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Cultivating Climate Resilience Through Community Dialogue By: David Schwan, PhD Director, Ethics Lab Philosophy and Comparative Religion

I don’t think I had really discovered my love for the outdoors until moving to the PNW region. We’ve lost track of the hours we’ve spent wandering around Manastash ridge or biking the Palouse to Cascades trail. But, being spoiled with the natural beauty of this region has also come with the realization of how a changing climate directly impacts a community. I had never experienced a wildfire season until moving to Kittitas County and each summer it’s still quite unsettling. To see the sun blotted out during the day or ash drifting outside is an increasingly alarming reminder of the direct impacts of climate change.

If you’re anything like me, more news about climate change can leave you feeling a bit powerless, isolated, or anxious. It’s also easy to wonder how much you can really do as an individual. This is an increasingly common sentiment in my conversations with students at CWU who often struggle to balance their optimism about the future with the political and economic realities of climate policy. But, while there is no simple solution to these questions, one helpful approach can be to continue the conversation together! To help encourage this sort of dialogue, we’ve been pleased to work with partners at Central Washington University and in the local community to organize a series called “Living with Climate Change.” This series aims to promote connections and conversations to help individuals move toward therapeutic and practical responses to living in a changing environment. Speaking personally, I’ve found these conversations interesting, motivational, and quite moving!

Our series kicked off in late January with a town hall forum titled ‘Climate Change and You.’ This event gave participants a safe and open space to share their feelings and concerns about a wide range of topics related to climate anxiety. While there was certainly a healthy dose of sadness, anxiety, and anger shared by those who attended, many voiced different hopes and optimism for what the future might hold. I found that having a space to share some of these concerns was surprisingly reassuring and it also served to remind those who attended that we weren’t alone in thinking and feeling this way. In my view, recognizing the shared nature of our emotional responses to these kinds of looming concerns is a powerful antidote to the feelings of isolation that are common when we process these issues on our own.

Subsequent community discussion events at Hal Holmes explored alternative philosophical and environmental frameworks (‘Existentialism and Eco-Anxiety’ and ‘Daoism and the Environment’). These events encouraged participants to think in new ways about the climate and potentially revealed additional resources for developing a resilient approach to a changing world. The campus and local community have also had the opportunity to participate in the final stages of the ‘Climate Action Plan’ being implemented at Central Washington University and to attend a panel discussion among community leaders and policymakers titled ‘Preparing for Climate Change.’ This panel detailed specific climate risks facing Central Washington and some of the recent work that is being done to prepare our region for the effects of climate change. I found it revealing to learn about how much a changing climate impacts the regional community (e.g. snowpack and water resources) and to interact with some of the groups working on these problems.

If any of this resonates with you, we’ve still got some great events coming up and would love to see you there! KEEN will be hosting an event titled ‘Raising Climate-Resilient Kinds” on April 6th which will feature hands-on activities and explore how to address complex conversations about climate change with children. Then, on April 16th, we’ll be joined virtually by the Pacific Northwest National Labs to discuss research that draws on sustainable approaches to the environment incorporating indigenous perspectives. Following that, we’re pleased to feature the Lion Rock Visiting Writer series author Roy Scranton, who will be giving a public talk and reading focused on the limits of narrative to capture the scope and impact of processes like climate change (on April 25th). Finally, we’ll wrap up the “Living with Climate Change” series with a public panel (on April 26th) at the Ellensburg Public Library which will focus on the climate and involve a collaboration between Environmental Studies, KEEN, Ellensburg Public Library, Kittitas County Regional Library Board, and Ellensburg High School.

We hope that by continuing to promote local dialog and knowledge-sharing, a series like this can serve as an important source of community resilience and encouragement for those continuing to work out what it means to live in a changing climate. If you’d like to learn more about the series, you can find information on the “Living with Climate Change” portal hosted on the Sustainability Council webpage at CWU:


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