Christine Penner Polle used to turn off the radio when the subject of climate change came up.
“I used to call myself a ‘climate-change avoider,’” says the mom of two grown daughters, who lives in the town of Red Lake, Ontario.
Today, Christine volunteers full-time as a climate change campaigner in Red Lake, marrying that work with her work as a wellness practitioner and a writer. In 2016, she published her second book, Unfreeze yourself: Five ways to take action on climate change NOW for the sake of your family, your health, and the planet. In 2018, she ran for the Green party in Ontario’s provincial election. “I’d never been a politician, but I thought that somebody needed to be the voice for our children, for other climate-concerned parents and grandparents.”
How did Christine, who worked for decades as a nurse, make the journey between avoiding the inconvenient truths of climate change to becoming someone willing to confront them head-on?
Like most major transitions, hers happened in baby steps.
The starting point was reading The Geography of Hope; its author, Calgary’s Chris Turner, travelled the world looking for things that made him hopeful. Christine found the website 350.org, named for the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air considered safe: it inspired her to create awareness in her hometown with an action she called “350 or Bust.” Working with a couple of members of her Mennonite Church, she created a YouTube video highlighting 350 Bible verses about creation care — a faith-based approach to protecting the environment, much to her daughters’ horror. “They made me promise I would never speak about them,” she says, chuckling. “I didn’t, for the most part.”
She then created a website and began blogging about climate change. In 2008, she was hired to write about environmental issues for a children’s educational website. “I really couldn’t avoid it any more.”
“I remember thinking, ‘Now all I need to do is tell people, and they’ll listen, because this is really important,’” she recalls. “And it took me a couple years to recognize, ‘No. They won’t.’”
It’s not that people didn’t care, Christine realized: “Honestly, I think they care too much. It’s overwhelming. Frankly, the science on climate change is pretty terrifying, especially for parents, because you have these precious little lives, and you want the best for them. Who wants to be in a position where you can’t protect your child? I think that parents get triggered into that ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode on the issue — which is why my book is called Unfreeze Yourself.”
The book outlines steps that can help people figure out how to take action without getting overwhelmed. Its steps include things like simply talking about climate change. It provides dozens of resources for information and action, and coaches readers on how to have conversations that don’t turn into arguments.
“It’s about building bridges, not burning them,” Christine says. The book also encourages people to nourish their souls by taking a break and getting out into nature. “This work is not easy work, and you need to take care of yourself while you’re doing it,” says Christine.
In fact, her own burnout from the trauma of blogging daily about environmental issues inspired Christine to return to her own work as a wellness practitioner. Today, through her Facebook group “A Climate of Love,” she holds twice-weekly online wellness sessions for people who are, as she puts it, dealing with the grief, isolation and anger around climate change. “It’s about being able to put down that burden for a bit. We set an intention for ourselves, for the group, for the world. And hopefully we leave the group a little bit lighter.”
As a healer and an activist, as well as a mother, Christine understands that so many people are simply too overwhelmed, too poor, or too mired in the myriad complications and trials of being a human on this planet to take on her level of activism. And that’s okay, she says. “It’s not everybody’s issue. And those of us who are willing to engage with it have to do the heavy lifting for those of us who are dealing with other things.”