Whose issue is climate change?

July 02, 2014

Written By: Ruby Woodside, 2014 Thomas Haas Climate Fellow

Last week, Climate Fellow Sarah Large and I watched the US and Ghana soccer teams face off at a local restaurant. We struck up conversation with a man sitting next to us; he was dropping his daughter off for orientation at UNH. Being a New Englander, as we both are, we found we had much in common and chatted about several topics before mentioning that we work as Climate Fellows at the Sustainability Institute. There was an almost imperceptible change in the mood. “So you believe in all that… ‘global warming’?” He asked us very dubiously. He had his doubts.

Our conversation made me think about framing, in particular how we frame issues of climate change, sustainability, and our food system. Whose issues are these? Last week I attended the 2014 New England Food Summit in Providence, RI. The focus this year was on racial equity and social justice within the food system. There were some very interesting and uncomfortable discussions, as seems to often be the case when talking about race. I was surprised to see people at odds with each other for expressing their views on how racism is, or is not, perceived as a priority in their work. It reminded me that we all need to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to opinions we may disagree with, an especially useful lesson when working in the environmental sector.

I found that climate change was left out of most of our discussions at the Summit, at least explicitly. My project as a Climate Fellow this summer is to look at climate change and the food system, more specifically farms and fisheries. How is climate change affecting food production, and how can farmers adapt? What impacts are ranchers, fishermen, large scale, and small family farms seeing? Are there specific measures being taken to deal with changes? These are the questions I was most interested in talking about. The New England Food Vision sets a goal of 50% of food produced regionally by 2060. We know that climate change is already affecting the region, and will continue to do so in coming decades. So how can we incorporate climate issues into planning for a just and healthy food system?

Climate change and environmentalism have long been perceived as somewhat elitist, and disconnected from the communities that will be most impacted. Big picture framing of these issues can make them more exclusive and difficult to talk about. How does one frame the impacts of climate change in a way that speaks to broad and diverse populations, rather than alienate them? Even when everyone is working towards sustainability and healthy communities, there can be conflicts, as I saw at the Summit. For example, how to ensure affordable healthy food while also ensuring fair prices for farmers and fishermen? A woman I met at the Summit suggested that I read a report called “Everybody’s Movement: Environmental Justice and Climate Change.” The report talks about how both the environmental justice movement and mainstream environmentalists working to mitigate climate change have much to gain from collaborating. I strongly agree.

One reason I love to watch the World Cup, despite not playing or following soccer, is that so many diverse people in so many diverse countries are absolutely fanatical about their soccer teams. Soccer seems like everybody’s sport. Climate change needs to become everybody’s movement. I do hope that in some tiny way, through understanding the tangible and present effects of climate change to local farms and fisheries, my work this summer can help make this issue a bit more accessible.

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