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Category: Climate Action

Climate Activist Survival Tips

Ai Weiwei, Iron Tree, 2013 Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Ai Weiwei, Iron Tree, 2013 Yorkshire Sculpture Park

I don’t know about you, but doing climate change gets overwhelming at times. For one there is the deluge of information, and much of it is bad news. Then there are all the people who either don’t care about our climate crisis or are outright hostile to any discussion about climate action. Then there are the folks who are convinced climate change is serious, so much so that they have lost hope and have become hope deniers.

If I am not careful, I can get weighed down under it all. So I have developed some strategies to help lessen the load and emotionally care for myself.

One of the most important steps I take to keep my head above the waters is to have community–friends and colleagues who are also engaged in climate action. Just having another person who understands, who cares, who is involved in some aspect of the work comforts and supports me. I regularly check in with members of the Climate Stew Crew–Prescott Allen Hazleton, Leah Schade, Andrea McClaren and others. I am also involved in a local Quaker meeting where I have fellow laborers in the climate work.

In addition, this year I want to work on regular practices to help keep my thoughts positive and stave off the heaviness.

I found a great article that provides some simple tips that I can already say make a big difference.

I think there is real truth in the saying: You are what you think.

Happy Thoughts: Here Are the Things Proven To Make You Happier. This article lists techniques that help people who are clinically depressed, and as a climate activist, I can attest to climate-induced depression.

Some highlights:

  • Hiking Arizona with my dear friend, Abby.

    Hiking in Arizona with my dear friend, Abby.

    Spend as much time as possible with people you like. The happiest people are social with strong relationships. Not spending more time with people we love is something we regret the most. Being able to spend more time with friends provides an increase in happiness worth up to an additional $133,000 a year. Being compassionate makes us happier (causal, not correlative.) Share the best events of your day with loved ones and ask them to do the same. And compliment them — we love compliments more than money or sex.

  • Gratitude, Gratitude, Gratitude I can’t emphasize this one enough. Showing gratitude for the good things you have is the most powerful happiness boosting activity there is. It will make you happier. It will improve your relationships. It can make you a better person. It can make life better for everyone around you. Bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists. Why? They feel grateful to get a medal at all. Every night before you go to bed write three good things that happened to you that day. Jotting those down is pretty much all it takes to get a boost in well-being over time.

There’s a second lesson here: the reverse is also true. Keeping track of the bad things will make you miserable. A convenient memory is a powerful thing. Do not train your brain to see the negative, teach it to see the positive.

  • Fundamentals are fundamental Cranky? Before you blame the world, eat something. Take a nap — it can purge negative emotions and increase happy thoughts. Sleep is vital because your mood in the morning affects your mood all day.  Get your sleep. You cannot get away with cheating yourself on sleep and being tired makes it harder to be happy.

Read the whole article for yourself: Happy Thoughts: Here Are the Things Proven To Make You Happier.

What are some strategies you use to stay positive and healthy?

Whaling, Quakers, and Alternative Energies

If you are concerned about the climate, it is important to be able to talk about the economy. The folks who struggle the most to accept the challenges of our climate crisis most often say they are more worried about how climate action will affect the economy. This is a valid concern and one worth addressing. A complete alteration of our energy system and supply will no doubt affect specific industries–namely fossil fuel companies and employees.

7-25-11 027This is not our first rodeo. We have made major changes in the energy we use over the past 300 years. Whale oil and the whaling industry loomed large in the 18th Century into the 19th Century. Fortunes were made through the hunting and killing of whales in order to manufacture profitable products, particularly whale oil that was used for lamps, soaps, machine lubricants, and margarine. In colonial New England the whaling industry was dominated by Quakers. According to the site Quakers in the World:

So lucrative was the trade in sperm whale oil that by 1790 Nantucket Quakers reported to Yearly Meeting that ‘there were no poor people on the island’. By the 1830’s the value of whale products on Nantucket alone exceeded $1 million and this was well below that of New Bedford.

A number of factors (including in-fighting among Friends) interfered with the seemingly limitless prosperity of the Quaker whalers.

