They came from various backgrounds, differing age groups and unique lifestyles, but each of the seven participants in a recent listening session held at the York Daily Record shared a personal experience with climate change.
The session was part of a Climate Solutions project to engage with Central Pennsylvanians about climate literacy, adaptation and resilience by using community engagement, journalism and education. Partner organizations in the project are WITF, La Voz Latina, Q’Hubo News, Sankofa African American Theatre Company, Shippensburg University, the Franklin & Marshall Center for Opinion Research, StateImpact Pennsylvania, the York Daily Record, and Solutions Journalism Network
The York County participants in the discussion included Andrew Smith, Emily Arndt, Mickey Knaper, Craig Zumbrun, Philip Drayden, Tabitha Clark and Gwendolyn Babcock.
Almost immediately, they noticed similar experiences and observations.
Most pointed to unpredictable weather patterns, rising temperatures, and increasingly severe weather events. Knaper said stronger storms have damaged the awnings at his downtown York business, Gift Horse Brewing Co.
Zumbrun said he and his wife became Penn State Master Gardeners, where they learned to understand the relationship of insects to gardening and farming. The couple was excited to grow native plants but quickly realized there were no pollinators. He blamed the changing weather patterns for disrupting the life cycles of helpful insects and birds.
Small changes make a big difference
Zumbrun suggested planting trees as a small way to make a big difference. “One oak tree can sponsor over 283 different insects,” he said.
Comparing grass to a desert, he stressed how important it is for people to realize that grass doesn’t host the same beneficial insects as trees. Zumbrun added that planting trees along city streets wouldn’t just foster pollinators but provide cooling refuge during intense heat waves.
“It’s so important, I think, to just improve the quality of the air, improve the temperature, improve the little life that makes the big life. And so, I would say plant trees and do whatever you can to reduce grass,” said Zumbrun.
Smith stressed the importance of keeping an open mind about alternative options for yards that would be more conducive to supporting life. He pointed out that societal expectations might make people hesitant to change their mindset about grass yards but said they are mowed and “put to no use.”
As a youth educator who also operates a stand at York’s Central Market, Drayden suggested that “instilling knowledge” about the carbon footprint and weather patterns in younger generations allows them to work toward solutions.
Arndt agreed with Drayden that younger generations must make changes to ensure a world left for their grandkids. She said they recognize the issue and will be the needed change, adding, “God Bless them. I never ever thought about that kind of stuff when I was 10.”
Another suggestion by the group was to save and fix things rather than throw them away, citing the throwaway mentality of the United States as a significant contributor to the state of the environment.
“We keep taking from the earth, and we’re giving it back in trash,” Knaper said. “We’ve become such a throwaway nation that a little something goes wrong with something, and it’s just thrown away. And our landfills and incinerators and stuff like that are just getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Babcock agreed, saying that a nearby York County landfill keeps getting higher, rather than the mountain of snowfall that she remembers and longs for.
A world of change
Winters without snow are apparent indicators of climate change, but the group pointed out that many changes are unseen or overlooked entirely.
“If you think down to the smallest insect on that plant that hasn’t been pollinated, that makes a world of change to the entire ecosystem,” Arndt said. “So, so much of it is granular that we can’t see.”
While it may be easy to overlook a solitary bug, Smith pointed out that everyone in the group had similar observations, indicating noticeable impacts caused by climate change. The conversation convinced all participants that finding solutions is more integral than ever.
Connecting to make an impact
The group identified some potentially impactful solutions that haven’t been embraced fully, including community gardens, recycling, land conservancy, re-using existing structures, reducing fossil-fuel emissions, and solar and wind farms.
Group members agreed those changes can have a positive impact but admitted that understanding is equally critical.
Arndt, who studied political communication, insisted that progress depends on listening to one another, even when opinions differ.
Clark admitted to being disappointed that there wasn’t an outlier in the group, which was selected randomly, as she was interested in hearing opposing viewpoints – and others agreed.
Although surprised that there were no differing arguments, participants said it was heartening to find commonalities between them, despite coming from various backgrounds and experiences. They concluded that there is value in having these conversations – including with people who disagree on how to deal with climate change or believe nothing can or should be done.
“I think really understanding where people are coming from and why that resistance is there is so important for us to make any kind of change,” Arndt said.
“We have to accept that there will be some changes that maybe we don’t love but are necessary,” Smith said.
The group agreed that the best way to do that is through open dialogue and a desire to understand all viewpoints.
“I think we all, regardless of our age, whether we’re kids or old timers like me, want and need to have our time with nature, and we have to do something to protect it,” said Zumbrun.
York Daily Record Editor Scott Fisher moderated the session, and WITF recorded the conversation for the Local Voices Network.