Chapel Hill: Opinion

Laura Cotterman: Walk clarifies commitment on climate change

“When you realize the Earth is so much more than simply your environment, you’ll be moved to protect her in the same way as you would yourself.”

– Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh in a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2014

On Sunday, Nov. 29, eighty people took a special walk in the woods of Carolina North in Chapel Hill. The walk was planned under the banner of the Global Climate March 2015, a worldwide event organized by to send a message to world leaders and delegates attending the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris (COP 21, Nov. 30 – Dec. 11) urging them to make a historic and binding commitment to a low-carbon, sustainable future.

The warm day was perfect for our silent walk on the Pumpkin Loop Trail. Surrounded by pines, we were there to demonstrate solidarity with people engaged in creative, nonviolent demonstrations in the wounded city of Paris and with people already suffering the consequences of a warming planet. By the end of the weekend, there had been more than 2,300 events in 175-plus countries, with more than 785,000 participants.

Walking mindfully together with others from our community deepened my awareness of our interdependence with the Earth and with all beings, human and nonhuman. This awareness – deeply sensing that I am not separate from nature nor from all of humanity – is a precursor to engagement.

It is possible that our mindful walk in the woods will lead to other things. Perhaps it encouraged participants to make a commitment – to reduce personal carbon impact (take car-free days, use a clothesline, eat local food, etc.) – but more important, to join with others engaged at this critical moment in history with fossil-fuel divestment campaigns, litigation, and political action aimed at moving civilization away from carbon-intensive economies. There are numerous organizations we can ally ourselves with, both local (NC WARN, Environment North Carolina) and national/international (, Sierra Club,

There are those who still do not accept that the planet is on the verge of human-caused catastrophe. I suggest that no more time be used trying to persuade. Wendell Berry put it this way: “even if (the experts) are wrong about the alleged human causes of climate change, we have nothing to lose, and much to gain, by trusting them.”

As it turns out, the climate summit did end with a significant commitment by nearly 200 countries. But that (non-binding) commitment merely sets the stage for serious effort that may or may not come to pass. The goal set by the parties is to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, while stating that 1.5 degrees would be better. What this amounts to is a starting point for action. Countries like ours who can to do even more must do so. And we can start here at home by insisting that North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality submit a “Clean Power Plan” that meets or surpasses the EPA’s requirements. Attending this Thursday's hearing at 6 pm in Raleigh is one way to do that. Read more about it here:

Perhaps we in the “first world” have managed to put off feeling empathy for people already affected by a warming planet because thus far, they are primarily people in poorer nations and marginalized communities – be it folks on our own Gulf Coast, Alaskan native communities, or inhabitants of tiny Pacific islands. But I am certain that if we really pay attention, and deepen our awareness of our interdependence, we will trust what the science tells us and understand that acting now is the right thing to do.