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Communicating Climate Optimism with The Climate Optimist

Anne Therese Gennari, S1 Episode 4

How do we become climate optimists? What is the relationship between optimism and climate action? By acknowledging that with change comes opportunity and there is a vast potential for large scale social change and individual behavior change. To sustain ourselves in this fight we must be inclusive, welcoming, and accept imperfection.

Anne Therese Gennari is a writer, speaker, workshop host, and educator who has taught courses at the City College of New York, Columbia University, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. She is also the Co-founder and head of marketing for Role Models Management, a modeling agency focused on ethics, sustainability, environmental and social justice. She is the host of the Hey Change Podcast and the author of The Climate Optimist Handbook: How to Shift the Narrative on Climate Change and Find the Courage to Choose Change.

Full transcript between Anne Therese Gennari, and our Authors on Climate Words host and Climate Books coordinator, Rebecca Gerny, recorded on January 15, 2024.

            Rebecca: Thanks so much for joining me, Anne Therese. First I'd like to invite you to introduce yourself in your own words and share anything that I just missed.

            Anne Therese: Thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here. I’m just super passionate about helping people shift the narrative on climate change to grow emotional resilience, to understand that we are living through these times and it's not something you can opt out of, but you don't have to feel like you should opt out, because if you instead choose to opt in and take it for all that it is, you can actually live a pretty awesome life while contributing to building the world that we want to see next. And so I'm very excited about this work, as you can tell. I’m also a new mother and so I'm relearning what it means to be a human again, not just from her perspective, but from my own, and reflecting deeper on what it means to bring another life to this planet. What is she going to grow up with? What's the world going to look like when she's my age? So yeah, a lot of things happening right now.

And I guess this book that I have been writing for almost a decade that I finally said to myself when I found out I was pregnant, I said, okay, this book needs to reach the world before my daughter does because otherwise it's never going to come out. And so that was the timeline I gave myself. And I'm so glad I did because the book came out and nowI feel like it's almost my anchor. I can always anchor myself that the book is here and I have so much to pull from the book and continue my work. So with that said, I'm really, again, honored to be here.

            Rebecca: Yeah, thank you. And the book is such a helpful handbook, really providing different activities and skills and journaling exercises, meditation prompts, so all of these different things. It's exciting to hear that you continue to pull from it and others can continue to kind of use it as a resource in their climate work. So thank you for sharing that with us.

So I'm just curious to start off, how did you come to be doing this work and what draws you specifically to the work that you're now doing?

            Anne Therese: Yeah, that's a great question. When I get asked this question, I try to go back in time and find that pivotal moment where like, this is when I found out this is what I wanna do. And I don't think I can, there's been many moments building on itself. But I grew up as someone who was deeply concerned about the world and what we were doing to it and had just, I guess, an unusual understanding for the injustices in the world. And when I was little, I found it hard to leave the tap running because I knew that kids in Africa didn't have access to water and when you're seven or eight, like it's just something that, it's kind of weird to feel that way. So I don't know where that came from, but I grew up with this deeper understanding of how intersected everything is and how what we do leaves an impact.

I learned about climate change in my teens and reflecting back now, I know that that was the starting point of my climate anxiety. And I speak a lot about this in my book and this is also what I give workshops on, but, you know, bypassing our own feelings and trying to ignore them is not going to help. And so understanding that it's by accepting our feelings and working with them and inviting them in as part of ourselves is how we can not just heal ourselves but then actually apply that to healing the world. But I guess it was when I was in my late teens and trying to understand or figure out what I wanted to do with my life and my career, I chose a path of marketing, which is, I guess a little bit different, but always with the understanding that I wanted to use those skills to do good for the world. I thought if you can trick people into buying shit they don't need, you can definitely use the same skill sets to then help people do better things. And so that was sort of the angle I went into, or I went in with, into the field of marketing.

And that led me on the path that you just described, which was starting my own modeling agency. And then now having really figured out that what I actually want to do is speak to people. I would love to be on stage. I love talking for some reason. And I love writing. I always have loved writing. And so it took courage to ask that deeper question of what do I actually want to do if I remove all the societal boundaries or expectations on myself. What actually brings me joy? And I love to sit early in the morning. I get up at five to write. And so that means something, right? And it's a muscle and a skill that I continue to hone in on and practice feeling confident in because I think it's scary as a writer to trust that what you write is valuable to others than yourself.

