Claudia Brown

In a world filled with question marks, a period or a comma has a lot of nerve one might think. A question mark really might leave more possibilities, and a period might just suggest some sort of finality. A comma says there is more coming, but the more that’s coming is right there on the page. A question mark might not be followed with the answer. Sometimes that’s great and other times, it’s unnerving, truly. Say your question is “When will I eat?” and you really have no idea where the next restaurant, grocery store, paycheck, or when you’ll get enough time to get some food together will be. That’s not pleasant. How about “When will more schools use compassionate listening groups in schools to help children get in touch with their emotions to avoid violence and unhealthy relationship habits?” If this question is rhetorical and isn’t an invitation to start getting schools involved in improving communication and listening, this question mark can also appear to cause discomfort for some and for others it may be a mulling over toward a new call to action.

Claudia Brown helped start the climate change advocacy group Transition Town Missoula? in 2011. The hope was that with enough community engagement, reading and discussion groups, Missoula could decrease its carbon footprint and reduce their dependency on fossil fuels. No small task. After many effective community gatherings, much input and increased momentum, the question mark fell off. In November 2012, Missoula officially became a Transition Town. Missoula added its name to a growing map of Transition Towns, in fact among more than 1,000 towns across the globe.

According to the Montana Conservation Voters, Montana in 2007 emitted more CO2 than 56 developing countries. At that time, Claudia Brown, was working with her start-up Missoula’s Caring for Creation Network. She took politicians to task telling them that it was no longer possible for them to use developing countries’ emissions as an excuse not to act on climate change.

The activist grandmother started Caring for Creation Network as a faith-based community project to help build a network of people of faith who work to preserve the Earth’s biodiversity and achieve sustainability, through education and action. They also throw a big conference every year that focuses on collaborative approaches. If that wasn’t enough, take a deep breath, she started Green Our Faiths Missoula. She leads meetings of 11 Missoula churches to facilitate greening of buildings and conservation education for congregations. Hooray!

Tired of debating the science, she’s helped build a network to take actions. She’s optimistic about the prospects for change. Green Our Faiths worked to get congregations to change their lighting to more energy efficient compact fluorescents, use fewer bottled waters and reduce plastic bag use.

In April 2014, her community recognized her. She received the Peacemaker Award, given by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (JRPC) in Missoula to honor a local person or group who best demonstrates a commitment to the center’s values of non-violence, social justice and environmental sustainability.

I love that she among other faith-based leaders sees that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try to re-envision a world that doesn’t only protect what runs on oil and polluting energy resources. Caring for the earth isn’t a vertical sector, like some may marginalize it as. It’s not just “those people” and “someone else” who take care of it.

Only a few months after Missoula took the question mark out of Transition Town Missoula, their City Council passed plans to be carbon neutral by 2025. It’s a victory cry for how local supporters of an issue like clean air can partner with a local government can make a culmination of a lot of efforts a step toward progress. Developing their local economies, keeping in mind her idea that if we don’t reduce emissions, then the consequences of more economic problems will overshadow any current ones, is a great opportunity for business-community partnerships and for local leaders, individuals and civil society groups.

Certainly, there’s a lot of room for input on how sustainable businesses can build resilient communities, address fears of change and acknowledging the challenges ahead. One of their goals as a Transition Town is to make Missoula a transition hub that hosts meetings with nearby groups to develop Transition goals at state and regional levels, including concepts on decreasing the energy footprint of towns.

I read her piece, “In the Spirit of Sustainability” published in the Spring of 2006 by the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project. One of the points she makes is that many faiths teach sustainable living and the significance of how to live by caring for our earth and rediscovering  of our responsibility to humankind and the planet.

“When I was about five years old, making mud pies in my backyard in the warm summer sun–the Earth and sun filled my being in a mystical, transcending moment in which all boundaries faded away. I was one with the whole universe, and the universe was one with me. As an adult, that experience informs my conviction–that we are called to care for our home, the Earth.”

So there we go again, yes, and hopefully even when nature glares her fury, the momentary grudge doesn’t supplant a responsibility to care for our home. When something stops working in your house, you don’t just stop cleaning it and abandon it. There are so many ways to live sustainably and lots of resources at our fingertips. Maybe planting a tree is on your list, but plant it and cross it off and maybe send Claudia Brown a thank you note for making Missoula even a little more spectacular. Sustainable you?

Sources: Missoula Independent, Montana Conservation Voters, Missoulian, Earth First Journal, Salon, Missoula Urban Demonstration Project



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