Lately I’ve been hamstrung by the heaviness of change.
It doesn’t take much to get on board with climate action and antiracism when it’s the easy stuff, like signing a petition or sharing a meme or just agreeing that something needs to be done.
But the change that truly needs to happen is much harder and takes us working together. It means confronting our biases and resistance to change, and our unwillingness to see ourselves in the problems and solutions.
It’s hard to deny the impacts of climate change when watching friends, families, and whole villages and towns suffer the loss of places to live, the gear and tools of their livelihoods, the stability and assurance of community infrastructure.
Severe storms, wildfires, flooding, erosion, and food loss has forced people to see and name what’s happening, but that isn’t actual change—it’s only recognition.
More folks may find it hard to deny climate change these days, but they can keep denying their part in it. They can keep denying their need to change how they think. They can keep denying that what and how they do things makes a difference.
Earlier this month, I shared time with people committed to meaningful change at the Alaska Conservation Foundation Awards.
I received an award at the event and know the honor rests on the contributions of everyone from the founders of Trustees for Alaska in 1974 to the efforts and trust of staff, board members, clients, and partners today. This fabric supports me to shine.
What struck me most were the other awardees’ passion, resolve, and innovative thinking. The youth awardee Iris Montesano spoke about climate and justice and what it will take to bring those things together through climate action, while also honoring her mentor, a prior recipient of the Denny Wilcher Award for Young Environmental Activists.
The collaborative and growing group of people involved in the Imago Initiative team at The Wilderness Society—recipients of the Lowell Thomas, Jr. Award for Outstanding Achievements by an Organization Doing Conservation Work—talked about indigenizing conservation and bringing people into solutions.
Crystal Leonetti, recipient of the award for Outstanding Achievements by an Alaska Native Organization or Individual, talked about bringing change into institutions with trust and care.
Everyone who spoke that night focused in their own way on how to make change and that change begins in the heart.
I, too, reflected on change, using a passage from Mahatma Gandhi. The passage begins, “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”
This message has evolved into the “be the change you want to see” mantra we know today, and it resonates with me still.
It’s the internal work we all have to do to make change in the world in which we live. We cannot extract ourselves from this work because it’s hard or uncomfortable or we don’t like what it may require of us. We cannot excuse ourselves from doing it because we already have other tasks to do.
All of us have a role in making change for the better, those of us with power and privilege even more so. Choosing not to do it means being an obstacle to the struggle for that change—it means propping up a status quo that impacts people every day.
It means allowing racism, oppression, hate, lies, violence, dislocation, financial and social manipulation, and all the forces intersecting with climate change to thwart real solutions. It means preventing the building of community strength by perpetually continuing the rut of not changing the deeper problems.
Change is scary, and we only achieve it when we build and share power together. The health of ourselves and the planet depends on it.
PS. Thanks to supporters like you, we can continue fighting to protect Alaska’s land, water, air, wildlife and people!