I’m learning that the idea of the end of the world as we know it has a dampening effect on dinner table conversations, as well as on one’s spirit. The thought is so overwhelming as to be nearly impossible to imagine, and when we do manage to see it as a possibility, it can be paralyzing. Fair enough. It’s the only planet we’ve got, and we’re very fond of it.
Psychologists have coined the term “climate grief” to describe this emotional state. Many of us feel and instinctively understand exactly what the term expresses, and now it has a name. The unnerving spectacles of devastation brought by the changing climate are witnessed by people almost everywhere now, and they affect us at the deepest level. The unprecedented number and ferocity of wildfires in California and elsewhere, along with flooding and mega-storms, fearsome droughts and melting glaciers around the world, are making climate change hard to deny and harder to ignore. If you’re paying attention at all, you’re worried.
Shrugging it off (“We won’t be here to see it”), resignation (“It doesn’t matter what we do here, India and China are burning more coal every day”) or changing the subject are short-sighted at best. Finally, there’s only one non-cringe-worthy response: actively working for solutions on every level, from the choices we make in our daily lives to the ballot box.
That spirit of engagement was everywhere in evidence at the recent Latino Leaders Roundtable luncheon June 14. The group primarily aims to build bridges between Latinos and non-Latinos by creating a platform for mutual dialogue and understanding.
Each month, it concentrates on topics of concern that affect the entire community and finds common ground through informed and candid discussions. Climate change was the focus that day, and the organizers had invited several speakers with different perspectives on climate change — and possible solutions — to join a panel discussion.
Two speakers from Napa Climate NOW! participated on the panel. Napa Climate NOW! is a growing, amoeba-like nonprofit made up of self-organizing volunteers who work together to bring recognition and effective action to the climate change crisis.
At the Roundtable, the climate science explanation fell to me. Our group has built a trenchant presentation that shows clearly the process and causes of climate change: disruption in global weather patterns and temperatures brought about by human-caused changes in the Earth’s natural energy (heat) balance.
David Kearney-Brown, chairman of Napa Climate NOW!, spoke about the power of personal involvement and community efforts to confront even the most daunting challenges.
Board of Supervisors member Brad Wagenknecht voiced his support for climate change solutions.
Recycling and conservation systems consultant Hugo Mata of SOLUNA Outreach Solutions delivered a lively lesson on waste management and conservation in daily life.
Michelle Novi, on behalf of Napa Valley Vintners, described the wine-making community’s long history of environmental stewardship, and its ongoing commitment to working with local agencies and stakeholders to achieve climate goals.
Novi pointed out that more than 70 percent of its eligible members are involved in Napa Green, an environmental certification program for vineyards and wineries, showing that responsible practices are compatible with a high standard of product. Yes, THAT product.
Gerardo Martin and Jaime Peñaherrera, the hosts of the event, were engaged and engaging. Martin wryly explained that his teen-aged daughter had downloaded a short, opening video for us, knowing he would be hopelessly out of the loop with using Instagram. Good-natured humor and serious intent were the tone of the day. And the food was good, too.
In every way, the Latino Leaders Roundtable luncheon was a true moment of unity and shared sense of purpose in the face of the basically-too-scary-for-words climate crisis we’ve gotten ourselves into.
During the question-and-answer period, audience members expressed staunch support and a sense of urgency. Napa City Councilmember Liz Alessio spoke of her strong advocacy for stabilizing climate change.
Geoff Ellsworth, the mayor of St. Helena, described his own fierce commitment to finding and implementing more solutions. I have been to plenty of luncheons over the years, but this one was extraordinary in its sense of resolve. With people across the community ready to pitch in, and many already involved in the effort, we’re right to be hopeful about achieving climate goals.
And for dessert: as the panel was winding down, Wagenknecht announced that a text message had just come in, saying the Board of Supervisors would be formally adopting the Countywide Commitment to Address Climate Change on Tuesday, June 18, in their morning session, and that on the same day, the city of Napa, American Canyon, and Calistoga would also adopt the resolution, with Yountville and St. Helena to follow soon. It was a moment of pure elation.
Put another way: talk of climate change doesn’t have to ruin lunch. In fact, it is exactly what is needed to set the table for effective action.