Our Stories

Maria Francesca Drews: Fragility and Resilience

169597_10101440976403617_1073420180_oI work as a hospital chaplain. My job, at its most basic level, is just to be present with people. To offer a listening ear, some empathy, someone to talk things through with—often in times of crisis, grief, fear, loneliness, and death. In my current job, I cover the neonatal ICU, the birthing units, adult psychology, a general medical unit, and often the emergency room. Sometimes I get to see the span of human life, from birth to death and many of the stages in between, all in one shift.

Every day, I have the privilege of pulling up a chair and being present in the love and loss and pain and joy that are fundamental to the human condition. And here is what I have learned:

We are both so very fragile and so very resilient.

We have this one life, and this one body, and it can be taken down so easily. One infection, one car accident, one blood clot, one drug addiction, one genetic mutation. We are so very fragile.

But we are also so very resilient. I have seen babies born months premature, tiny little things, grow up and grow strong enough to leave the hospital. I have seen patients who have waited years and years to receive a transplant finally receive one, and live to tell me about it afterwards. I have seen people go through months of treatment and fight, finally to walk out the hospital doors cancer-free.

We, as humans, live in this tension of being both so very fragile and so very resilient.

And that, that is why climate change is so important to me. Because I know both these things to be true.

I know that we are fragile. That climate change will hurt people, will kill people. We depend on the earth, on the ecosystem, on the soil, and on the strength of our communities, and when those systems are thrown off balance, we cannot survive. Humans depend on the earth.

But I also know that we are resilient. That when we band together and support each other, we can get through incredible hardship. That we are not easily taken down. That we can cause change. I know that we are stronger, tougher, and more able than we often think.

So that’s why I’m dedicated to fighting climate change. Because I actually believe humanity is resilient enough and strong enough to get through this. Not only to survive, but to heal and to thrive.

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Margie & Harry Bennett: How Did We Become Climate Change Activists?

IMG_20150705_115731We met in 1973 while traveling in Greece and went on together to travel across the Middle East overland to India. The travel was significant in that it was a grand start to our 40+-year relationship and we saw a large part of the world that functioned much differently than the United States. Upon returning home, within three years we had married, had our first daughter and were in Marion County, Kansas, on a small farm. We were a part of a “back to the land” movement that embraced organic farming, building community and adopting a lifestyle that was gentler to the environment.

We have always been active in political and environmental movements. In the 1970s and 80s it was organized opposition to nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants with marches and demonstrations. In the 1990s we led a grassroots effort in our rural county against the building of a mega-landfill for imported solid waste and were successful in blocking the project.

In 2002 we joined the United States Peace Corps and served in a Mayan Village in southern Belize. Margie was in an environmental education/rural community development project, and Harry was in a sustainable agriculture/rural community development project. The two years of Peace Corps service in a tropical rain forest agrarian village showed us how impacted the indigenous farmers will be by the changing climate. A grave environmental justice issue was presented every day by the fact that, with no electricity, no cars and non-mechanized food production, the Maya have a very small “carbon footprint” but most likely will be among the first to suffer the most dramatic effects of climate change.

We returned to our farm in Kansas in 2004, and in 2007 we were informed by TransCanada, LLC, that an easement across our land would be required for the Keystone Cushing Extension pipeline. We were surprised to find out some months later that TransCanada had decided to move the pipeline just to the west of our farm, thus avoiding having the pipeline on our land. We were not spared the impacts, however, when the pipeline was built in the summer of 2010: the washout of a temporary construction bridge scattered large wooden mats in our woods; we had large amounts of water drained across our land, heavy traffic, and dust and noise from an industrial construction project; and the riparian area upstream was compromised forever by the pipeline stream crossing. We became educated on the issue of tar sands extraction in Canada and joined with others in Kansas and Oklahoma opposing the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Our story was made part of a Sierra Club campaign publication, Toxic Tar Sands: Profiles from the Frontlines.

In 2011 we moved to Madison to be near our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson and got in on the formation of 350 Madison later that year. Since moving to Madison, our other two daughters have also moved here, and we now have a total of four grandchildren: Orion, Zettie, Lucia and Nikos. Our children and grandchildren are the prime motive behind our continued activism to bring awareness and action to the issue of mitigating climate change so that everyone’s children and grandchildren can have a livable planet in the future.

