Climate crisis takes us ‘beyond the comfort zones’


by Rev. John Boonstra

Sept. 14, 2019

The routines of my comfort zone continue to get in the way of my responsiveness to global warming. I look back at the summer of 2019 with an uneasy distance. 

Wildfires raged in the Arctic.  July was the hottest month worldwide in human history!  Salmon died in masses in Alaska, the water too warm for them to survive. Dangerous ocean phenomenon consisting of a large mass of dangerously warm water known as “the blob” is brewing off our coast again. Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, fires are raging in the Amazon and the Democratic National Committee declined to hold a debate on climate change.

 Still, I celebrate efforts going on within our Gorge neighborhood to recognize the changing climate reality and not stand by as its threat escalates and threatens our futures.  Here are three important to know about: 

1. The Columbia River Gorge Commission creates a management plan every 10 years. Their current plan has no mention of climate change. Thankfully, they are working on a new plan to be adopted in 2020 that will incorporate the new climate reality. Learn more at Columbia Gorge 2020 and come to the Oct. 8 Gorge Commission meeting in Cascade Locks (www.gorgecommission.org). 

2. The Friends of the Columbia Gorge has fought both coal and oil trains traveling through the Columbia Gorge since 2011 and has worked to pass oil and coal train legislation in both the Oregon and Washington legislatures. Friends funds a staff liaison person to support Columbia Gorge Climate Action Network (www.cgcan.org).  Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust is working on climate resilience on its land trust properties via a nature conservancy program. Go to gorgefriends.org

3. Hood River has its own Energy Plan and with it emerges significant new directions in building design and construction, alternative transportation models, new agricultural and water practices and the development of community scale solutions to improve community resilience, increase energy independence and reduce emissions from the burning of fossil fuels — all embracing a commitment to increasing economic benefits. Go to co.hood-river.or.us

Every day I absorb facts and disturbing scientific projections of  what will happen if urgent, aggressive action is not taken to address climate change. And every day, I subconsciously challenge myself to absorb these facts and remain sane and calm in the process. I know these facts, collectively, are life and  death stuff. I know that the danger that we face is substantially  worse than most of us believe. But then there is my comfort  zone … how in the world do I change my daily routines because we live on the edge of the sixth great extinction event in the last billion years?

 Many climate justice voices think that getting our civic institutions to declare states of “Climate Emergencies” will help us wake up to the dangers. I fear that my everyday life is so full of emergencies that this too may pass me by. On Sept. 20-27, young people with adult support and participation are mobilizing for the biggest climate strike ever — millions are expected to join the largest climate mobilization in history.  

In the United States, there are over 400 Climate Walkout events scheduled.  We’ve heard the voice of the young Swedish student Greta Thunberg and she, like our own young people, are saying it clearly. They are telling us that if the institutions of our planet can’t be expected to prepare us for a planet in which we can live and thrive, why must people prepare for a future that isn’t. 

We’re invited to support youth strikers because they are calling us to disentangle ourselves from our “dead-end” business as usual. I celebrate the voices of young activists whose art, music, and public disruptions challenge us out of our comfort zones. 

Here is how climate educator Bill McKibbon puts it: “When the planet leaves its comfort zone, we need to do the same.”  Ouch!

 Why is it so hard to leave our zones of comfort? Maybe we doubt our capacity to deal with climate change. Maybe we see it as inevitable and so we put our energy into coping with its catastrophic effects. Coping with catastrophic climate consequences becomes more acceptable than changing what accelerates global warming. 

I look into the eyes of my three daughters, aged 33, 21 and 14 — I watch as they discern their futures in a world that offers them so much but whose institutions offer them so little promise. My hardest challenge is to be a relentless activist and then to model, for them, a psychological, emotional and spiritual strength that exudes happiness beyond our comfort zones.   

Rev. John Boonstra is a volunteer with the  Columbia Gorge Climate Action Network  (visit cgcan.org for more information).