RACHEL BEGLIN COLUMN: Rather than building a wall, let’s build a bridge

Today’s column is a letter to a specific audience -- those members of our community, of all gender identities and classes and races and ages -- who up until now have either denied climate change or perhaps ignored it.

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Today’s column is a letter to a specific audience -- those members of our community, of all gender identities and classes and races and ages -- who up until now have either denied climate change or perhaps ignored it. To those who heard Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” in the early 2000s and scoffed at global warming because Minnesota was still averaging below zero temperatures.

In modern “cancel culture,” where celebs and others are written off for old, offensive remarks, I appreciate the idea. I empathize with groups who want there to be consequences for racist YouTube videos or sexual assaults that went dismissed for too long. There are some acts so vile that they do demand repercussions, even decades later. But cancel culture, or the idea of holding one to one’s statements on social media and otherwise from the past, may be denying honest, well-meaning people their growth.

Every day we age, mature and evolve. So I want readers to know that if you haven’t cared about the environmental crisis we’re facing until October 2021, know you are still welcome at the table.

I don’t care what articles you shared on Facebook in 2011, and I don’t even care who you voted for in 2016. Your take on the environmental situation we face -- rising temperatures and sea levels and increased natural disasters -- can be independent of your politics, your religion and what your friends think or say.

This past year has been the most convincing, in my opinion, that climate change is happening -- although many of the rural Panamanian coffee farmers I used to work with also mentioned noticeable changes in their climate and its impending effects on their crops.


I’ve known and believed the ice caps were melting since I was in the sixth grade, but the ice caps are, well, pretty far away. And not that charismatic. On the other hand, the drought we experienced this summer was up close and personal. Watching Texans freeze to death this winter was practically unheard of.

We seem to be having “one hundred year floods” and “five hundred year storms” every year; Central Park was completely underwater; wildfires raged as they did in 2020. I can see how you denied the evidence, perhaps, in the early 2000s. But I implore you to take an honest and open-minded look at the new data we are receiving; at the lack of frost this late into October; at the plants that are blooming again in autumn, and wonder if perhaps this climate change narrative does, after all, make sense.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen glimpses of the instability of our seemingly utopian enterprises, toilet paper hoarded, meat processing plants closed, everything on backorder, prices climbing, minimum wage jobs deserted. Now, those consequences are not all the result of climate change, but I think we can now see, with a deeper and truer understanding, how a badly timed natural disaster, a catastrophic wildfire, a pipeline burst in the wrong location, or a multi-year drought could really puncture the lives we live today.

So I offer you an invitation. Rather than building a wall, let’s build a bridge. Instead of doubling down, in 2021, on disbelief in climate change while year after year is dubbed “the hottest year on record,” let’s reassess the situation.

I think we have this fear that we will somehow be inconsistent with the social media personas we have created if we change our minds or disagree with articles, media figures or politicians we once supported. Take in the new information with an open mind, and consider that you are not married to the beliefs you once touted.

I was a vegetarian for seven years, now I go bow hunting for deer. My beliefs about justice, society and sustainability have been rocked time and time again. Therefore, it is not so hard to believe that we who once disbelieved or felt apathetic toward the paranoia that is climate change can become more open to the idea that our current way of life is, unfortunately, unsustainable. That we are emitting too much carbon and destroying too many species.

To those who were climate deniers, but have changed your minds -- I applaud you. I welcome you into our circle to hear your ideas about making a more environmentally friendly and renewable future. I will not call you out for changing your mind, and I hope that others feel the same way. It is never too late to join the effort to keep Earth’s air, waters and lands in good health, which in turn supports human health.

Originally from Phoenix, Ariz., Rachel Beglin now resides in Bemidji. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, sustainability advocate, gardener, writer and coffee enthusiast.

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