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Janette Rosenbaum: The Story We Have in Common

P1010165_EMy story might be different from many of yours. I didn’t grow up on a farm or in a small town or even anywhere in the Midwest. I grew up in New Jersey. The county I’m from is one of the most densely populated in the country, with about 4,000 people per square mile. On the street where I lived, there have always been as many houses as there are now, but there used to be more trees. It’s easy to find my parents’ house on Google Earth. It’s the only one on the block you can’t see.

In my lifetime climate has always been a crisis, but it’s been getting worse. I can’t remember a hurricane hitting New York until I was in high school. Now it seems like they happen almost every year.

It was about 115 degrees the day a friend sent me Epic’s website and suggested I consider moving to Wisconsin. The last time I had seen temperatures like that, I was in Arizona. My friend promised me that in Madison it rarely gets above 90.

My first two summers here, it definitely got above 90. It also didn’t rain. In between we had a couple of polar vortexes. There is no normal weather anymore.

I started learning a lot about what’s going on with the environment. While working at Epic I also learned a lot about health, which is kind of a popular topic there. It turns out these things are connected, in a lot of ways that not enough people know about. Since I like tackling root causes, I quit my job and started a master’s in Environmental Health Communications at UW. I have a tendency to make major life changes in a somewhat sudden way.

It tends to work out for me. Within a few weeks after classes started, I found 350 tabling at a university event. Since then I’ve been coming to meetings every month. You are my people.

But my story is different from yours. Unlike many of you, I have no stake in the future. I’m not going to be around at the end of the century, when all these dire predictions are supposed to come true, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to suddenly decide to have kids. I come to these meetings, and I marched in Minnesota, because I don’t want to be the generation that sat around watching YouTube videos while our planet became uninhabitable. I think we can do better than that. On any given day I’m only about 50% sure that we will do better. But here, in this room, at least we’re trying. That’s a part of our story we all have in common.

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Trudi Jenny:  What Motivates Me to Work on Mitigating Climate Change?

I could say 

  • it was seeing “An Inconvenient Truth,”
  • participating in group discussions authored by the Northwest Institute,
  • co-facilitating a program on climate change at my church,
  • participating in the Pax Christi Global Restoration team,
  • seeing “Awakening the Dreamer,” or
  • being truly inspired by all the great people I volunteer with at 350.org and Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

All of these feed my passion for saving our planet, but when my soul speaks, it’s really all about trees and grandchildren and the beauty of God’s creation.

As a child I loved my surroundings—from the daffodils in our backyard, to the tomatoes picked from our small vegetable garden, to the trees outside our windows, to the woods a few blocks away where we played in a clear spring-fed stream. 

I grew up in Pennsylvania—Penn’s woods.  Woods, indeed!  Whenever I visit my sisters who still live in Pennsylvania I travel from Pittsburgh to Lewisburg (a 3–4 hour drive or train ride).  I marvel at the trees. Surrounded on all sides by their majesty I feel enveloped, safe, secure and blessed.  This year as I traveled on the train they stood as mighty, yet fragile, sculptures set against the solid gray backdrop of dense fog.

When I first came to the Midwest I lived in Chicago.  While I loved the excitement of the city, I longed for opportunities to get away to walk in the woods.  When I finally moved to Evanston I discovered that I no longer longed to get away because I lived on tree-lined streets.

A few summers ago when it was so hot and dry, I panicked thinking that the oaks in my yard would not survive.  I sought advice from an arborist and watered them to the point that the water utility called me wondering if there was some leak in my system causing the unusual spike in my water usage.    I mourned, thinking of what my life would be like without the trees in my yard, in the arboretum so close by or along the roads as I traveled through Wisconsin. 

That same summer I was with my son and grandsons on Lake Koshkonong.  My oldest grandson was 14 at the time.  He has been hooked (excuse the pun) on fishing since he was three.  As we crossed the waters to a place where we could set anchor we saw LOTS of dead fish due to the excessive heat.  All I could think of that day and for many days afterward was: What kind of future does my grandson face?   What opportunities will he have to fish?  What fish will remain? Will he be able to teach his children to fish? 

My faith calls me to care for creation.  I love Genesis—so poetically written.  At the end of each day of the creation story, we hear the refrain “And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning….”  In 2001, Pope Benedict XVI said “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”  This past May, Pope Francis said, “If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!”   I ask myself, “What am I doing to protect the Earth?”