During the 1840s Nantucket began to lose its place at the forefront of whaling. A disastrous fire in 1846, coupled with disputes between various Quaker factions on the island, led to the demise of the industry there. By 1850 Nantucket whaling was no more. The arrival of the railroad in New Bedford had driven the last nail in the coffin of Nantucket as a centre for whaling and New Bedford became the ‘city that lit the world’ with its whale oil.

But the golden age of whaling was past. The opening of the Pennsylvania oilfields in the late 1850s sounded the death knell for the whaling industry. The last whaling ship left Nantucket in 1869 never to return. By the 1880s whaling in New Bedford had also ceased.

The whale industry floundered and diminished. According to Wikipedia:

The use of whale oil saw a steady decline starting in the late 19th century due to the development of superior alternatives and, later, the passing of environmental laws.

renewable energy crossword

renewable energy crossword

Superior alternatives were developed and mined–namely fossil fuels, one of the first alternative energy sources.

Today we must replace those alternatives of old with new ones that do not pollute and compromise our atmosphere and climate. Just like we replaced the inhumane practice of whale hunting with the extraction of fossil fuels, we now have the opportunity to develop less harmful sources of energy. Some industries will lose out–coal and petroleum in particular–but that is the nature of a market-driven economy. Trains get replaced by cars which get replaced by planes which get replaced by magic carpet. Well, who knows what is next.

So for those of us interested in communicating with friends, neighbors, and co-workers about climate change, it is important to know how to speak about the economy. And to help with that here is an excerpt from the Climate Stew Show where I talk about the economy and how even Conservative economists have begun to advocate for climate action. The risks of doing nothing threaten our economy. The costs of inaction is too great and will disrupt stability. The rewards of acting are manifold. (transcript below)

Transcript

Our Climate News story today is about the economy. Wait, what? Yeah, turns out it’s not only scientists and lawmakers tracking the effects of global warming, but economists have begun to raise concerns about the possible financial consequences of a changing climate and the added costs of delaying action. They also are offering some possible economic models to address the situation.

Henry Paulson, who served as Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush, knows a thing or two about inflated bubbles that burst in our faces. He played a key role during the global financial meltdown of 2008 and compares the housing bubble that laid low economies worldwide to what he is seeing as a growing global warming bubble.

During a panel presentation at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, Paulson framed the climate crisis in economic terms, “I am looking at this through the lens of risk – climate change is not only a risk to the environment but it is the single biggest risk that exists to the economy today,” He predicts that as governments and businesses partner to take on climate change and the necessary transition from dirty to clean energy, it will result in economic growth. Earlier in the year he specifically proposed a carbon tax as a way of curbing emissions and jumpstarting a market-driven energy revolution.

And if we know anything about how the world works, nothing motivates action faster than the fear of losing money and the promise of a get rich quick scheme. But the question is can the high and mighty business leaders and policy makers who harness capitalism to address our climate crisis do it with an eye towards justice? Likely input from the people on the ground is needed.

Can we save the planet from the comfort of our homes? Hell No.

Kathy Straub, Ph.D. Atmospheric Scientist

Kathy Straub, Ph.D. Atmospheric Scientist

You know the mantra: “If we each just did our part in our homes, conserved more energy, bought the right products, and lowered our individual carbon footprints, we will help save the planet?” Now I hate to burst your pretty little ecological bubble, but that is not true. I know it sounds blasphemous. It might even sound defeatist. Of course there are plenty of things we can do to address fossil fuel pollution, but we need to look at this issue honestly with the facts.

I sat down with Dr. Kathy Straub, an atmospheric scientist at Susquehanna University, who knows a thing or two thousand about climate change. I first asked her about the misconceptions she needs to clear up with undergraduates who take one of her climate courses, and then it takes off from there. We talk about what an individual can do and the sort of collective action needed to make a big difference. She also explains to me, an actor, climate science in a way that makes it easier to understand.

This short, lively interview is packed in information, insights, and guidance

Warning: Myth Busting Ahead

Republicans and Climate Change. Liberal, why so smug?

Laura Bush on White House lawn. Photo by Douglas Friedman.