Not to get too off the rails here, but I think the pivotal moment for me, getting me to where I am right now, where I feel confidence in being an author and being a speaker and educating people on what I deeply, deep inside know is my truth, is when I received this message that it's not my work, it's not my words, but I'm just a vessel that is funneling these words from somewhere else and they're coming to me for a reason. I'm here to share those words with the world. And it's not just for me alone and actually if I don't share them, I'm being selfish because other people need to hear them too. And so that's sort of the angle I try to think of this work from. It’s not about me building an ego. It's not about that. It's about, how can I contribute to the world? And how can I share the things that are coming to me? And so that's what I do today. And it's been a long winding journey to get here. But again, a place that I find so much joy in.

            Rebecca: Thank you for sharing that. Yeah, I think that's really meaningful that you've chosen to take what you've learned and share it with everyone to try to create that mindset shift.

I'd like to dig in and talk about that word, climate optimism, which is the title of your book and obviously the center of your work. So I'll read the definition that you so helpfully write at the end of the book, and then ask you a few questions related to that word. So you write that:

“Climate optimism is a mindset shift aimed to spark optimism, creativity, and solutions thinking while keeping a fact-based and awareness-driven approach to climate change and our future. It's about changing the narrative around climate change so we can act from courage and excitement, not fear.”

I love that offering. Thank you for that. Such as a succinct way of putting it.

When did you kind of first come across the phrase climate optimism and the need for this framework? And what is its significance to you and also kind of to the climate movement more broadly? And what kind of potential does climate optimism really carry?

            Anne Therese: Yeah, thank you. So many great questions there. Well, I'll start right here. I did not used to be a climate optimist. For anyone who's read my book or seen any of my work might know that I used to be what I call an angry activist, which meant that I had reached the height of my climate anxiety and I was frustrated and angry and just extremely worried about the state of the world and the fact that people didn't care or didn't know that, like, they should care. And so the way I was trying to change the world, so to speak, was to force this change upon people and make them care in ways that were not very effective.

And it led me to what I call my climate optimist awakening. It was after a dinner conversation with my brother that when I once again had failed to spark deeper awareness or understanding, at least I thought so. And I ended up on the floor crying and I just broke down. I literally just broke down. And what happened was, having reflected on it so much in later years, is that I was releasing all this deeper fear and anxiety that I had been bottling up inside for so many years. And my body was like, it's time. We can't hold onto this any longer and it's not serving you. So I let it go. And afterwards I closed my eyes and I just, this extremely beautiful white light surrounded me and a message came through and it was, you're here to be a climate optimist. And I never heard that term before. It was completely new to me. No one was talking to these terms. I had no idea what that meant. I'm like, okay, what is that? But something about the message just really resonated so deeply. And I knew that it was my path. And I knew that I was here to work for the environment because I am so passionate about that world, but I had to change my ways.

And so what followed was a long journey of trying to figure out what it meant to be a climate optimist. And I've taken many detours on that journey. For a long time, I thought that the way to do so was to ignore all the negative and just seek out the positive news, because there are some positive climate news too. And I'm like, I can just be the one who focuses on those news and share those news. And then I'll be that light in this gray and doomy world. But what I learned on that journey, which actually, what's interesting is that during that time, my climate anxiety intensified because even more than before, I wasn't paying attention to what I knew was true, which is the world is not going in that direction. It's actually going in the opposite direction.

And so what I learned now and what the book is about, and book is technically a handbook I wish I had during all these years, something to guide me through all these emotions, is that it's by accepting, and that's why the definition says it's an awareness-driven approach. It's not wishful thinking. It's not hoping things are going to turn out. It's not saying technology will save us or we have figured things out in the past, we'll do it again. Like that is wishful thinking and it's bypassing and it's not accepting or validating ourselves in our feelings.

And so what I've come to understand from my own experiences and also from reading books on psychology and neuroscience and all these different behavioral science fields, is that we need optimism. And in fact, it's extremely important that we understand that right now, but the role optimism ought to play and how we invite for it to exist, it's nothing light, right? It can't just be like, it's the glass half empty half full, because that is missing a huge piece of the picture.

And so the definition that I've finally come to is that, it's in the intersection of what I call grounded awareness, like being aware, but in a way that you can still feel grounded to take action, it's in that grounded awareness paired with empowered action. Meaning we apply our curiosity, our skill sets, our willingness to see change, to creating the change. We have to participate in what we want to see happen. And it's in that intersection that climate optimism exists.

