Climate change means more human migration, and so creating thriving, diverse communities is essential climate work.
When I’m deep in the work of climate change, I sometimes lose sight of hope.
For me, losing sight of hope doesn’t come so much from the science documenting the climate extremes already here and those to come. Though these changes do scare me.
I struggle with the stories of human suffering caused by climate change. My heart aches for the lives already lost to climate change. At the same time, I am deeply moved by the heroic, very human, things people do to help others in the face of these climate extremes. Think of the people saving others through floods and hurricanes and the people who show up after to help others put the pieces of their lives back together. There are so many climate helpers and heroes among us, and there will be so many more. These folks are the seeds of hope.
The hope challenge – migration and climate change
The thing that can sometimes make me lose the thread of hope on climate change, is the rise of racism, xenophobia, and human rights abuses happening right now in my own country, the United States.
These trends are terrible enough on their own. But it’s worse to consider this troubling trend alongside the knowledge that climate change is already driving mass migrations around the world, movements of people that will only continue to increase in the decades to come.
The stories I find myself most attracted to when I need some hope in the face of climate change aren’t directly climate stories. Instead, the stories I turn to are of people in communities experiencing fast-changing racial and ethnic diversity who are learning not just to live with each other, but to thrive together as a diverse and modern community. New York Time columnist Thomas Friedman recently documented such a story, about Willmar, Minnesota. This town in the western part of my home state is now home to large numbers of immigrants, as described by Friedman and the mayor of Willmar:
“We had 1,200 to 1,600 Somalis when I started as mayor in 2014 and now we have 3,500 to 3,800,” said [Willmar Mayor] Calvin. “We also have 800 Karen people from Burma.” Add to that over 4,000 Latinos and you have a town of 21,000 that had been virtually all white and Christian its entire existence become nearly half new immigrants in the blink of two decades.
That is some fast change, the kind that can tear communities apart unless people in the community both offer and expect the kinds of leadership needed to knit new folks into their community in an effort to make an even stronger fabric. That’s the kind of leadership Friedman describes in Willmar.
The stories of immigrants and refugees
Willmar isn’t the only place I’ve seen these stories. I’ve been filled with hope seeing the launch of Sahan Journal – a new media platform in Minnesota with the mission, “To provide fair, groundbreaking coverage that illuminates issues affecting Minnesota immigrants and refugees and to chronicle how these communities are changing and redefining what it means to be a Minnesotan.” It’s important to point out the power of this mission in its direct assertion of the idea that immigrants and refugees have a stake in what it means to be Minnesotan, something that will be especially important as we humans navigate climate change together.
While some of the stories in Sahan Journal document the very real and difficult challenges immigrants and refugees face, others highlight great work happening, work that gives me hope. This story about suburban leaders digging deep to meet the needs of increasing numbers of immigrants in these communities is just one of these stories.
In the face of climate change, we who care about the democracies we live in need to make sure our democracies get better at welcoming, celebrating, and integrating people from all kinds of different places and backgrounds. It’s important climate work. And, together, we can find climate hope in this most human and humane of work.
How do you work on building thriving, diverse communities in the face of climate change?