In the 2007 film The Bucket List, the two main characters meet in the hospital. These two men find themselves in the same room after they both have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The men begin talking to each other, form a deep friendship and then decide to travel the world during the remaining days of their lives.
At the end of the film, when they’re showing the credits, you hear John Mayer singing a song entitled Say. There are two lines that really hit home for me. ‘Say what you need to say. 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 that 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 23rd, 1988, 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 23rd on record in Washington. And while the U.S. was experiencing the warmest summer on record, two million acres burned in Alaska, there were dozens of major fires in the West, stretches of the Mississippi River flowed at less than one-fifth of normal capacity, and Yellowstone National Park lost nearly a million acres to wildfires.
It is now 34 years later, and 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 the CO2 levels continue to rise.
While there are some very committed and compassionate people who are speaking up and saying what they need to say about climate change, too many of us aren’t saying enough or keeping quiet. Too many of us are not talking about what we see happening. Not talking about how we’re feeling. And not talking 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 the mayor, city council, county commissioners, state legislators and your congressman.
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 that you 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. In 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 I to speak up about climate change. To speak up about how this climate crisis is and will impact our lives.
Please, find someone or some group of people to testify to. Whether it’s an email, phone call, zoom meeting, letter to the editor or 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.
It’s time to testify.
The author of this article, Tone Lanzillo, American writer and journalist, is a member of the Loaves and Fishes Community in Duluth, a live-in volunteer at the Dorothy Day House, an active part of the Duluth/365 initiative, and is a key part of our team here at The Human Exploring Society.
Cover image by Rebeca Binda (@rebecabinda) and COP26 Coalition (@cop26coaltion), Climate Reparations Movement Assembly, Adelaide Place, 2021.