So again, it's not sitting on the sidelines hoping for someone else to figure it out. It's not praying, it's not meditating, it's not wishful thinking. All those things are important pieces of it, but it's not the core of the matter. The core of the matter is recognizing that you and your inner leadership, that will continue to show up for this, I don't like to say fight, but for this journey, it will bring us from where we are now into a better world, hopefully. That is climate optimism, and we need that climate optimism so much right now.

            Rebecca: Yeah, and thank you for that. I think that balancing act there is really important. The world is so out of balance right now. I think climate optimism starts as that first step in putting ourselves back and holding the grief and the opportunity. And then we can kind of acknowledge and set into the work, which you, you also give us a term for that, the optimist in action. What is so important about that term specifically? And how can we be optimists in action in our lives and in our climate work?

            Anne Therese: Yeah, and I think that term came about because I really wanted to make sure that it wasn't misunderstood, that it isn't something you choose or not choose. Optimism is something you create. So to be an optimist, you have to be in action. Meaning you take action and you show up. Not every single day, right? Like we're human beings and a huge piece of it is recognizing our own limitations and our boundaries and our need to set boundaries. But you actually become optimistic from doing the work. And I share reasons and tools for this in my book, which is when, and it's really cool and interesting, when we choose to empower ourselves and say, there are things that I can do. I recognize they're not going to change the world because there's so many things that need to happen for that, but there are things that I can do. And when I do them, the body starts producing happiness hormones, which are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocins, and endorphins. And I call them the fuel to your machine. You want to find activities that help produce them because they make you feel happier, more grounded, more optimistic, more willing to take action, but the actions themselves will also fuel all four. And so that's how the wheel starts spinning itself.

And it's when you activate that inner leadership, that person within you who says, I recognize that it may not be my fault that we're facing this crisis. I know that people have lied to us. I know that we've been kept in the dark. I know there's a lot of greed and ignorance that is fueling this awful machine that is causing our destruction. And I am allowed to be angry about that. I'm allowed to grieve the fact that we're losing natural habitat. It's okay for me to feel all those feelings.

And at the same time, it's okay to recognize that even if it's not me who's to blame, I get to play an important and beautiful piece in co-creating what comes next. And I think it's that shift from trying to continuously fight the old world and trying to point the fingers at who's to blame. Yeah, we can get stuck there or we can say, let's just get over this and start building something better. And if we focus all our energy there, we might figure this out.

But it comes back to, again, recognizing that, A) it's important to be optimistic, because otherwise, what's the point in even trying? But it's not something that we just choose and say, I wanna be optimistic today, because that is wishful thinking, and it's gonna come back to bite you. But it's in recognizing, I can create my own optimism by activating that inner leadership, by seeking our community, by tending to myself and my own needs, by healing myself, by accepting my emotions, validating them for what they are, but then saying, I don't have to stay here just because I am angry and worried. And in deep grief doesn't mean that I have to continue to feel that way to make a difference.

And that for me is the biggest definition or the difference between an angry activist who feels that I'm angry with the world who feels, as long as I stay angry with the world, I will feel committed to make a difference. And then, the climate optimist so to speak who says, I am angry, but I'm not gonna wanna remain angry because that's not where I can make my biggest impact. My biggest impact is in creating the world we want to see next. And that world needs curiosity, it needs outside the box thinking, it needs creativity, it needs coming together, it needs rethinking what we think is true and what we want to be true moving forward, and that takes courage. And we can only find that courage by healing the pieces of ourselves that's keeping us in the past.

            Rebecca: Relatedly, you also give us this term, re-truthing, which I think is kind of exactly what you're talking about here. Can you elaborate on that term and why that one's important in our climate optimism?

            Anne Therese: Absolutely. And I know that there are different definitions of re-truthing, maybe circulating. There are more around like fake news and that whole piece of the world, which is not what I'm talking about. It's not about trying to fool people into thinking they aren't true.

Retruthing for me has everything to do with our own lived realities and truths. And it's a word I came up with because I just didn't know how else to describe it. And actually an exercise that I made up for myself to take myself out of the old binary ways of thinking that kept me in that reality because I wanted so desperately to get into something new. And I knew that there were other worlds out there waiting for me. And it was about me just creating the space even within me and inside me to say, I'm inviting that new reality to take form. And it's hard to do that because, not to get too nerdy on this topic, but 95% of the time, we're acting from our subconscious mind, meaning we don't even actually quite pay attention to what we do and why we do these things because it's just acting on a pre-existing code that's been coded in our brains since we were born. And it's really useful because that means that we can go on about our lives and operate the world without having to think about everything we do. Like how do we open a door? How do we turn on the toaster? Like these things we just do by habit. But it gets tricky when we just continue to do without even paying attention to why we're doing these things. And if the way we live our lives is how we wanna keep living moving forward.

