautiful Finger Lakes hiking areas: these are what make working toward greater systems change worthwhile.

Maybe it’s also about being open to newness, diving deeper into learning, increasing our cross pollination potential through expanding our networks and getting really focused. Offering up comments to New York CAC’s Draft Scoping Plan is yet another way to celebrate the reality that spring is near!

As Arundhati Roy said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”

Signs of Sustainability appears in the second and fourth edition each month in Tompkins Weekly.

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