A Sneak Peek into the Talk Climate Institute 2021

As we all continue our long hibernation indoors due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, knowledge and information increasingly come from our devices than from word of mouth and trusted community members.

With huge amounts of differing information floating around on the internet and social media, it can be really difficult to discern fact from fiction, truth from tall tale. Blatantly intentional or subtle, the long-term impacts of climate change disinformation and misinformation have real and serious consequences.

The most extreme impacts of climate change have long been disproportionately felt by communities of color. Higher asthma rates linked to air and water pollution have been felt, studied, and proven. Yet, multi-million dollar campaigns to hide the severity of the environmental and communal harm caused by the fossil fuel industry has stifled political action. Disinformation disconnects the dots, unlinks cause from effect, and confuses all of us into inaction or information overload.

Hearing straight from our loved ones, role models, and neighbors will help maintain the moment, self-reliance, and people power necessary to work to heal our natural environment. Especially as we all find ourselves less in contact with our communities, our friends, and our families during this unprecedented pandemic, putting a face and voice to the reality of climate change is important now more than ever. What about putting a song, a play, a slam poem, a painting to the reality of climate change?

Thinking about humanity holistically through poetry, storytelling, music, art, and science — and connecting the head and heart to climate change — is essential to sparking and sustaining action.

It is imaginative and original ways of communicating the urgency of our climate crisis that will generate momentum to find solutions. Through the stories of our neighbors and loved ones we are able to witness how climate data, charts, and facts emerge from behind our screens and enter real life.

Storytellers, scientists, poets, musicians, writers and everyday people are gathering together for Climate Generation’s Talk Climate Institute this year (March 23–24, virtually) embody the power and strength of using ourselves as tools for sharing the reality of our changing climate.

Opening song from Anishinaabe youth, Jagger Ripley-Jaakola, words from poet, essayist, and literary critic Michael Klebber-Diggs will open the two-day virtual event. Michael Klebber-Diggs puts word and voice to everything from empathy, community, and parenthood to the realities of racism, institutional violence, and political turmoil. In a recent poem he contributed to “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop – Poems in the wake of racial injustice,” Michael shared his own intimate experience and physical embodiment of the death of George Floyd.

The live and extemporaneous illustrations of Drawn Well’s Lisa Troutman will visually guide us through first-hand climate testimony, social and climate science presentations, personal stories, and innovative paths forward. Her drawn representation of the difficult and complex issue of climate change will serve to emphasize the impact of the conversations emerging from the Institute.

Because everyone has a unique relationship to and comfort with discussing climate change, University of Minnesota’s Dr. Heidi Roop will create a common understanding of key climate science communication challenges. Her presentation, From Data to Dialogue: Confronting the Challenges of Climate Change will draw on her expertise connecting scientists, community members, and policymakers to information needed to prepare for and manage a changing climate.

Bringing wisdom from direct community engagement and public service experience as a former mayor of Greenville, Missississippi, and national environmental policy advocate, Heather McTeer Toney’s talk is titled The Climate Revolution: Climate Justice as the Social Justice Movement of Our Time. Her environmental justice work with the Environmental Protection Agency and Mom’s Clean Air Force is motivated by her own personal climate experience, the injustices she has witnessed across her community, and her motherhood.

A range of human emotion––from grief to joy––naturally emerges when coming together to share, think, and feel through our collective reality. Dakota elder and poet, Strong Buffalo (Tatanka Ohitika) and musician and poet Ben Weaver hold space to acknowledge, transform, and heal the bodily and emotional experience of climate trauma in their offering, The Dark is Getting Bright: An Invitation. 

The second day of the Institute will work to imagine and engage with ideas about solutions that will move us forward in a more sustainable direction. A panel of creative thinkers will lead participants in considering how diversity of thought is critical to creating lasting change that is inclusive of all life circumstances. Panelist, student, and writer Tsemone Ogbemi has been interested in how language shapes our social realities and can be used as a tool for activism. She considers language as a medium through which issues like climate change can be meaningfully communicated from people coming from all walks of life. The panel will aim to remind us of our agency to re-envision our world.

Building from the energy behind the power of collective action and brainstorming for climate change, Climate Generation staff will offer a choice of Solutions Workshops for participants to build skills to continue the momentum beyond the Talk Climate Institute. Topics range from media representation of climate change to artistic expression of climate data, as well as how-to guides to use storytelling in professional spheres and as testimony to influence legislators and policymakers.

After hearing the experiences and stories of Talk Climate speakers, participants will have the opportunity to reflect on their own experience of climate change and the role they can play in engaging their community in action. At the heart of the Talk Climate Institute is the Storytelling Slam, where all are invited to share their personal climate stories with fellow attendees.

Storytelling looks, sounds, and feels different to everyone. Every person hears the same story a bit differently. But to hold space and come together to listen and bear witness is a healing opportunity for all of us. 

Arleigh Truesdale has been supporting community engagement and programming with Climate Generation since January 2021. Sprouting and propagating plants are her way of tracking time, keeping calm, and tapping into the energy behind her climate justice work.

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