So the word re-truthing, and actually I'm gonna have to pull up the definition so I just get it right, because I think that's important. How I define re-truthing which is a verb, it's a practice,

“is the willingness to question what is and to let go of ideas, thoughts and perceptions as they have lived in our heads up until now. To co-create a sustainable and more compassionate world. Re-truthing refers to one's ability to understand that things and circumstances always change and that it is our duty as human beings to adapt to the flow of change to continually find ourselves in new worlds, communities and realities, new truths.”

And so that's like the bigger, I guess, understanding for the word and what it comes down to for each and one of us is finding the courage to reflect on these things that we do every day and then start to question why.

And something profound has come to me lately is asking ourselves, who is the future version of myself who wants to emerge? Not just how can I be better at this or how can I be better in whatever category, but like, who is the future me I haven't met yet? And how do I get to meet her? And so, re-truthing is also about recognizing that, in changing the world work that we're trying to do, we are the world. And a huge piece of that is finding the willingness to change ourselves and trust that by letting go of some of the ideas that we have lived by up until this point, we can start to rethink our systems and live even better lives in the future.

We have to rethink growth, what we value, what role money plays in our lives, material things, what is actually abundance, right? Like coming back to the core of abundance, like what is an abundant life? Is it always being stuck and being busy all the time because that's what we have been told is the right thing to live? Or is it actually slowing down and creating more space?

So I'm getting very philosophical here, but technically the practice of re-truthing and the meaning of the word is turning the lights back on ourselves and recognizing that when we unlock the future potential of our own self to come forth, that is when we start to really activate the radical changes that we need to see in the world.

            Rebecca: Yeah, thank you. I think that's so poignant and you spend a lot of time in the book, you return again and again, I think it's even in the definition of climate optimism to this idea of change and truly opening ourselves up to change and no longer being that like kind of primal fear of change, but instead accepting it and being excited for the opportunities that it creates.

            Anne Therese: Yeah, so thank you for bringing that up because I think it's this underlying message that I'm trying to always get across, like you say. And it's that when we talk about climate change, we tend to be so focused on climate. Or if there's changes and negative changes that are upon us. Like if we need to act now or this will happen, right? We're looking at these catastrophic changes coming up in 20 years or whatever it is. It's always about this change coming and we don't want it. And what happens in our brains is actually like a complete block and we don't want to take action upon things that we don't desire. If there's any possibility of a loss or something might harm us, we don't want to engage with that. So even if it's from a rational standpoint, we don't want this catastrophe, let's take action. It sounds very rational, but it's extremely hard for our brains to pick up the information and say, yes, let's go.

And so instead, how can we, not combat, but how can we create a picture of change that we do desire? What would the world look like if we did take action and recognize that where we are right now is not working, we can't stay here. So we do have to move, we do have to change, but that change can be something beautiful and it can be maybe a better role than what we're used to today. And when we start to really picture that for people is when we find that inner willingness to say, yeah, let's do it. Let's try something new.

Yeah, what if climate change was exciting and a great opportunity, not this scary thing hanging right over our heads? I think that that mindset shift is really interesting.

            Rebecca: I'm also curious, another kind of theme that runs through your book, and I think is a constant conversation in a lot of climate communities, is this balance between individual action and collective action and the role that the individual plays versus the role of broader governments or companies. And I'm wondering, you talk about a bit in the book, but how do you focus that balance? Obviously, the optimist in action is an individual. So where does that kind of tie into the more broader global climate action?

            Anne Therese: Yeah. I come across this question all the time. And people have very strong opinions about it, which is great, I think that's so important. And I'm not going to credit this, because I think it initially came from Katharine Hayhoe. But she said, do we need individual actions, or do we need corporate actions or government actions? And the answer is yes. Meaning we need everything, right? It comes down to all of us saying, we freaking need to change.

