November 29, 2017

From Emily York, Oregon Climate and Health Program Lead, Oregon Health Authority

We live in a time of accelerating change. The increased pace of change can cause stress in our bodies and in the systems that support and sustain us. We have more data and technological tools than ever before, yet we also face more and more uncertainties. We are challenged to continuously learn, adjust, and adapt to new information and new conditions.

These conditions are changing in our personal lives and at the global level. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to spew into our atmosphere at dangerous rates, disrupting our planet’s natural systems that regulate our weather and maintain balance within our biosphere. These disruptions, in turn, threaten our access to clean air, clean water, and healthy food.

Systemic Stressors

For those already experiencing historical racial and economic injustices, climate change adds another layer of systemic stressors. It’s a “risk-multiplier.” Those who are already facing food insecurity will experience further barriers to accessing healthy food. Those who already live in an area with air pollution will likely see the air quality get worse.

In this way, climate change exacerbates existing disparities. Communities experiencing higher rates of trauma, will be at higher risk of getting hit first and worst, while having less resources and opportunities to cope and adapt.

Climate Change and Indigenous People

This spring, the Oregon Climate and Health Program worked with members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to digitize stories of how climate change is already affecting health in their community. The stories illustrate that climate change is not some abstract thing in the far-off future, it is something happening here and it’s happening now.

Just this month, our country’s latest scientific report on climate change was released, confirming that humans are the primary cause of the harmful spike in greenhouse gas emissions. US scientists warn of further climate impacts including water insecurity, wildfires, and other extreme weather events.

Knowing this information, how do we prepare? What do we do?

Conference Held to Explore this Question

Over 100 people gathered in Portland to explore this question. The discussions focused on how to build psychological, social, and spiritual resilience in the face of the overwhelming climate crises.

Here are a few things that I walked away with:

  1. Grieve – Together, we can support each other in navigating sorrow and loss. Here is one resource that was mentioned several times: The Wild Edge of Sorrow
  2. Listen – …to people different from ourselves and intentionally use human-centered design and creative problem-solving Get better at navigating “Conversations with People who Hate
  3. Learn – the key terms NEAR Sciences and ACEs, the concepts of Resilience-Based Organizing, how to become a more trauma-informed organization and what it looks like to help lead a just transition.
  4. Give Thanks – Consider taking a moment to honor the indigenous people who were the first stewards of the land where you gather, take a moment to share appreciations for each other in the room, and take some moments each day to thank yourself.

Oregon Climate and Health Resilience Plan

When we were working on the Oregon Climate and Health Resilience Plan and taking a closer look at vulnerabilities, community partners emphasized the importance of examining the inherent strengths and wisdom within communities that enable them to be resilient and adaptive in sustainable ways. This involves shifting away from conventional deficit-based models that focus on risks, needs, and problems into a more strengths-based approach that identifies and uses existing community assets, resources, networks and supports.

These shifts are beginning to take place in our workplaces and in our communities. We are learning how to approach our work and our relationships differently, in more inclusive and trauma-informed ways.

Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with the human species?” we are beginning to ask “What happened to us?” and from this place, we are beginning to talk about colonialism, consumerism, racism, sexism, and other systems of oppression. These systems have caused immeasurable harm and disruption, but this is not the end of our collective story. As we begin to shine more light on the conditions that got us here, the same light begins to illuminate our way forward. And that gives me hope.