Laura Bush on White House lawn. Photo by Douglas Friedman. Photo of photo taken by Peterson at George W Bush Presidential Library.

If like me you live in the USA, you know that any substantial policy initiative to address global warming has to be something that congressional Republicans support. In fact, they will have to champion such legislation. My friends who are liberals and progressives laugh at me when I say this or else laugh at conservatives for being climate skeptics. But this is no laughing matter, and progressives who are concerned about climate change cannot dismiss conservatives. Also mocking them is counterproductive, and in my eyes, a violent dehumanizing act that serves to deflect responsibility about the work we must do, namely figure out how to work together.

The reality is that many Republican voters are concerned about climate change regardless that lawmakers are not doing anything about it. Much like how “gay marriage” has become a non-issue for Republicans since the recent Supreme Court rulings, similarly I believe conservative lawmakers are looking for a way out of the corner they painted themselves into regarding climate change. Once they are ready to act, likely their approaches will be different from progressives.

According to a recent segment from Yale Climate Connections,

 “There’s an unfair narrative that only liberals seem to care about having clean air and clean water. I’d argue that we all do, but we have different ways of approaching the issue.”

 

That’s James Dozier, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions. He says conservatives tend to prefer free market rather than regulatory solutions, but they still believe energy and environmental issues are important.

While lots of progressives demonstrate a marked distrust towards corporations and capitalism, conservatives prefer market driven solutions. For my part I am a pragmatist. I want to see us radically reduce our pollution. This is no easy task and requires a dispelling of myths about renewable energy.

In his recent op-ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Glen Retief (full disclosure: my adorable husband) refocused the discussion of climate denial and opened up the lens to include liberals along with conservatives. After pointing out that conservatives have been in denial about climate change, he turns to liberals and the green energy myths they believe.

Or take renewables. Liberals’ wishful thinking about windmills and solar panels seems to rival conservatives’ rose-tinted views of carbon.

Glen Retief on a recent cross-country Amtrak train trip

Glen Retief on a recent cross-country Amtrak train trip

Thus Josh Fox, director of the controversial anti-fracking documentary “Gasland,” states, “I think the world is in the middle of a huge transition … to renewable energy.” Greenpeace argues, “Renewable energy is viable, reliable and ready to go” and can “meet all our energy needs in a safe and reliable way.”

Yet when we exclude biofuels and hydroelectric, both of which create serious environmental problems of their own, the International Energy Agency estimates that only 1.3 percent of the world’s primary energy supply in 2013 came from renewables. The same authoritative studies that illustrate human-caused climate change also implicitly debunk liberals’ fantasies of a renewables-only world. For example, Chapter 4 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report discusses a mixture of energy changes, all of which will likely be needed to accomplish emissions reductions: energy efficiency, natural gas, nuclear power, renewable energy, and carbon capture and storage.

We live in an age we where need to rise above partisanship and address our climate crisis with dispassionate, honest, and pragmatic efforts and policies. Yes conservatives are concerned about the economy, a worthy concern for sure. Progressives are concerned with justice issues, also worthy and essential for our climate action discussions. The two of these concerns merge beautifully with the proposal put forward by Citizens Climate Lobby. Glen explains:

…the most effective climate-change solutions marry liberal and conservative thought. Under carbon fee and dividend, for example, the government would charge carbon-emitters a fee to reflect the damage that fossil fuels do to both the environment and to human health. This would give them a huge, market-driven incentive to reduce their carbon emissions.

The fee would be refunded to households so as to not grow the size of government. This would also help the poor.

And there is movement among House Republicans. Last year a group of Republican legislators signed onto the Gibson Resolution, which outlines a conservative approach to address climate change. There is work ahead no doubt. Lobbying efforts need to increase. If you want to move beyond Facebook posting activism and engage in the discussion with lawmakers, check out the Citizens Climate Lobby proposal and seek out (or start) a local chapter.

Paris Climate Agreement: Not a Complete Disaster according to Brentin Mock

Brentin Mock

Brentin Mock

No one believed that the historical agreement in Paris earlier this month was going to deliver the silver bullet to fully and finally address climate change. The organizers purposely set it up for success giving each nation the responsibility to decide what they felt they could promise to reduced pollution and improve conservation. 195 nations stepped up and made promises. And while it will not be enough to keep the planet warming, according to Brentin Mock over at Colorlines, not a complete disaster.

