Practical, Peaceful, and Principled: An Intergenerational Approach to Climate Solutioning

A panel featuring Maya Soetoro, Katherine Waters, and Sabrina Wong and hosted by Ginny Whitelaw at the One Earth Summit.

By Maya Soetoro, Katherine Waters, and Sabrina Wong

With climate change affecting communities at an accelerating rate, its impacts on wellbeing are more pertinent than ever. At present, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have declared climate change to be an existential threat to both human health and life on Earth.

The One Earth Summit, hosted by the Institute for Zen Leadership from April 20–26, 2023, sought to promote the sharing of ideas, inspiration, and practices for the critical work needed amid the climate crisis. The Institute for Climate and Peace (ICP) was honored to have a panel at the event among an array of summit offerings on topics such as Indigenous knowledge in the climate crisis, creative embodiment, climate education, and climate-resilient health systems led by over 50 experts from diverse professions.

The panel featured ICP’s Dr. Maya Soetoro (Co-Founder), Katherine (Katie) Waters (Analyst), and Sabrina Wong (Apprentice) and was hosted by Dr. Ginny Whitelaw (Founder of the Institute for Zen Leadership). The conversation centered on intergenerational resilience and how to approach climate solutions in practical, peaceful, and principled ways — addressing topics such as youth-led social change, gendered dimensions of the climate crisis, the importance of mindfulness and connection with nature, and ICP’s work to build climate-resilient futures for communities in Hawai‘i and the Pacific-Asia region. A transcription of the event can be found below.

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Ginny Whitelaw: Maya, maybe we’ll start with you and the Institute for Climate and Peace. Tell us a bit more about it and what makes it special.

Maya Soetoro: Well, I have a strong background in peace education. At the time of ICP’s founding, I was a leader in the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, which is another Peace Studies department at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. I was teaching courses in peace education, conflict management, leadership, social change, and multicultural education. Maxine Burkett, who was an environmental law professor and climate advocate, and I were talking about climate resilience — meaning the resilience of communities to the worsening impacts of climate change — and how it was directly linked to positive peacebuilding levels, and how we felt that peace and climate spaces needed to be integrated. We knew that cultivating positive peace at the local level would be the best way to increase climate resilience—that it would offer antidotes to despair for many people. It would enable people to understand how they could be involved, take action, and be upstanders. We started sharing some of the data. For instance, communities with low levels of positive peace have a natural disaster mortality rate 13 times higher than those with high levels of positive peace. We started having dialogues with Pasifika peoples.

Pacific Asia, as a region, is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate disasters, but it also has many of the solutions that are rooted in creative and Indigenous innovation, ancestral memory, and the strength of community connection. So, we decided we needed to find, support, and share community-sourced solutions, especially from frontline community members and organizations. I think this is what makes ICP special. The gifts of frontline communities are many. It’s not just the gift of suffering, but those who have lost and struggled know what is needed. Our organization helps the world to listen — to listen more deeply and with greater respect to discover intersectional strategies. That, in so doing, will help us along the pathway forward. At the heart of this is this notion of just recovery, and I think we are unique, to answer your question, in that we have a very special theory of transformation that is based on cultivating positive peace to build climate-resilient futures for all. This theory is one that is seldom seen and I think poorly understood, and I don’t know of any other organization in the greater Pacific region that operates at that intersection in the way that we do. I want to give time to others, so I’ll stop there.

Ginny Whitelaw: Thank you. So, I’m curious if Sabrina, you, or Katie — what makes it special to you or unique in your experience? Anything you’d like to add about the Institute for Climate and Peace?

Sabrina Wong: I can speak a little about my own experiences with ICP. I joined last May — it’s been almost a year, which is hard to believe — but ICP has been one of the most formative experiences of my university experience thus far. I feel that I’ve grown so much during my time here, and it’s something I’m very grateful for. As Ginny mentioned in my introduction, I come from a background of economics and also of environmental earth sciences, so one is quite a technical social science, and the other is a science-based major. I find at the undergraduate level, and especially in lower-year courses, we learn a lot of theory to build a foundation for upper-year learning and potentially graduate school, but since coming to ICP, I have found it very easy to bridge academic learning and research back to the community. This is really important because you do all this research — there’s so much research done in the world — and bridging that to policy and to community work is the way to maximize impact. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been so happy to be at ICP—to be able to participate very actively in that.

I would say also, as Maya touched on, we do work in this unique space of intersecting climate and peacebuilding. We are also an all-women team, so we definitely have a feminist approach to our work that makes it especially unique. Seeing all these connections between areas that I’m interested in has been valuable as well. I can also speak a little about our areas of work for people who aren’t familiar with our Institute. We operate within three main pillars 0f work, which are information and education, collaboration, and policy transformation. These are broad umbrellas, and we do many activities that can fall under these pillars. For example, our activities include research, programs, storytelling, events, advocacy, collaboration, and network leadership.

