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Mary Pipher speaks at Diversity Lecture Series, discusses actions to combat climate change


By Sean P. Mulhall – Editor-in-Chief

Psychologist Mary Pipher continued the Grand Rapids Community College Diversity Lecture Series Feb. 11 with a talk focusing on climate change, her actions to combat it and suggestions on ways others can join the fight.

GRCC English professor Nora Neill introduced Pipher and spoke about the effect Pipher’s first book, “Reviving Ophelia,” had on her from a young age, as well as the importance of her work for future generations.

“I read (“Reviving Ophelia”) like I listened in on adult conversations, quietly and with interest,” Neill said. “There I found deep compassion and a non-fiction book interesting enough for me to actually read and validation that my experiences, all our experiences, matter. Again, as my students and I get ready to change the world, we embrace Dr. Pipher’s ongoing message: We are important.”

After thanking the crowd for showing up and acknowledging the 20th anniversary of the series and 100th anniversary of the college, Pipher got right to the point.

“The Green Boat is about how to transform our fear, sorrow and grief about enormous cultural problems, such as climate change and action community and empowerment,” Pipher said. “I struggled writing this book. I’ve struggled preparing speeches on this book, because no one really likes to think about our enormous problems.”

Pipher went on to explain how the topic of her talk is not a pleasant one, but she would do her best to make sure everyone leaves on a positive note.

“I’m going to share some difficult material, but less than halfway through I will move on to more heartwarming information,” Pipher said. “So stay with me please. There will be a turning (point) in this speech and it won’t be right at the end.”

Stress is a major problem effecting people today, according to Pipher. She emphasized the importance of finding out why times are so stressful, as the first step in solving the problem.

“We think something is wrong with us,” Pipher said. “But our problems are endemic and systemic … The more we understand about what’s happening in the world, the more we connect the dots between events, the more frightened we can be.”

Pipher thinks the rapid rise in technology could be a major contributing factor.

“Our problem-solving abilities, and communication and coping skills, haven’t evolved quickly enough to sustain us,” Pipher said. “We’ve got Paleolithic arousal systems, Neolithic brains, medieval institutions and 21st century technology. And that makes us feel stressed, fatigued, rushed.”

The problem of climate change is another issue Pipher has devoted a lot of time researching and is admittedly just as overwhelmed by it as anyone else.

“The climate crisis is so enormous in its implications, that it’s difficult to grasp its reality,” Pipher said. “When we don’t know how to respond, we don’t respond … And the sense that we’re helpless and that we’re powerless becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy.”

According to Pipher, 20 years have been wasted arguing over whether or not climate change exists. Now some of the same people arguing against its existence have switched the argument to say it is too late to do something about it.

Pipher said a young man with a ponytail named Brad convinced her to start a group, back in Lincoln, Nebraska, that would meet and talk about climate change and try to come up with ideas to combat it. The first issue the group looked into was the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Our campaign to stop the Keystone XL has been a complicated story about money, power, international corporations and politics,” Pipher said. “But it’s also been a very simple story about me and my friends meeting in people’s living rooms and talking about what we could do.”

This story includes the formation the Apple Pie Brigade, a group of little old ladies that deliver pies to government officials, with “thank you in advance” notes attached for the politicians voting against the pipeline. While the pies don’t work all the time, the idea of doing something, even as simple as baking an apple pie, is what Pipher wants others to notice.

“If you’re going to save Grand Rapids or Michigan, you’re going to be the ones to do it,” Pipher said. “We can never know the significance of our individual actions, but we can act as if our actions are significant.”

Read here for the Collegiate’s full Q&A with Pipher, and review on her book, “The Green Boat.”

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