What happened in Paris is akin to that time in the 1970s when all the New York City gangs came together to stop fighting, or in the 1989 when all the rappers came together to let us know that we were headed for self destruction. For the A$AP generation, it’s the equivalent of…actually, I don’t know what an equivalent would be for this generation; maybe if Young Thug, Lil’ Wayne, Baby, Drake, Meek Mill and everybody else beefing paused to focus on their collective bottom line. Suffice it to say, it’s that huge.

Still, just like the ‘71 Bronx gang summit didn’t completely end gang violence, the Paris treaty will not bring immediate resolution to climate change. There’s nothing in the agreement that legally binds any of the nations to actually do anything. What it does do though is get all of the countries on the record saying that each will do what it can to stop the globe from warming another 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius—a situation that scientists say would make the planet essentially unlivable.

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Indigenous Redline Protest at COP21 in Paris. Photos courtesy of Dallas Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network

Brentin goes on to highlight ways countries are beginning to look out for poor and indigenous people as part of a climate plan. If you are interested in environmental justice and insights about climate action from the standpoint of people of color, read this piece and pretty much EVERYTHING Brentin Mock writes. Why the Un Climate Change Agreement Wasn’t a Complete Disaster.

 

featured photo: lgbtq pour le climate and their Paris Accord action with Polar Bears & Unicorns

What Does Success Look Like? A Report from the Future

Those of us engaged in climate action and communicating to the public about our current and growing climate crisis often draw on our imagination. While we could keep ourselves awake with scary stories of the future and pissed off about the present, it is essential that we also imagine a hopeful future. We need to imagine success. And that takes work.

As a teacher at the Watkinson School over 10 years ago, I facilitated as a coach for other teachers in developing better teaching practice. We used a number of activities called protocols developed by the National School Reform Faculty. One of my favorite protocols to facilitate is called The Future Protocol. We would explore a dilemma in the community–a financial crisis, a type of student who continually struggled to succeed, or perhaps uncertainty about our next moves as a school or faculty. We first carefully defined the dilemma as we each saw it, then we imagined we travelled in time to a future date. Let’s imagine we are meeting again to discuss this dilemma but 5 years from now.

From there we took the following steps:

  1. Project into the future (whatever timeline seems appropriate) and thoroughly describe what it looks like, sounds like and feels like having accomplished this endeavor. (10-15 minutes)
    • Must talk in present tense.
    • Describe what is in this best case scenario. Do not yet describe how.• Focus on the sights, sounds, behaviors and feelings surrounding this accomplishment.
  2. Look “back” from your projected present and describe how it looked when it started. (5-10 minutes) • Must talk in past tense
    • Think about issues, culture, conversations, teacher’s work, student achievement, etc.
    • Try to remain as tangible as possible* Continue to chart this conversation. It is helpful to put dates at the top of the chart to identify the time period to which the group is referring. (5-10 minutes)
  3. Continue looking back from the “projected present” and discuss how you addressed the starting place and how you moved from that to the projected present. (5-10 minutes)

The process always resulted in original, fresh, and often quite useful ideas. It inspired hope as it provided a blueprint about how we might move forward. By changing our perspective to the future then looking back, it freed us to think in new way,s and it gave us hope.

For the past year I have been doing this very thing in regards to the climate crisis. But instead of thinking about five years into the future, I jumped ahead 150 years. That is a long time. A lot can change. Consider the political, social, and technological differences back in 1865. 150 years ago on December 6, 1865 the 13th Amendment was ratified officially ending slavery. That was less than a year after the end of the American Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

So what about our future? I spent the past year imagining how the world might be different 150 years from now, and how it would be the same. From that future vantage point through my character, Timothy Meadows, I created the radio series, That Day in Climate History. I covered many serious and silly topics: #BlackLivesMatter, Queer Homelessness, Pets, Celebrities, and even NASCAR racing.

