Raising our voices in Duluth

Tone Lanzillo

Last week, I received an email from Jothsna Harris, director of Community Engagement with Climate Generation. Founded by Will Steger out of Minneapolis, Climate Generation was established to help empower individuals and communities to engage in solutions to climate change.

Jothsna wanted to talk to me about their “climate testimony letter” campaign that is taking place from now until Dec. 8.

They’re hoping to hear from citizens from throughout the state of Minnesota who would like to share letters, poems or artwork that illustrates how climate change is impacting their communities and how they want to shape their future. 

In December, Climate Generation will compile everything that they receive into a book titled Eyewitness: MN Voices on Climate Change, and present that book to every state legislator on day 1 of the 2021 Minnesota Legislative Session.

As Nicole Rom, executive director of Climate Generation, wrote in the fall/winter 2020 newsletter, “Our work is rooted in personal narrative, which means starting with who and where we are. To shift public norms towards climate action, we need to shift the narrative, and that starts with understanding our connection to climate change and listening to those who have not been heard from the mainstream.”

There are probably hundreds of stories in Duluth about how climate change has impacted people’s lives – mentally, emotionally and even physically.

There are moments when I think of all the activists who have dedicated their time and energy to various environmental and climate change initiatives, including Jenna Yeakle at the Sierra Club, Brett Cease with the Citizens Climate Lobby and Lora Wedge at Ecolibrium3. 

And through my work on the “Culture x Climate: Duluth” project, I have been reflecting upon all the poets, artists and writers who are using their artwork and craft to explore the environment and address climate change, like artist Kate Young, poet Phil Fitzpatrick or writer Izzy Laderman.

I have to believe that everyone whom I’ve spoken to, met or collaborated with has an engaging and powerful story to tell. And they all need to raise their voices to address climate change.

My story, and finding my voice, began in November 2017, when I found myself standing in front of a roomful of UMD students speaking about my journey to Duluth and joining the Loaves and Fishes community.

At the end of my talk, I decided to talk about the environment and the many things that I’ve lost over the years: the loss of birds, trees, butterflies and frogs.

And it was in that moment that I realized that my life was changing. Realized that I needed to write about and organize projects that address the environment and climate change.

In an essay that I drafted a week before speaking to the college students, I wrote the following: “I am not a lobbyist. Not a politician or government official. Not a scientist. Not a journalist or reporter. Not the director of an environmental organization. Not the president of an oil or coal company. I am just an ordinary man experiencing what may be the most extraordinary and challenging moment in all of our lives.”

I talked about all the small and big changes that had taken place in the past 40 years. I wrote that “I can see it. I can hear it. I can feel it.”

I talked about the spring and fall seasons getting shorter. That there were fewer butterflies in the garden and birds in the sky. And that the weather could go through extreme shifts in a matter of hours.

It was two news stories in the New York Times in late October and early November that woke me up and prompted me to dedicate my life to climate change.

On Oct. 31, the World Wildlife Fund reported that there had been a 60 percent decline in wildlife populations globally in the last 40 years. And on Nov. 1, a study by a group of scientists in the journal Nature reported that ocean temperatures have been warming 60 percent more than previously outlined in a report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

I will be writing a letter for the “climate testimony letter” campaign for Climate Generation. I hope that many of you out there will also write a letter, a poem or share some artwork. 

Go to climateeyewitness.org/take-action to learn about how to submit your letter, poem or artwork. Also, contact stories@climategen.org for any questions.