I realize that when I posted to the Bynum listserv asking why there was not more diversity in the “Viewpoints” section of the Chatham News + Record that I may have ruffled some feathers. I wrote that I had subscribed to the paper after moving back home to Bynum after many years in order to learn about our county.
Perhaps without too much thought, I sent a message to the listserv asking if others had noticed that all the Viewpoints were written by white men. I got several direct responses of agreement, including one that encouraged me to submit a piece — and I decided that it was important to talk about what more diversity means in this day and age — yes a time of many misunderstandings, misperceptions, misrepresentations, etc.
The main point I want to get across is that more diversity is in all our best interest. Why is that? Because when we stand for diversity, we are standing for community. And when we stand for community, we are bolstering our ability to “weather the storm,” literally and figuratively. Our county, our towns within that county, and our neighborhoods within and outside those towns are on the cusp of the type of changes we have not witnessed before. For that we need to talk to each other, support each other, essentially we need to be engaged in each others’ lives, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, belief, political party, etc.
There are others out there who can speak with more authority to the economic, political and development challenges we face and will continue to face. My expertise is in our existential crisis: human-caused climate change. I have spent 30+ years working in a part of the world where the land is supported by frozen ground, permafrost. Today that permafrost is thawing at a fast pace. The land is falling in and rising, infrastructure is failing, entire parts of settlements are caving in. You probably wonder why this matters to residents of Chatham County. It matters because that frozen ground and all of the Earth’s cryosphere (frozen areas to include permafrost, glaciers, sea ice, etc) is critical to maintaining the planet’s system of heating and cooling. In short, if it thaws, we are all affected.
In Chatham County we don’t have permafrost and we are not witnessing the extreme changes occurring in the Arctic and the more extreme parts of the planet. But if you look at the 20 year trends in our county, you will see the increase in temperatures, in violent storms, in extreme weather changes and in the lack of snow and ice. Even if we were able to stop all greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, SO2, CH4, NO2, water vapor) tomorrow, we would still be in for the accelerating change coming our way.
I worked professionally for 30 years researching, teaching, writing, speaking, and contributing to policy, all focused on raising consciousness about our existential crisis. Yes we need to cut carbon. Yes we need to transform our energy, agriculture, educational, health, political, ad infinitum systems to be regenerative; to put back into the biosphere, the ecosphere, and the socio-culturo-sphere more than they remove. What my experience has shown me, time and time again, is that no change is possible without a vibrant, diverse community that prioritizes the big picture. I know these types of relationships exist in many of our Chatham County communities. This is one reason I returned to Bynum after living here from 1995-2002 when I was swept away to do my work in northern Virginia. I knew then it was a unique place, like many others in our county. Let’s see what we can do together. Let’s weather the coming storms, in whatever shape or form they may come, together as one human family.
And if you are looking for one action you can take today in this effort, go talk to a neighbor you have not yet met. Go say hello to a person you may not normally feel inclined to say hello to. Look more for what you have in common with others and seek to celebrate that. I guarantee you will be surprised to find that, indeed, we have more in common that we all thought.
Susie Crate is an environmental and cognitive anthropologist, who since 2005 has analyzed perceptions, understandings and responses to climate change among Sakha (NE Siberia), arctic Canadian, Peruvian, Welsh, I-Kiribati, Mongolian and Chesapeake watermen communities. She is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles, two edited volumes on anthropology and climate change, and two monographs, most recently, “Once Upon the Permafrost: Knowing Culture and Climate Change in Siberia” (University of Arizona Press, 2021). She is a professor emeritus at George Mason University and lives on the Haw River in Bynum.
Editor’s note: The News + Record has actively recruited different voices for its Viewpoints pages and regularly features diverse voices in the newspaper’s “Chatham Chat” installments. Readers are always invited to submit letters and guest columns at email@example.com.
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