Here for you is the final installment of That Day in Climate History, an overview with moving and inspiring conclusions. As we work in the present to address the climate crisis, let’s imagine success for our future.

Here are some of the other segments of That Day in Climate History:

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Original art by Aaron Morgan Brown

Climate Action Lessons from the 1980’s Act Up Movement

url3Today is World AIDS Day, and according to the official website today “is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988.”

When I saw the documentary film, How to Survive a Plague, I was floored by the fierce and fearless activism relentlessly organized by the group Act-Up. I was of age during the early HIV/AIDS Crisis, living in NYC, but I retreated to the confines of gay conversion therapy in order seek a cure from being gay in a world that still had no cure for what was then known as G.R.I.D., the Gay Related Immune Deficiency (aka Gay Cancer or simply God’s Punishment Against Homosexuals.) I was aware of HIV/AIDS, and it terrified me. As a result, I did not/could not see the stunning activism happening all around me.

Earlier this year I interviewed Nancy Wilson, the moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church, and minister to LGBTQ people since the 1970’s. She was one of the many lesbians who fully engaged in the early HIV/AIDS Crisis. In hearing her speak about those desperate times when even funeral parlors would not take in people who died from HIV/AIDS, I am reminded of our times today when the panic is far more about refugees from the Middle East, Mexico, and Central America and recently about the Ebola outbreak in parts of Africa.

In this short and moving audio clip Nancy powerful relates what it was like in the early days of HIV/AIDS activism and service to the LGBTQ community and then makes connections with current issues connect to the Climate Crisis of our day. Please take a listen and share with your friends.

Featured Image: Keith Haring

Join the Magic: Queer folks in France and Climate Action

Last month I had the privilege of connecting with Cy, a queer guy from Paris who after reading my essay about Queer Responses to Climate Change and seeing the many ways that LGBTQ people are engaging in climate action, decided to do something connect to the Paris climate talks. He and his comrades have been quite busy organizing events to educate people and to organize actions. He sent me the following message he asked me to share. You will also see images from their action this weekend in Paris. So much glitter, so little time!

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Cy, the unicorn on the right.

I am Cy, one of the lead organizers of LGBTI pour le Climat, a movement fighting for climate and social justice in Paris.

Since we are keenly aware that minorities are often the first victims of social, political, economical or climate crisis, we consider the negotiations of the COP 21 not only as a crucial moment to show solidarity with the frontline communities impacted by climate change but also as a way of participating to this global mobilization alongside other groups.

We strongly believe in the necessity for the COP21 to reach a justly negotiated agreement and meet a 2°C goal before ecological catastrophes become a routine endangering not only Earth itself and its resources but also what is important to us : social justice, peace and equal rights for a diversity of people.

Although there were alternative funding options for the French government, the COP 21 has been mostly financed by some of the most controversial French corporations and banks like :

EDF and Engie, France’s main energy producer responsible for over 50% of the country’s total carbon emissions half of which come from coal plants.

Air France who is opposed to the cut of emissions in the aviation sector,

Renault-Nissan who is producing cars that emit extremely high levels of pollution.

BNP Paribas, a French bank who has been supporting the use and extraction of coal and refuses to leave tax havens.

12294662_1082851291727721_7268106014306438344_nThe rest of this list is too long for this e-mail, but it raises serious doubts about the role corporate partners play during the COP (similar concerns were raised during the COP19) and their ability to greenwash freely and appear as solutions for ecological transitions without much accountability.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, all marches and demonstrations surrounding COP21 have been prohibited.

In light of these increased security measures and limitations around demonstrations, we are turning to other strategies to channel the positive energy and momentum that has been building over the past few weeks.

We have instead decided to launch a global operation from November 29th to December 12th called:

« It’s a Kind of Magic » #ItsaKindofMagic.

Relying upon traditionally queer tactics, we will be staging visibility opportunities around Paris to draw attention to the economic and industrial system which is directly responsible for climate problems.

This operation encapsulates the very convergence that we have been trying to elevate as an LGBTI organization engaged in the movement to address climate change.

Members of LGBTI pour le Climat will travel across Paris fabulously, dressed up as unicorns, faeries, witches, mermaids, drag queens in order to make the power of our own magic count in the broader climate change conversations happening next week.