And I think we have to recognize that everything is intersected and everything is tied together. So, I mean, I don't want anyone to take individual actions, meaning take the bike to work or compost and recycle and say, oh, I'm doing it! This is it, like we're changing the world. Yes, you are, but it's not enough, obviously. But I don't think that someone who does those actions actually thinks that they are truly changing the world. They know that they are a piece of the system. But we also have to recognize that as a piece of the system, we have tremendous power in shifting norms and shaping new culture, in speaking up for what we think is right and what we want to be right moving forward. For me, individual actions serve many purposes, but one is just proving to ourselves that things can be done differently. And that in itself continues to spark the optimism and saying, let's actually push for the system change because I'm proving that it's possible, right?

And I give a few concrete reasons for why individual actions matter in the book. And one is that it makes you feel better. We talked a little bit about climate anxiety, but the biggest reason for anxiety period is that we feel like we lack control. And so anything that can put you back in some sort of agency, if that is just doing whatever little piece you can do, it will make you feel better. So do just for yourself to feel good. Secondly, it also builds a character, it will definitely shift who you see yourself, how you see yourself, who you want to be in the world. And that person will show up differently in conversations with people, will show up with different kinds of energy. If you are someone who continuously embodies the change that you want to see, that is contagious. And that leads me to point three and four, which is A) we shift norms and culture because we are extremely social creatures and we always look to other people to see what's okay and what's cool and what's not. And then fourth, we're planting seeds. So you may feel like you bring your own coffee cup to the store, it's not gonna make a difference, but you never know who's gonna see that and be like, oh wait, I can maybe also bring my own cup. And then that ripple effects. So again, these actions will not change the world, but they will create an energy that's contagious. And it's that energy that will continue to push for new laws. That is what then pushes the needle upward.

And I keep coming across this notion that it's not a bottom, a top bottom sort of movement. It needs to start at a grassroots level and then it builds because that is how we vote in new politicians. That's how we speak up about what we want and the politicians will follow. That's also how companies make their decisions. They know what the consumer wants next and they are making big shifts in their business plans to better address the new needs for consumers. And so yes, it all matters. Corporations need to change. They are changing luckily, maybe not fast enough, but they are. Governments need to have more willpower and courage to do things differently. And we as consumers have to continue to show up in that energy and start building the world that we actually know is possible.

            Rebecca: I really appreciate that. I'd like to also talk about a word that you introduced, which I love learning new words, especially in other languages. So in the book, you talk about the Swedish word lagom.Can you share with our listeners what the word lagom means and why it's so important as a concept and kind of an interesting way to approach our thoughts on climate action.

            Anne Therese: Yeah, so lagom is a funny word. And I think any Swede could agree because it's like, you can't quite find the translation in any language because I don't think there is one. And it really speaks to the culture of Sweden, I would say. And it's just about being just a little bit in between. Don't be too much. Don't be too little. And sometimes I feel like that could be a very boring approach to life. But when you really come around to it, it's kind of perfect. But the interesting thing about lagom, and I'm trying to get the definition here. lagom is, it's just right. It's just the right amount of milk in your coffee. It's just the right temperature of the weather. It's just, the house isn't too big, so you have to clean too many rooms. It's a perfectly big house.

But if you look up the definition, some places you find the definition saying it's not necessarily perfect, which is true. Because you don't use Logon for something that's perfect because it isn't, it isn't perfect. It's enough, it's good enough. And so I, as a Swede, I'm very much like that, I realize, especially living in an American culture. I don't want it to be too much. I don't wanna drink too much. I don't wanna eat too much. I just want things to be just like enough, right, like then I can go home and have a kind slow pace, perfectly moving life.

It's hard to explain, but it's that whole notion of like, why do we always have to be so radical? And I think when it comes to our climate actions, we really need to reflect on this. And I understand for someone who's new to the climate world, whose world is just learning about how urgent it is that we take action, how fast we're speeding in the wrong direction, it is easy to want to get radical. But what I learned from many years of trying that approach is that it isn't working, it's not speaking to people, and it's gonna run ourselves dry. It's really hard to keep up with that pace.

And so how this word, I guess, applies to our climate work is approaching it from a little piece of lagom. Like do your things and try out, but don't try to be perfect because it's impossible to be perfect, especially since what we're trying to do is within a system that's not set up for that lifestyle, right? Like you're trying to be perfectly zero waste only to recognize that nothing in our system is zero waste or even set up to be zero waste. So it's so hard to keep up with that fight. But if we can try to be lagom, just do your thing and keep building onto that and make it into just part of who you are. It's just you're someone who tries and someone who wants to keep trying. But you also recognize that there will be times when you have to grab a plastic fork because you just don't have any other options. And yes, it's awful because there's one more plastic fork circulating our oceans, but beating yourself up about that is not going to help.

