By Johannah Blackman and Dennis Kiley
Five years ago, we flipped the calendar to 2016 and looked ahead to May and the birth of our first child. We were also busily preparing for another significant occurrence: the launch of A Climate to Thrive with a community event at the Neighborhood House on Jan. 24.
To raise awareness about ACTT and the launch event, we sat down together and wrote an op-ed for the Islander. We wrote about deciding to have a child despite numerous global challenges and uncertainty about the future, the climate crisis weighing particularly heavily on our minds and hearts. We wrote about the hope we received from examples of people coming together to meet challenge with creative collaboration. We wrote about our plans for ACTT, plans to support MDI in building a sustainable, resilient, economically thriving community.
We had no idea, of course, what was about to unfold. Just as expectant parents can’t possibly imagine the reality of parenthood, we also couldn’t know how ACTT would evolve.
Parenting is hard (the understatement of the century). Learning about the climate crisis, honoring how it feels to begin to understand what the future might look like and finding a way to participate in the action needed are also no small feats.
Through embarking on these two challenges simultaneously, we learned that we do not know what we are capable of until we begin, and that if we surround ourselves with great collaborators, we can do more than we imagine possible.
And my goodness, ACTT has met and exceeded our greatest hopes in its first five years. From the community’s enthusiastic reception at the launch event to ACTT’s role in establishing the first community solar farm in then-Emera territory, from Sustainable MDI and our work with over 60 local restaurants and hospitality businesses to the solar-paneled roof of the high school, from our role in establishing a corridor of EV charging stations throughout Downeast Maine to our thriving summer internship program, ACTT has thrived.
But ACTT is more than a list of project accomplishments. ACTT provides an avenue through which anyone can discover a sense of empowerment and agency to tackle climate change. More than anything else, our experience helping found and run ACTT has taught us this: everyone has something important to contribute when it comes to addressing the climate crisis from within the sphere of their existing knowledge, resources, and life.
Addressing climate change doesn’t mean each of us returning to school to major in environmental studies and sustainability. The climate crisis is a complex, global challenge that encompasses and intersects with every aspect of our lives and communities.
There are two profound corollaries to this fact. First, addressing climate change necessarily means also addressing many of the challenges we face today as communities, as a country, and globally. Climate change intersects with inequities, structural racism, income inequality, housing and hunger, health and education crises and much, much more. The roots of these challenges intertwine and we cannot successfully address climate without supporting work on each intersecting challenge as well. Together, we can dismantle the broken system underlying all of these issues and build something better, grounded in care, justice and sustainability.
Second, impactful solutions to climate change exist within the framework of everyone’s life. Do you own a restaurant? You could shift your business to renewable energy, address energy optimization, minimize waste and you could work within local restaurant and business associations to pass local and state policies that support such shifts. Do you teach? Climate change and climate solutions can be addressed in many school subjects and you could work within your local district to advocate for increased sustainability and support for young climate solution-seekers. Do you run a farm? You could power your operations with renewable energy, reduce waste, implement composting, increase carbon capture and help build a network of local farmers doing the same who might work together to pass local and state policies that support those growing practices.
And here’s some great news: in our MDI community, there are examples of restaurant owners, teachers, farmers and more doing exactly this type of work. It’s been ACTT’s honor to work with these individuals, businesses and institutions over the past five years.
When a group of MDI citizens started gathering around a kitchen table to talk about climate change, how we felt and our desire to do something, we were not experts in renewable energy, energy optimization, electric vehicles, zero waste, food systems or public policy. To be sure, there were those in the room with more knowledge than others, but, on the whole, we were simply a group of people frustrated by national inaction who believed in solutions and the power of local action. We knew we had a role to play, even if we didn’t yet appreciate the details of that role. So, we got started, we learned a lot, we found support and resources, and we kept going.
It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to address climate change, a village in which each person shows up as they are and contributes what they can. That type of collaborative community is exactly what has made ACTT so successful. We have a lot to celebrate together as ACTT turns five! We wish we could gather again at the Neighborhood House, our lanky daughter taking it all in as our son runs between legs. We wish we could hug and high five and shake hands as we make plans for the next five years and beyond.
But we can gather virtually. We can answer questions and talk about plans. We can thank everyone who has worked so hard over the past five years. We can celebrate what we each have to give to the evolution of a sustainable, resilient, caring, just and thriving community.
We hope you will join us on Sunday, Jan. 24 for Ask ACTT, our virtual fifth anniversary celebration. You can register and submit questions now at aclimatetothrive.org.
Here’s to growing together.
Johannah Blackman and Dennis Kiley are ACTT board members and reside in Mount Desert.