To give some concrete examples, last year, ICP traveled to Geneva to attend a leadership workshop at Geneva Peace Week. We also had observer status and spoke at COP27. These are examples of our involvement in broad-scale, international events. We also pursue research. For example, last year, one of our team members published a white paper entitled The Significance of Women in Mother-Led Social Change in the Pacific-Asia Region. We also published a journal article in Ecopsychology about residents of Hawai‘i’s decision to remain or migrate in the face of climate change. We work on many programs and on storytelling through social media and newsletters as well. With our diversity of work, we are able to ignite change in many areas and touch on various aspects and facets of a community. For me, it’s been inspiring in terms of envisioning my own future and seeing ways in which I can pursue change down the road.

Ginny Whitelaw: Thank you. I want to pick up on this point of intergenerational learning, and it’s something you model so beautifully at ICP. I’m almost asking: what pointers do you have for the rest of us? How can we foster more intergenerational learning and collaborative action in the face of climate change? Actually, I’d like to contrast this to intergenerational blame-placing, which is the alternative. How can we get beyond that blame-placing to the kind of collaboration and peacebuilding that you embody?

Katherine Waters: I think, right now especially, we live in a world that’s filled with a lot of insecurity and instability. There’s the existential threat of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are living in a nation and world that are functioning under systems of oppression and exploitation. Right now, young people are at a bit of a crossroads in that we have these visions of a better, more just, and more peaceful future than what we currently exist in, and yet we are feeling powerless in a lot of ways to make the change that is needed because of these institutionalized structures.

I think there’s an idea that young people are either troublemakers or are victims of these systems and of conflict and insecurity rather than being seen as changemakers for good. When I think about intergenerational work, I try to hold onto two different aspects. One aspect is the work of young people and the futures-thinking of young people. From folks that I’ve connected with throughout my entire education to those that I work with now at ICP, I have found that young people have a way of imagining the unprecedented. When given the chance, young people can see and create a future that is very different from the one that we live in. Young people can imagine a world in which systems like systemic racism, colonialism, and exploitation — systems that lead to consequences like disproportionate impacts of climate change— can be dismantled so that we can rebuild a more just and peaceful world.

On the second side, I am also constantly thinking about how I look up to and honor the knowledge, work, and experiences of older generations in my own community and across the globe. When I’ve done political organizing, there have been a lot of situations where I’ve been the only young person in the room, surrounded by the knowledge, work, and experiences of amazing co-workers and neighbors who have done wonderful things for my community. During 2020, I would go on a Zoom call every week with older Democrats in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. We would just chat about the world and about the state of things. There’s something really powerful about being the youngest person in a group of changemakers in my own community. I enjoyed using that time to both honor the work, experiences, and ideas that they shared but also to form my own knowledge system as a young person growing up in today’s world.

In order to create more personal wellbeing and community wellbeing, we have to break down generational gaps and create more intergenerational spaces. As Maya and Sabrina both mentioned, ICP is based on the principles of positive peace. Two of those principles are accepting the rights of others and having a free flow of information. Creating intergenerational spaces can actually work to uplift both of these principles really well. Creating spaces where different people with differing identities and ages can come together, accept their experiences, and honor and appreciate what each other is bringing to the table — to have that kind of knowledge sharing — is really important.

I know it’s hard to create those spaces. One way that we can create more intergenerational spaces is finding ways to honor cultural traditions that bring together families across generations. A second way to create these spaces is through environmental education. When I went to Middlebury College for my undergraduate studies, we had this organization called Wild Midd where we would connect with younger kids and go out and explore the natural world with them. We’d go on hikes, we’d help salamanders cross the road—it brought us together in appreciation of the world around us. We found joy and peace in coming together in natural spaces. Third, on a broader level, we must create opportunities at nonprofits, NGOs, and in local and national government that bring young people into the conversation and allow young people both to hear and learn from older generations who have had experience in these decision-making spaces and to share their visions and be a part of the decision-making process.

Ginny Whitelaw: Wonderful. What would you add, Maya?

Maya Soetoro: The two young women represented here are amazing. I would say that everything I have undertaken in my life has been made better by the young people who have contributed to those efforts. The truth is that each generation has new and different skills. This particular generation of young people, I think, consists of folks who are really committed, who really get it, who understand, who are not greedy, who are strong advocates and activists, and who have access to platforms and technologies that are very useful for movement building. We really have to champion effective and new methods for engaging young people in a wide variety of forms, especially those that have typically been filled with older voices and faces. First of all, invite them to every room — that notion of “nothing for us, without us” needs to be kept in mind. If we are creating environmental education or initiatives for young people, make sure we invite them to help co-design it so that they are able to share what they need and want.