When I completed the Peoples’ Climate March this past September I stopped to participate in the Ribbon Project.  I selected a ribbon that carried the message: “For the world I want to leave behind for generations to come.”  This is what motivates me to work to mitigate climate change.   I want future generations to experience the peace of being enveloped by trees, the joy of teaching children to fish, and the beauty of God’s creation as I have experienced it in my lifetime.   

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Mary Beth Elliott: Why I Care So Deeply About Climate Change

99f07fThe reasons for my deep concern about climate change are that I love animals, and I am very concerned about people who have few resources. Both will be horrifically affected by climate change.

I grew up in a poverty-stricken environment in Texas, but we had nice birds, including boat-tailed grackles and mockingbirds. Unfortunately, as a really little kid, I tried to catch and pick up a huge white duck, and boy, do their claws hurt!

Every time the ditches in our front yard were flooded in a heavy rain, they would fill with crawdads—now called crayfish—but it never did occur to us to eat them. We had tons of beautiful chameleons that we would change from brown to green and back in a few seconds—did this all the time—and there were lots of teeny frogs that would pee in your hand as soon as you gently picked them up. As an adult, I’ve had many shelter or stray cats who have lived a long time—the longest, 22 years. In Tanzania, my favorites were hippos, superb starlings, flamingos, and blue-balled monkeys. I spent a couple of years in New Zealand, which has no native deciduous trees, only evergreens, and no native mammals, but is home to wonderful creatures found nowhere else, among them, the bellbird, the fantail, the tui, the New Zealand wood pigeon, and the kea.

I am an animal lover; a long-time vegetarian; a donor to the ASPCA, Humane Society, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and 350.org; a WWF Partner in Conservation. I keep my bird feeders filled. I’ve even had indigo buntings visit our balcony in Madison, along with rose-breasted grosbeaks, hummingbirds, tufted titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers.

The second source of my concern about climate change is that its worst wrath will be visited upon people who have nowhere to go, who are not rich enough to move elsewhere when their home areas are under water or on fire. I was in Australia in 2009 on Black Saturday, when horrible fires raged, going through towns at unbelievable speeds, killing 173 people. People huddled in their homes, calling parents or children on cell phones to say goodbye just before fire surrounded them. I am afraid because my daughter and son-in-law live in Arizona near recent big fires, and I know my daughter, a physician, would stay behind with her patients if they could not all be evacuated in time.

We all have reasons to care about climate change. That is my story, and I encourage us all to think about and write down why we care so much.

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Carl Whiting: Monarch

I spent mCarl Whiting, My Mother's bookplate_Ey early years on a wild stretch of the Southern California coast. One early winter morning when I was six or seven, my mother woke me to say she had a surprise for me. Without further explanation I was bundled into the car and driven down a fog-damp highway near the outskirts of Ventura. The mist was just beginning to burn off as we pulled over at the edge of a large eucalyptus grove. Walking into the stillness among the towering trees, my mother steered me along with a hand on each of my small shoulders until we’d arrived at the heart of the grove. “Look up,” she whispered.

Raising my head, I could see the early sunlight beginning to catch the edges of the eucalyptus leaves, turning them a fiery orange. My mother was always pointing out such things, and it wasn’t beyond her to travel some distance to take in such a view. But then something truly remarkable began to happen: A few at a time those leaves began to open, and then close, and then—I discovered that what I had taken to be leaves were in fact a million roosting monarch butterflies, waking and stretching in the pale morning light. As we stood watching silently in this sheltered resting place along their migratory route, they began to take wing by the hundreds of thousands, fluttering and circling in our little clearing among the trees.

My mother died when I was fifteen. Every year since she passed, I have been gently reminded of her spirit when a monarch has sailed past my shoulder. I see a graceful fluttering of orange, and I say to my boys, “That reminds me of your grandmother; let me tell you a story about her.”

It was several years ago when I first began to notice fewer and fewer occasions for these stories, and I found myself actively looking for monarchs on my walks. Over time, the wild milkweed that is their larvae’s only food has been crowded out by endless fields of homogeneous crops . . . and meanwhile, the weather has turned strange. We have altered both the landscape and the atmosphere in ways that creatures like the monarch cannot long survive. The ravages of climate change have begun to take their toll on our most vulnerable species as seasons have lost their predictable seasonality, and the creatures of the earth have begun slipping in their battle to adapt.