And then also being afraid of trying in the first place because we're wanting to be perfect is also not helping us. And so I think if we can all apply a little bit of lagom, just it's good enough and we're trying, and from that trying, momentum can build, I think we're truly onto something.

            Rebecca: Yeah, thank you. I love that word. It's a concept that I feel like I've thought about a lot, especially like you say, as an American in this culture where we are kind of doing, doing, doing, going, going, going, wanting to be the best. And yet I haven't had the actual word for it because I don't speak Swedish. So it's nice to kind of have that or know that somewhere that is defined. And I think you talk about this about in the book, but I really resonated with it as well, because it's been my path with my diet and veganism, vegetarianism, pescitarianism, all these words and all these trying to kind of be perfect or be really exact in how we define the way we eat. And instead we should be lagom. Like we're trying, we're trying our best to eat sustainably and healthily, but we make choices in the moment that might not align with one word or the other, whatever, but I really appreciate that.

            Anne Therese: And also I think that forces a certain amount of consciousness in the moment, right? It's like, cause what you kind of are touching upon that I talk about in the book is that again, radical framing of, I'm vegan. And so these are things that I cannot eat ever. And sometimes that puts you in a really difficult situation because maybe there are no options or maybe the options that do exist are just packaged heavily in plastic. It’s sometimes hard to be like, well, I guess as a vegan, I now can't have anything but that. And everyone knows I'm a vegan. So they're all gonna look at me weirdly if I don't have the vegan option. I've been in those situations and it's really hard to know how to navigate that. And so I think for me to like kind of skip the titles and sometimes they're useful. Like when I started out my vegan journey, I needed to say that to myself because it put me in a box I could feel safe within, I was safe within those borders, knowing that as long as I stick to my vegan choices, I know I'm making a good choice. And so that I needed that in that part of my life, but now as I'm a bit more grounded, I am able to bring a bit more consciousness into each situation and ask myself, what is the option that feels best right now?

And because sometimes I learned too, if you are too radical, you're actually closing doors and people are just not going to listen to you. They're like, well, she's a vegan person and she has nothing to say that speaks to my world. Because if they don't identify as a vegan person, then suddenly there is this wall between you, it might be invisible, but it's hard for them to take in what you're saying because it doesn't resonate with their world. But if someone who's just like, I'm not anything, but I'm choosing certain things because it's better for me and the planet, then suddenly you're walking the same grounds and it's much easier to listen to that person. May not be making sense right now, so please ask if I don't. And it's sometimes a harder way of living, but it's more fulfilling in my opinion.

Rebecca: Yeah, and I think it's really aligned with kind of what the optimist in action is. And just thinking, what is the action here that aligns with my optimism, my worldview, my approach to making these right changes without getting, as you say, stuck in the kind of perfectionism or trying to hold ourselves to standards that are impossible in our contemporary world.

            Rebecca: Shifting gears a little bit, I'm curious to learn a little bit about your creative process and how you decided to write this book. I know you mentioned that your daughter coming into the world was a helpful motivator in finishing it. So yeah, what's your creative and writing process? Also, are there any specific places or spaces that inspire your work? Maybe imaginary or natural, visited, urban, not urban.

            Anne Therese: Well, I've learned over the years that things come to me sort of unexpectedly. And so it's always good to keep a notebook around. And it's many times in interactions with other human beings or learning some, like reading an article and then piecing that together with recent experience I had myself and kind of connecting the dots. I am someone who has always reflected, and it might be uncomfortable for people who know me to know this, but like I'm always sort of having those glasses on, what's the human behavior here? Like, why are we doing these things and why are you talking this way? And why is it so hard for people to accept change? Like all these things are always in my mind. And then I apply that to my own life and just kind of pull the blinds on myself and say, why do you do the things you do?

But to give you more concrete answer, I kind of downloaded this book, how it is today, because I've written many versions of it over the years, but the version as it is today came to me during COVID when I was forced to leave the city and I was in the countryside with nothing to do but to hike all the time. So I was hiking almost every single day and I would bring a notebook and go to the top of a mountain and sit down and just write down my thoughts. And so that's how the book really just came to me and which is why I say that many of these words are not even mine. They were channeled from some other source, when I was deeply connected to whatever that source is. So I know it was from removing myself from the busy world during the time of the pandemic that I was able to really receive the book as it was supposed to be written.

