Local View: Duluth, say what you need to say on the climate crisis
From the column: "While there are some very committed and compassionate people in our city of Duluth who are speaking up ... about climate change, too many of us aren't saying enough or are keeping quiet. Too many of us are not talking about what we see happening."
In the 2007 film, “The Bucket List,” two main characters meet in the hospital. They find themselves in the same room after both being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The men begin talking, form a deep friendship, and decide to travel the world during the remaining days of their lives. At the end of the film, during the credits, John Mayer sings his song “Say,” and two of its lines really hit home for me: “Say what you need to say.” And, “You better know that in the end it's better to say too much than never to say what you need to say.”
When it comes to the climate crisis, there's a lot you and I could say. But are we saying enough or saying nothing? Are we holding back from expressing ourselves and sharing what's on our minds and in our hearts? With so many things on this planet that are disappearing and could be coming to an end, what do we need to say?
On June 23, 1988 — 34 years ago — NASA scientist James Hansen said what he needed to say. Testifying before Congress, Hansen stated, "The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now."
That day was the hottest June 23 on record in the nation's capital. And while the U.S. was experiencing the warmest summer on record, 2 million acres burned in Alaska, dozens of major fires scorched the West, stretches of the Mississippi River flowed at less than one-fifth of normal capacity, and Yellowstone National Park lost nearly 1 million acres to wildfires.
This June has presented us with new and more challenging climate events around the country. There are major wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico, Lake Mead and the Colorado River are at their lowest levels in recorded history, cities throughout the Southwest and Midwest are experiencing new high temperatures, and carbon-dioxide levels continue to rise.
While there are some very committed and compassionate people in our city of Duluth who are speaking up and saying what they need to say about climate change, too many of us aren't saying enough or are keeping quiet. Too many of us are not talking about what we see happening. We’re not talking about how we're feeling or about what we're hoping for or need to do.
Like James Hansen, we need to begin testifying. We need to stand up and speak up. We need to give a voice to what we're seeing, experiencing, and feeling.
If you're a teacher or professor, you need to testify to your students. If you're a pastor or minister, you need to testify to your congregations. If you're a doctor or nurse, you need to testify to your patients. And everyone can testify to their mayor, city council, county commissioner, state legislator, and congressional representatives.
Thinking about the climate emergency can feel overwhelming. But instead of trying to avoid the topic or walking around tight-lipped, it's vitally important for your mental and emotional health to give your experiences, thoughts, and emotions a voice. That voice can help all of us gain a greater sense of clarity about where we are today and where we need to go tomorrow.
At some weddings, the person presiding will announce, "Speak now or forever hold your peace." I would think that now is a good time for you and me to speak up about climate change — to speak up about how this climate crisis is impacting and will impact our lives.
In honor of June 23, find someone or some group of people to testify to, whether it's in an email, phone call, Zoom meeting, or letter to the editor. Even if it’s while sharing a meal with others, talk about what you see, think, feel, and hope for. Like James Hansen, we need to stand up, step up, and speak up.
Duluth, it's time to testify.
Tone Lanzillo is a member of the Loaves and Fishes Community in Duluth, is a live-in volunteer at the Dorothy Day House, is an active part of the Duluth/365 initiative on climate, and is a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.