The aim being to stop in front of one significant location and perform an action there :

a location whose name is immediately linked to climate change (e.g. a metro station, a street like «Rue du Pôle Nord» in Paris )

who is or has been visibly impacted by climate change (i.e. physical landmarks in your communities that embody the negative impacts of climate change)

or, even better, an institution financing fossil fuels, tar sands industries, or big polluters like Total, Shell depending on the countries where you live.

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* Spread the word. Share our operation with your networks, to your constituencies.

* Join in the magic. Whether or not you’ll be in Paris, participate in our #ItsaKindofMagic operation by taking your own photos and/or videos at locations in your own communities to raise awareness of the effects of climate change and call out your decision makers who will be participating in the negotiations.

* Share our work, our facebook page, our articles in order to keep raising awareness on these essential issues.

I would welcome the opportunity to find some time to touch base by phone or over Skype to talk about ways our organizations could work together to elevate the LGBTI perspective during these critical climate conversations in Paris. 

I know the next few days might be challenging given the Thanksgiving holiday, but if you happen to have a free 20 minutes this coming weekend or even early next week, I’d love the chance to connect.

Cy 

Lead organizer of LGBTI pour le Climat,

Paris.

Logo LGBTI

NASCAR and Formula One Racing Take on Pollution

I was pleasantly shocked to discover that both NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (the folks who bring us Formula One racing) are both working hard to reduce pollution and even raise awareness about climate change. Solar powered race tracks, tree planting, electric racing cars. Who knew?

In my Climate Stew radio program I have a segment from the future, the year 2165. Usually I make up most of it, imagining what the future might say about us and the many ways we addressed our climate crisis. But in this segment EVERYTHING has already happened. It’s a short piece, so have a listen. (Transcript below)

 

Here are some links you might find useful

Transscript

I am Timothy Meadows. It is Saturday, September 7, 2165 and time for That Day in Climate History. In the early 21st Century, one of the most popular sports was car racing. (race car sounds)

America’s National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing or NASCAR and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile with its Formula One Series captivated the public with fast cars, flashy drivers, and great a deal of petroleum products.

Formula E Electric Race Car

Formula E Electric Race Car

Aware of the negative impact their sport had on the planet, both NASCAR and Forumla 1 made the necessary changes to clean up the sport. They also strove to raise awareness among their many fans about the need to take responsibility for pollution.

Starting in 2008 NASCAR Green inaugurated eco-friendly programs. They turned to solar energy in some of their biggest tracks including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They also launched the largest Waste Diversion program of any professional sport. Instead of dumping tires in landfills, they recycled over 120,000 them every year. In addition, they also recycled and re-refined motor oil. In order to offset their massive carbon footprint, NASCAR Green began a tree planting campaign. For each car in the NASCAR series, they planted a tree. NASCAR Green also launched a digital tree planting efforts giving fans the opportunity to donate a tree in an area of need across the USA. According to NASCAR’s records, in just 2014 300,000 trees were planted. In order to transition the sport to cleaner energy while maintaining the thrilling speed fans expected, NASCAR partnered with innovators to introduce new technology including biofuels, fuel cells, and electric cars.

 

In 2014 Forumla One held the first ever fully-electric international car racing series. Significantly quieter than other race cars, these first generation electric automobiles accelerated from 0-100 km/h in 3 seconds and reached a maximum speed of 225 km/h. The creation of the Formula E series helped drive innovation. It also proved to fans that fast cars did not need to pollute.

On this day in 2165, we remember That Day in Climate History

Refugees are here already. What you can do.

Recently I spoke with a woman who works directly with immigrants, migrants, and refugees in Portland, Maine who took long journeys from Africa and the Middle East. I was thrilled to hear about the many things her community is doing to welcome these foreign strangers from such distances and different climates into the cold north of New England. And I’m thrilled that she was able to share with me very specific practical things the average person can do to help welcome in the stranger. Enjoy this short interview that I conducted with Elizabeth Szatkowski for the Climate Stew Show.

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Elizabeth Szatkowski on right