Our scientists say the monarch butterfly will likely soon be gone forever, a fact I simply cannot accept. As memories of my mother grew to be linked to a silent fluttering of orange, it never occurred to me that the entire species might someday vanish. It never occurred to me that we could be so foolish as to accidentally destroy them all.

All my life, those bright orange wings had been little messages, a way to keep alive important thoughts and stories, and so I took special note of them. How many other species, less colorful but equally vital, are slipping away without notice? How many times will we fail to recognize a fellow traveler, carelessly disregarded until it too has joined the ranks of what is no longer there.

I want my great-great-grandchildren to be able to observe slender leaves unfurling from the tips of their branches in early spring, because spring has come at her proper time and stayed her season. I want them to stand under the dripping elms after a rain and smell the richness of the earth. I want them to watch in awe as patches of sunlight and shadow chase one another over the brow of a hill on a windy day. I want them to see a monarch butterfly. I want  those who will follow us to have the opportunity to love this earth as we have loved it, not to feel the inconsolable sorrow of having been left something lesser, a shining world we broke before they could inherit it.

Like a child who has nothing more to offer, I’ve begun to carry milkweed pods in my pockets. My boys and I scatter their floating seeds in back lots and along uncultivated strips of land, hoping that doing so may offer some tired monarch something to eat.

I’ve also become active in educating myself and others on climate change. We have no choice but to find our way forward, to establish a new relationship with the earth and repair what damage we can. We have both the knowledge and the means to do so. May we find the courage, the wisdom, and the will.

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Beth Esser: Why I Became Involved with Climate Change Activism

Beth Esser

Two years ago, on a beautiful spring day, I attended a regional Unitarian Universalist workshop on endowments. The workshop was led by Terry Wiggins from Milwaukee, who had led a fossil fuel divestment campaign for her own church’s endowment fund. That workshop was where I first heard about Bill McKibben, global warming’s “terrifying new math,” and fossil fuel divestment.

My husband Derek and I were aware of climate change. We had seen An Inconvenient Truth, switched to cloth bags and compact fluorescent lights, and bought a Prius. We also had had many discussions about whether we should have children and about what climate change might mean for future generations. Derek is always a bit more optimistic than I am and believed our society would overcome the challenge of climate change.

Fast-forward a few years from those “children or no children” conversations, and here we were, the parents of two young children, Miles and Ila. How many times had we talked about climate change in our household since having kids? Maybe a handful. Between lack of sleep, diapers, and enjoyment of these two little people in our home, we did not have much energy left to discuss climate change, and honestly, it was just too scary to think about, now that the potential children we used to discuss were very real, with very real futures in front of them.

But on that beautiful, clear, spring day two years ago after I first heard about Bill McKibben, I couldn’t ignore climate change any longer. The numbers were in front of me, and the real crisis of climate change hit me head-on. At first I was overwhelmed, then I had some denial. If this crisis was really as bad as it sounded, then why wasn’t more being done about it, and why wasn’t everyone talking about it?

So I had a choice, do I go home and try to pretend everything is normal or that someone else will take care of fixing this little climate change problem? Or do I overcome my fear and get involved? My fear wasn’t just about not knowing what I could do or what my children’s future would be like, although there was a lot of fear in that, of course. My fear was also about disrupting life in my family. You see, I was raised on coal. My Dad worked at a coal power plant for over 20 years before his retirement, and my brother-in-law, Dave, who recently passed away, was working there too. I knew how much the “war on coal” could hurt real people. The plant my Dad and Dave worked at is scheduled to close at the end of 2015. My sister, Dave, and their family were facing either the loss of a good, family-supporting job or a transfer to another plant several hours away from their home and the extended family they love.

It hurts me to know that my sister and Dave and my entire small hometown face this loss of an employer that has provided family-supporting jobs, and it is a very sobering reminder that real lives have been and will continue to be affected as we transition to a fossil-free future. So two years ago, as I thought about my kids and my sister and Dave, it became quite clear to me that I must be involved in this work of climate change activism because I dream of a time when a family-supporting job, the health of our planet, and our children’s futures are not at odds with each other. I want to be part of the solution and of what Joanna Macy calls the “Great Turning.”