And then I heard this quote once, which has been so helpful. Everyone wants to write a book. Everyone wants to have written a book. No one wants to write the book. And so I kept that with me because it is hard work to write a book and you don't have to just write it, you have to then read it again and then again, and then you send it to an editor and then they have feedback and then you go through it again. And so you end up writing and reading your book a lot of times. And so for me, I find those hours in the mornings before people wake up. So I tend to get up at like 4:30-5am and it's between those hours. So now it's before my daughter wakes up. So usually seven, those are the hours when with that source. Because I can write at the times of the day, but it's just not going to be as guided as those hours because it's just me and my art.

And I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert who shared this, or someone else, I think it was her, but she says you have to make it sacred. Like this is your work and this is you talking to the divine in some sort. And so if that's lighting a candle, I always light a candle, having some coffee, like make it a very special moment. This is hard, tedious work sometimes, but it can be so in flow and so inspired if you create that sort of sacred space. So those are just a few things that I do that will allow me to keep writing. And some days it's not fun and some days it's awesome, but it's pretty cool to look back and say that I have this piece that I have channeled through me, that I have put down into words and now they feel like they're just mine. So yeah, I guess that's my creative process.

            Rebecca: I'm also curious, you were talking about how you'd go on long hikes, anywhere specific? The ecosystem, or the kind of climate that you were in when you're having that space.

            Anne Therese: It was in Western Massachusetts, which is where my husband's family is from. So the Berkshires, for anyone who's aware of that area. It's very mountainous, but the mountains aren't high enough where you can't climb them in like an hour. So it's nice. You can do a sweaty hike, and then sit down and enjoy it. But, it's the Northeast in America, so it's not very dry or too hot. It does get very humid in the summertime, which I don't appreciate. I'm very much a Swede. It has to be like in-between weather. But I also lived out West for a couple of years, and we loved hiking in California, and I miss the West quite a bit, to be honest. But it's something about being out in nature.

And I know, of course, I'm a tree hugger, like figuratively and actually a tree hugger. So of course I'll say this, but there is a source in nature that you can't find anywhere else. No coffee shop in Brooklyn or no cool place anywhere can create what you get in nature. And I think there's so much wisdom to receive there. And it helps us get in touch with our deeper selves in a way that no other place can.

I also love the ocean, so sitting on the beach can really do that for you. Just touching nature, we are so separated from it today. And we think that nature is something that we get to visit. But truly nature is just a part of us. And I think keeping up that connection is really important.

            Rebecca: Yeah. And that's definitely one of those ways, I think, you were talking about how we redefine our understandings of production and abundance and all of these things. And if we look back to the, you know, original creator, the Mother Earth, of what her abundance looks like, I think that that's a really helpful frame for imagining all this change that we'd like to see. So I really relate to that.

            Anne Therese: If I can just add to that, because it's not in my book, but I've learned it in recent years, or I guess since the book came out. Per Espen Stoknes, he's a fantastic philosopher and politician in Norway. He has written a few books and one of them, his most recent book, is about redefining growth and what healthy growth looks like. And I've had the honour to speak with him and he said, think about a forest. A forest is always growing. There's always new life, but it doesn't mean that the trees continue to get taller. It's just a circle of growth that continues to give and take and give and take and give and take. And I just learned yesterday that the oldest forest ever actually is in the Catskills in upstate New York. I need to go there and see this forest. I think that even dinosaurs may have walked by this tree and looked at it. That's how old it is. So thinking about that, it's not like you go to a place and there is this humongous tree that just reaches up into the abyss. It's not that, it's just a forest and it's been there for so long. And the forest and nature knows what it means to live in abundance and continue to do so without destroying the chances of doing so in the future.

So we have so much to learn from nature and so much to learn from ourselves because again, we are nature. And I think many times we're just blinded because there is so much busy in the world and there's so much stuff and so much we have to do. And then when we remove all those musts…And I tried to do this myself, I'm definitely a go-getter and always want to be busy. But I learned in recent years that sometimes, especially now being a mother, I just have to sit on the floor and just be with my daughter. And it's in those moments where you find the true value of everything. And I think when we can connect deeper and deeper with that value we will realize we don't need as much stuff. We don't need to travel the world. We don't need to buy all the new things because happiness is right here. And it's so much to tap into once we reach that source. So totally, I really hope that people find the courage to reflect deeper on why we're here and what we have to both give and to get from this beautiful, beautiful earth.

