Embrace a cooperative spirit to protect Oregon’s future

Guest Column published in The Bend Bulletin, Sunday, September 9, 2018
by board member Kristin Luck

Although I’ve called Bend home for over 10 years, I grew up in Elmira, Oregon, a small rural community about 15 miles west of Eugene. I was one of only a handful of kids in my graduating class to go on to a four-year university and was fortunate to land a job at Oregon Center for Applied Science while I was still at the University of Oregon — the jumping-off point and inspiration behind a 20-plus year career in research.

As a researcher by trade, I’ve been dismayed to see public policy discussions too often becoming swamped in emotional reactions that make it difficult for those engaged in the debate to accept indisputable facts. That certainly has been the case when it comes to some environmental issues, especially climate change.

Read the full op-ed at BendBulletin.com

Throughout my career, I’ve seen how personal stories about a given issue are often far more compelling than hard data, even when that data is irrefutable. Data can just look like numbers on a page to many, whereas an account of how a person’s life is being impacted by change gives us something human that we can relate to.

Take, for example, what I have observed with many of the rural folks I now call my neighbors in Central Oregon, who, much like the community I grew up in, are largely dependent on farming and other agricultural activities. I often see eyes glaze over when the discussion involves pure data about climate change, especially whether or not those changes are due in part to human activities involving the use of fossil fuels.

It’s hard to get people to respond to information that doesn’t align with their belief system and upbringing — myself included. When we hear facts that are inherently in conflict with our beliefs, they can be challenging to embrace, no matter how science based they are or how many experts line up to tell them that it is so. Sharing accurate facts is still important, but it’s of equal importance to illustrate the impact those facts are having in real life. When communities see how they’re personally impacted, that often helps them connect with an issue more than just experiencing it through data and statistics.

Farmers and ranchers in communities here in Central Oregon readily respond to the year-to-year, real-life effects that drought and increasing mean temperatures are having on their farms and livestock. I see how people come alive with concern and empathy when they describe the effects of a changing climate on themselves and their neighbors.

Coming together to talk about these important issues, to seek solutions that work, has always been the approach of a number of the statewide nonprofits I am proud to serve on as a board member, by considering the science and backing it with accounts of how the research is presenting itself in our real lives. For example, Oregon will be coal free by 2030 because the Oregon Environmental Council encouraged key stakeholders to come to the table and collaborate on legislation to reverse the obvious effects of dirty air on our health and livelihoods. Over 1,200 Oregon businesses — including farmers and ranchers — have publicly recognized the critical need for action to slow the impacts of climate change, again thanks in large part to the sense of communal urgency the Oregon Environmental Council has fostered by listening to people’s stories and researching effective solutions.

During this particularly partisan time in our country, we should glean inspiration from organizations that are successfully bringing people from varying belief systems together. A number of bipartisan environmental organizations are working with people across the political spectrum to find workable solutions (including the Oregon Environmental Council which this year celebrates a 50-year track record of doing just that). This methodology of honing in on shared values to create consensus is one we should apply to solving any major challenge we face as a state.

If we embrace the cooperative spirit, rather than wringing our collective hands and arguing with one another, we can find real solutions to our state’s most daunting problems.

— Kristin Luck has a consulting and advisory practice in Bend. She has served as secretary for Oregon Environmental Council’s board of directors.

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