In the fall of 2015, a group of residents of Mount Desert Island, Maine began gathering around a kitchen table. Everyone brought something tasty to share. All were driven to these gatherings by a concern about climate change and the desire to do something to address the growing crisis.
Within just a few meetings, the group had conceptualized and were preparing to launch A Climate to Thrive, a grassroots effort to apply local, solutions-focused action to the climate crisis. When ACTT launched in January 2016, over 250 members of the small island community poured out to attend the launch event, during which concerns and ideas regarding climate change were shared and plans for action were hatched.
In the four years since its launch, ACTT has more than tripled the island’s solar production, established the first municipally sponsored Community Solar Farm in Emera territory in Maine, helped the local high school install rooftop panels to provide 100% of the school’s energy needs, assisted local homeowners in weatherization projects, established a corridor of electric vehicle charging stations throughout Downeast Maine, helped over 60 restaurants reduce single-used plastic, inspired the Governor to move boldly on renewable energy policy, supported large-scale, student-led days of action, supported local students in urging Bar Harbor to declare a climate emergency, and launched and run an impactful internship program – and much more!
Did the founding members know what they would accomplish as they gathered for fall potlucks in 2015? Definitely not. They were not inspired by an assurance of success. They were propelled by a shared acknowledgment that the climate crisis is much too massive for any one person to address and that even thinking about the issue alone is overwhelming. They wanted to speak their thoughts and feelings in a space where both would be held and affirmed by the collective assembled. They wanted to move together beyond thoughts and feelings to collaborative action. They knew that their impact would be greater if they could draw from each individual’s unique knowledge, skills and experience.
I know this because both my husband and I were seated at the table during those fall potlucks. We still gather with the other board members around kitchen tables as we help drive forward local solutions. Before those potlucks and before I became a founding member of A Climate to Thrive, much of my thinking about climate change happened at home, by myself. My husband and I would often discuss the topic together, but we still felt isolated and overwhelmed in those discussions.
Now, I think about climate change more than I ever did but I also feel much less overwhelmed. Not only am I part of a community that is seeking action, I feel inspired and hopeful because that community action has made me aware of both the number of people that are thinking about the issue and the many unique skill sets that can help drive forward solutions. I also feel much better able to navigate my feelings about the climate crisis because I have many close friends and collaborators that I can call and talk to. And I know I am not alone in how I feel. I am not isolated, either in feeling or action. I am connected.
Community as essential
Connecting to community is an essential part of facing the climate crisis and a powerful tool for the young people we love. We can help cultivate this tool by providing early experiences of the value of community. That way, when young people begin to contemplate the climate crisis, reaching out to community will be second nature.
As we expose our children to experiences of community, we can offer opportunities to reflect upon how it feels to gather together, to share our stories and hear the stories and experiences of others. We can observe the importance of celebrating different talents and strengths and the way in which problem-solving is enhanced when different perspectives and talents are brought to the table. We can explore the rewarding work involved in creating community that is collaborative, respectful and nourishing, in which the sum is truly greater than the parts.
While connection to others helps us face our thoughts and feelings about the climate crisis and cultivate more impactful action, experiencing the truth of relatedness with all living things is also part of the solution itself. The myth of isolation and the accompanying stories about the inevitability of competition have been largely responsible for the very behaviors that fueled the climate crisis to begin with. Reforming a sense of community grounded in the truth of our interrelatedness is a potent antidote to climate change, ideally resulting in the necessary reconfiguration of how we lead our lives. When we remember that every action creates impact and that we are never alone and when we reclaim respect for all other living things, hopefully we cannot help but realign our way of life with this deepest and truest sense of community.