I’ve been soaking up every drop of sunshine we’ve had on the crisp, cool days of the past few weeks. It feels like the transition to this shorter, darker season has been harder than usual, maybe because the physical darkness mirrors so much of what fills the headlines right now: needless death and suffering in war, greed and shortsightedness in our national politics, dire and urgent warnings about the future of our home planet.
It can feel heavy, even as we’re surrounded by holiday cheer on the radio and in shop windows.
But amidst so much hard news, I’ve also found sources of light and wisdom in diverse places - from Indigenous leaders like Robin Wall Kimmerer, to smart climate communicators like Katharine Hayhoe and Rebecca Solnit, and even Pope Francis. These voices offer hope that a different future is possible, and that we can all take steps today to create the conditions for that future to emerge.
As we head into the holiday season, I’ve been thinking about how to apply this hopeful wisdom. Here I offer a few practical strategies and suggestions for navigating this tricky time of year. I'd love to hear yours!
5 practices for a more climate-friendly holiday season (and life)
2. Don’t be afraid to go deeper and speak the truth
At a time of year when many of us are gathering together - sometimes with people we don’t know, sometimes with people we know too well - it can be hard to get past the small talk. How can we use these conversations as an opportunity for deeper learning and relationship-building? In the context of the Thanksgiving holiday, maybe that starts with talking about the Indigenous tribes whose land you’re on and sharing something you’ve learned about their history and present, or talking with kids about the real story behind the holiday. With the release of the latest National Climate Assessment and the upcoming COP 28 global climate summit in the news, it’s also a natural opening to have climate conversations. There’s still a huge perception gap between how many people are concerned about climate change and how many of us talk about it regularly. Start with the personal reasons why you care, and go from there - there are lots of great resources available to help.
3. Re-think the need for stuff
The emails about Black Friday deals seem to come earlier every year. Most of us don’t need more stuff, but there’s a time and place for thoughtful gifts. Can you focus on quality over quantity, locally made or grown, used instead of new? Can you seek out experiences instead of things, or donate to a cause on someone’s behalf? Don’t underestimate the value of a good book, too - with so many good climate books out there these days, there’s one for anyone on your list, and they can always be donated back to the public library. With kids, navigating gift giving can be especially tricky, but I’ve had great luck with secondhand toys and items through my local Buy Nothing group and other online sites and swap groups.
4. Start with gratitude, and let it motivate you
In the depths of Covid, someone suggested I jot down three things I was grateful for everyday. It was such a simple thing, but it forced me to shift my attention from being solely focused on challenges to looking for positives. Starting with gratitude helped relieve some fear and anxiety and made it easier to take action when so much felt out of my control. When it comes to responding to the climate crisis, this practice can be especially powerful. Being grateful for all that we have and love can free us to act, which in turn gives us hope. That action might take the form of direct service, making changes in your personal life (going electric or choosing to drive or fly less are particularly high-impact individual actions), supporting organizations working on issues you care about (Giving Tuesday is coming up - consider supporting us and other nonprofits!), or all of the above.
5. Celebration and joy are essential
Especially at this time of year, it’s helpful to be reminded that two things can be true at the same time. We can feel grief and anger about the injustices and suffering in the world, and we can also take time to do things that bring us joy. In the climate world, we’ve found that coming together with our community and celebrating wins along the way is essential to building momentum for the long haul - and there are definitely wins to celebrate! At Climate Smart Missoula, we came up with 23 highlights of local climate action in 2023, and we’re looking forward to celebrating these plus some amazing community members who’ve stepped up as climate leaders at our annual Year-End Celebration and Smarty Pants Awards on December 14.
Turns out, the holiday season might be the perfect time to consider what values can help us build a more vibrant, equitable, and climate-safe world, and practice putting them into action. What would our world look like if relationships were our highest priority? How much time and energy would we gain if we had an economy based on consuming less and sharing resources? What might change if we were unafraid to have truthful conversations about climate and racial and economic injustice and inequity in our daily lives?
With this shift in perspective, I’m looking forward to this season as a time to re-set and recommit to building a livable and vibrant future for my family, community, and world. I hope you’ll join me!