            Rebecca: So our listeners are climate curious, learning about how they might be more precise and impactful with their language and their field. So I'm wondering if you could maybe share what's the power of words and word choice specifically in our climate optimism and our climate action? And what role do words play in that kind of journey?

            Anne Therese: Oh, thank you. They play such a big role. I'm glad you asked it because we need to recognize just how big of a role they play up until now, we have not been careful in how we communicate climate change because, and there's so many studies pointing to this, the doom and gloom and the urgency and the fear-mongering and the shame and the guilt, it is just not working. And for very obvious reasons, our brains are not wired to respond well to that kind of information. And especially when there's so much of it, like we learn more in one issue of the New York Times today than someone in Shakespeare's time received in a lifetime. That's a lot of information just in one newspaper, right?

So like, just think about what that's doing to you because our brains haven't changed since that time. We're still the same operating system. And so the fact that we feel overwhelmed, that we feel helpless or powerless, there's a reason for that. And unfortunately, not a reason that should be because the media knows that we click on things that have a negative connotation to it. And there's more reason to that because our brains actually reward us from learning things that could be harmful. And so anytime we consume negative news, we actually release dopamine, which makes us feel good, but only for a split second. And so, yes, we are addicted to reading negative news because they make us feel good in the split moment, but they're not helping us take that needed action to get us out of that situation into something better.

And so back to your question, the words matter so much and we can actually say the same things just with different words. To give an example, instead of saying, I need to eat less meat because meat is terrible for the planet. We can say, I really want to try more plant-based options because I know that they're good for me and for the planet. Just by shifting that narrative, you're saying the exact same thing, just with different words. And you can ask yourself which one you think is more inspiring.

Another example is, I shouldn't drive because it's terrible for global warming. Well, I can bike to work, which will be good for my health and for the planet, right? It's just finding those small, seemingly insignificant, but extremely important narrative shifts in everything that we say.

And I think the biggest one is, oh damn, I'm doomed. I'm born into a world that's falling apart and there's nothing I can do. Extremely disempowering. Or you can say, I accept that things right now are not working and I find it extremely exciting to be part of creating the world we want to see next. And again, ask yourself, which narrative do you want to wake up with every morning? And which one will get you to take action. And then when you have that answer, then you stick to that narrative. And that is ultimately what my mission is all about.

            Rebecca: Yeah, that optimist reframing in our narratives. I think in the book, you give a lot of examples of that, kind of as you did now. And I think it's even like a great journaling prompt just to spend time with some of those things that we repeat to ourselves and how to reframe them in a more optimistic way.

So we're getting about to time. So I know we've spent a lot of time today talking about climate optimism and the related words like optimist in action and re-truthing and lagom. Which obviously you've spent a lot of time thinking about. Our goal is to encourage climate curiosity and discussions. I'm wondering if you could just share a climate word that has been, it doesn't even necessarily have to be related to climate, but just a word that maybe has been coming to you lately and why it's important.

            Anne Therese: Let me just think for a second, because I feel like there is a word that's been coming to me. I'm also extremely sleep deprived. I don't really trust my brain these days.

Well, a few things, actually, if I can just mention a few words that come to me right now. One is regeneration, and it's been coming to me for a few years. This whole notion of sustainable, I think we're past that, because sustaining means keeping things as they are, and we're past the point where we can just keep them as they are. We need to regenerate and start bringing life back. And I also think regeneration is such a powerful idea that we can actually participate in making things beautiful. So regeneration is a big one for me.

A word that just came to me that's not climate related, but it's grace. What does it mean to live gracefully on this earth? And it speaks to being graceful to ourselves. Ease is another word. What does it mean to live easefully? Why do we make everything so complicated? And I think we have been celebrated for being so complex. And I don't know, the fancy titles we throw on ourselves and like the whole like climbing the ladder kind of thing. And then I think we are reaching a point where it's hard to resonate with that anymore. And so ease and grace and creating a life out of those very, very valuable standpoints. I think that's coming more and more to me. And especially again, like being a mother, it can be extremely overwhelming. And so I'm trying to be graceful with myself, and with her, and to this planet because you can do mothering in awful ways and you can do it in beautiful, impactful ways. And so I guess those are two words that I am allowing to live with me lately, that I hope will also ripple effect and benefit the environment as well.