Breaking the climate silence

Priscilla Stuckey has a vision: people in neighborhoods all over the country coming together on a regular basis to address the climate crisis from the inside out.

It’s a vision that runs counter to the prevailing view – that catastrophe can be avoided only by engineers and politicians brainstorming grand technological or regulatory fixes – but it is a vision very much in harmony with the counsel of history’s wisest souls, who’ve shown us by example that it’s our hearts more than our minds that are the key to our potential to overcome existential threats. What we do depends on who we are. It’s about being at least as much as it’s about doing.

I feel like I’ve known Priscilla for many years even though a mutual friend only recently put us in touch. Priscilla’s love of the natural world, interest in spirituality and passion for words are beautifully reflected in her blog, This Lively Earth, where this guest post first appeared. Read more about Priscilla Stuckey and her vital work here.

Since launching Climate Chronicle, I’ve heard a common refrain from the readers who’ve taken the time to correspond with me, and it boils down to this: “It’s terrifying and overwhelming. I feel paralyzed. What can I do?”

Priscilla gives her answer to that question here, to which I can only add, “Amen.”


We know it’s getting worse; we’re not climate deniers. We’re well informed and aware of the facts. And yet we go about our lives as if nothing has changed. We live the same way we lived five years ago, before the wealth of new climate science confirming that the situation is worse than first thought. Maybe we travel even more than before or live in a bigger house than we did then. (Guilty on both counts.)

What’s wrong with us?

We’re obeying the hush-hush rule on climate change. When the President can’t even utter the word climate in his State of the Union speech, at a time when climate change presents emergency levels of economic, health, and national security risks—and that’s just in this country, never mind the millions of people in other parts of the world whose homes and lives are already lost and endangered—you know something is seriously wrong. Even Stewart and Colbert seldom devote time to it.

Climate change—the elephant in the room. The one thing we don’t talk about—not to one another, and especially not to our children.

Photo by Rick Chamberlin

But not talking about climate change is not helping. In fact, it’s costing us. A lot. While Europe plans to boost its economy through tougher greenhouse gas emissions standards and China invests billions in renewable energy, we in the United States basically sit on our hands. And, worse, we clap our hands over our own and one another’s mouths. Climate change? Don’t go there.

Climate silence is a form of denial. Perhaps we are overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and the grave consequences that loom if we continue as we are. But climate silence is costing us not just dollars and cents but also collective will and energy. This nation is in an emotional as well as economic recession, suffering from sapped energy and collective inertia. As psychologists—and business leaders—have long known, denial is a huge energy sink. Through our silence about the climate, we are hamstringing ourselves, preventing the release of energy, will, resources, and innovation that might actually get us out of this pickle before it’s too late.

A friend of mine, Annette, recently heard poet Gary Snyder speak. During Q and A, someone asked Snyder how people can be inspired to “save the planet.” Snyder thought for a few moments then said,

The planet doesn’t need us to save it. The planet needs us to save ourselves. If we learned how to be better people, we would be doing good work.

The roomful of activists sat in stunned silence, trying to absorb his words. He went on (as Annette wrote),

The planet, if we notice, takes care of itself. Watch a place for a while. Look to the seasons, the weather, the animals, our own inner rhythms. Walk trails and notice things. We don’t have to do a thing.

In the spirit of Gary Snyder, I am therefore pledging to do (almost) nothing. I am pledging only to break the climate silence.

I would like to gather a few people to form a climate support group. A group where we do nothing—on behalf of the planet—except receive and give support for being better people. We will not cook up lists of things to do. We will not brainstorm solutions. We will most certainly be involved in solutions, like planting gardens or closing coal plants or writing to policy makers or biking instead of driving, but we will not take planning those actions as the focus of our gathering.

We will instead practice opening our hearts—to each other, to the enormity of the climate problem, to the animals and plants and microorganisms who share our lives and our geography and will also share our fate.

Call it heartstorming instead of brainstorming. We will open our hearts to the reality of climate change.

And we will talk. By meeting together about climate change, we will break the climate silence. But we will not talk about solutions so much as provide support to each other for being more open, more truthful, more radically kind.

Because, as a wise person said long ago, the truth will set you free. And the truly radical acts will be those that sprout from the compassionate ground of an open heart.

I imagine our meetings might go something like this:

We will gather to laugh and talk and of course share food and drink. When possible, we will meet outdoors to commune with the hope that resides in the living Earth. One or two might bring a short piece of inspiration—something that gave hope this week, like a poem, a child’s drawing, a thought, a story of good news, the presence of a nearby tree or flower or rock. We will share each piece of good news slowly, giving it our full attention and drinking in the juice of hope. Then we will talk about the challenges we face in living more truthfully and kindly in the face of climate change. Together we will break the climate silence. Being truthful about the climate crisis will challenge us to bring our lifestyles into line with reality. How do we do that? How can we help each other be better people in the midst of climate crisis? How do we keep our hearts open?

I envision climate support groups happening in communities across the country—in various neighborhoods of every city. Bill McKibben says that building local community is one of the most crucial things we can do in the face of climate change. As the world changes, we will need the solidarity of relationships, the sweetness of affection and support.

But to build our communities, we’re going to have to talk together.

The climate silence is killing us. Literally. I’d like to help break it. How about you?

Photo by Rick Chamberlin




  1. Thanks for sharing this Rick. Like spirituality, politics, food insecurity, and a few other topics, climate change is something I’ve allowed myself to be silenced about. Not with people I know are of like mind, but with those I sense might not agree, or who might want to debate. The political situation in Wisconsin has brought me out of my shell in the politics area, at least. Hopefully that can translate to other areas as well. I think Stuckey’s suggestions could help many of us “nice” Midwestern types transform our involvement and build community awareness about climate change in a way that adds joy and empowerment to our lives rather than more fear.

  2. Well said, Sarah. I agree.