For one week in June, 2016, I had the lucky opportunity to gather together with over 50 participants hailing from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, all working towards the same thing: learning and sharing about climate change affects, networking and engaging in ideas on how to move forward in our communities in the realm of environmental justice and sustainability.
How amazing is that?!
Climate change has brought people from all over the world, from all different walks of life, from all different beliefs, together in an expression of solidarity that is unlike anything seen before, except perhaps in war. And yet, are we not fighting for our planet and the future? Indeed, this battle is something we must all face, no matter what our position.
The first couple of days were introductions and demonstrations of where we come from and how we connect. We each brought forth a travel size amount of water from places that we had a special link to. From drought-suffering California, to the polluted waters of the Hudson in New York, from the tainted waters of Flint, Michigan, to the spring waters in Canada. Water is an essential part of life, and it runs through every one of us, but water is also subject to the laws of nature, and in Louisiana, where this convergence was held, there can be found very good examples of this.
We learned about the effects of Hurricane Katrina in more than just dollar amounts and statistical losses. Our group both read, watched, and heard very real and very personal stories of loss and feelings of abandonment, and of resilience and an incredible hopefulness. Louisiana has undergone drastic land changes, mostly for the profit of companies, and while there are those who are trying to repair the damage, the way in which disasters that are natural and naturally occurring have affected the human-changed land and those who live upon it, are very much visible and tangible evidences of climate change. So you would think that those with decision-making authority–especially those who actually live there–would be all the more open to viable solutions or strategies to counter climate change and work both to adapt to and mitigate its effects.
Our visit to the congressman of Louisiana however, showed just how much work there is to be done by the public in informing our elected officials of how costly their reluctance to acknowledge what is happening in, as Pope Francis puts it, “our common home” is, and the need we have of them to truly represent our best interests and well-being. The pope says that “unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment. Local legislation can be more effective, too, if agreements exist between neighbouring communities to support the same environmental policies.” (Laudato Si, P179). Coming together with our prayers and concerns at the congressman’s office, despite the reluctance of his aides to listen, shows just how important it is to realize we are not alone in this endeavor and therefore, we should not go at it alone. And we should neither give up nor let go of the power our voices and our votes have.
I have learned and gained so much from this diverse gathering of environmental leaders that really, a few paragraphs cannot hope to encompass it all. I can only hope that this excerpt of a fantastic experience be something which motivates readers into optimistic action, that you may continue forward in your endeavors with hope and in the security of solidarity.