“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” These are the immortal words of Mr. Rogers.  

In November 2021, I stood on TED’s iconic 2.4-meter, red-carpeted circle facing an audience of global leaders at the U.N. in Geneva. Drawing from neuropsychology, linguistics and cognitive science, I spent 12 minutes tearing apart language as it relates to climate action. “(Climate) change,” for example, is inherently neutral. Change is sometimes good, sometimes not. “(Climate) crisis,” on the other hand, demands a response. “Crisis” marks an inflection point after which the status quo is no longer an option. Getting out of a crisis requires new thinking and different approaches than what led to it. A crisis provides space for growth, for optimism, for hope. 

Hope. Too often, however, that word remains in the closed pages of my dictionary. Instead, I lose myself to long runs, pop a nightly Cymbalta and certainly would be coloring my hair blue if I knew of a non-toxic option (if you know of one, please let me know). Action, though, is my favorite source of hope. 

In summer 2021, my neighbor Kathleen Sullivan and I – socially distanced on her porch – decided to form a community climate group. “Do you wonder whether anyone would join us?” she asked while simultaneously texting her husband and an eager-for-anything friend to ensure we wouldn’t be alone. Her fears unfounded, within the month, our nascent group of four had 12 subcommittees and a mailing list of several hundred. We lived in a community in which so many people had been looking for structure, for action … for hope.  

The scale of destruction in the world means that the climate crisis is an existential one, one that can feel overwhelming. Indeed, emitting 16 tons of CO2 per year, the average American would need to live 77 million years to pollute as much as Shell did last year. For my own sanity, I’m constantly looking for the helpers, for the action.

Luckily, unlike the blue dye, they are everywhere. 


Last month, at the initial urging of the University of Maine School of Law’s Energy and Environment Law Society, Portland became the 90th city in six continents to support the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Initiative, a proposal for international collaboration to halt fossil fuel expansion.  

Grace Nichols, a science teacher and law student, spoke about the initiative as a way to stand with “those in regions most vulnerable to climate change, [which is] rapidly becoming everybody.” Jim Devine, on behalf of Homeless Voices for Justice, stressed that the deepening climate crisis is a driver of housing insecurity in Portland. Nurse practitioner Sarah Southard highlighted the health impacts associated with fossil fuels, which run the gamut from cardiac events and cancers to pediatric respiratory illnesses. Fourteen speakers in all took to the podium, each using their individual expertise to fill a niche. 

Farther north, Freeport resident Joanna Benoit was inspired to jump on November’s ballot for Town Council. She sees current town topics, such as affordable housing, economic growth and transportation, as having a significant influence on both the town’s environmental footprint as well as its climate resiliency. Joanna believes that the environment can be a common denominator uniting various sectors of the community and would like to see Freeport as a model community for sustainable and resilient practices. 

While Joanna was actively looking to engage with others, Robin Wade unintentionally stumbled upon climate action through more solo pursuits: passions for beach combing and her young grandchildren. What began as a pandemic art project became a published picture book, “The Adventures of Gwen Penguin.” The pages of this book are gorgeous scenes of pelagic creatures made from sea glass – and trash – that Robin pulled from the waters near her home on Casco Bay. Through sharing Gwen’s story with audiences, readers join Gwen’s journey through vulnerable ecosystems and value caring for their own.  

Whether it’s speaking publicly or wandering Maine’s rocky shores, potential climate action is everywhere. One activity about which I am particularly excited is the new citizen science collaboration between the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the National Weather Service monitoring coastal flooding. Not only are the anticipated data valuable for researchers to identify particularly vulnerable coastlines and infrastructure, but the findings also feed directly into resiliency priorities of towns from Scarborough to Belfast. As a community science project, town residents become the investigators, they become stakeholders in their own community’s response. Like so much meaningful climate action, hope can be found with no special skills beyond a desire to learn about the water.  

At a time of scary weather patterns and falling records, look around, there are helpers everywhere. We need new thinking; we need you.  

Susana Hancock is an international climate scientist and polar explorer living in Maine.

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