I think it’s very helpful to point out that young people are burdened excessively by the climate crisis. But let us wrap our arms around them and give them genuine support and help them move through the grief, and let them help us because young people help me keep optimistic and buoyant. Remember that these are times of self-publishing and vlogging and blogging and TikTok and YouTube. There are always new platforms coming up all the time, and these are opportunities for young people to tell stories and to do so without a lot of resources. So invite them to share their stories, and then let’s really listen to them and respect them because they have a great deal to offer — they have so many gifts.

Then, let’s work with them. Let’s do an intergenerational duet but also intergenerational action, especially action that is place-based, ʻāina-based — land-based. I love working with young people in the farms, the fish ponds, the lo’i — the taro patches. Bringing young people, their muscles and their energy enables us to make meaningful progress, whether it’s an intellectual pursuit or a restorative, physical one. So invite young people to come and plant trees for their future, a future that we older people won’t see in this lifetime. Remember to really believe, absorb, and share this notion of positive peacebuilding, which is about the presence of infrastructure, human rights, social justice, safety, understanding, bridge building, and Indigenous justice. It means that everyone has a place to enter the stream. It does not require a special degree or a particular job. It’s not something reserved for people of a particular age. Remind young people that they can build climate justice within the systems already around them with the gifts that they already have, and help them to take those first actions.

Ginny Whitelaw: Wonderful. “Nothing for us, without us,” and “everyone having a place to enter the stream.” That’s beautiful. And you’ve described this positive peacebuilding in the work at ICP as particularly feminist, or from a women’s leadership point of view. Could you say more about why that way of approaching climate action is particularly important?

Sabrina Wong: I can speak a bit on this. In my work throughout university, I have focused a lot on feminism. Coming to ICP and seeing a real-world team that is very feminist in our approaches, as well as being a team of all women, has been wonderful. First, there is an urgent need for representation for a variety of reasons. There is a line of thinking in international relations, but I think you can extend it more broadly, that there is a gendering of issues in international politics. If you look at history, politicians have been male-dominated, and scholars as well. As a result, you see that issues that are traditionally “masculine,” such as security or the economy, have been prioritized over traditionally “feminine” issues, such as healthcare, education, or climate. We see that these issues, as a result, have taken a backseat. They have been overlooked, and I would argue especially before the pandemic.

So, in that light, this really highlights the importance of women’s representation on the international stage. But we can apply this thinking on the national or local stages, and even at the community level. In terms of the climate crisis, we not only want to put climate at the forefront of agendas, but we also want to make sure that climate solutions are moving beyond numerical targets, which are very top down. We need, at the community level, solutions that are equitable and empathetic. That’s a big reason why we need women’s representation.

There’s a political scientist at Stanford named Francis Fukuyama who has argued that, whether for reasons of biology, socialization, or other, women tend to be less conflictual, and this translates into the work of women leaders. We can see evidence and data supporting this in practice. For instance, during the pandemic, Jacinda Ardern — Prime Minister of New Zealand at the time — and Angela Merkel — former Chancellor of Germany — gained widespread acclaim for how swift and compassionate their responses were to the pandemic.

There was a study done on the responses of 194 countries to the pandemic, and it revealed that systemic responses were more effective in countries led by women. To focus on climate and peace, there was a meta-review done of 17 studies based in various geographic regions. Researchers concluded that efforts related to conservation under female leadership were more successful and also more peaceful and ethical. Research has shown that when women are involved in peace negotiations, the efficacy of the negotiation rises by 24%. These statistics and studies are evidence that women’s representation in leadership roles at all levels are very important.

Pertaining to the climate crisis, beyond biology or socialization, is the fact that women are bearing the brunt of its effects. We see that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change. 80% of people displaced by climate change are women, and women make up the majority of the 1.5 billion people on Earth who are living on less than one dollar per day. As we know, the most economically poor countries and people tend to be both more greatly and more quickly affected by climate change. Due to these disproportionate impacts, women have lived experiences and important expertise related to climate solutioning that deserve a seat at the table.

Another reason why having female representation is so crucial is the importance of role models. This is something that we study in economics. Role models can catalyze change within a field or profession by inspiring people of an underrepresented community to join. I think, beyond economics, this is something that we can all relate to — having somebody as a mentor figure or as a role model who we look up to and who inspires our path. This is another reason why representation is important. On a personal note, with our team at ICP, we have many great women leaders who have inspired my work both in the climate space and beyond.

Maya Soetoro: Thank you so much, Sabrina — so beautifully said. I’ll add only that we are utilizing and calling upon feminist principles for the good of all. When I say feminist principles, we are talking about respect and ethics of care, cooperation, inclusive solutioning, honesty, equity, empathy, sensitivity, and nurturing. These are qualities, of course, that men can also demonstrate, and we hope they do. But they are, for us, connected to feminism, and we want to apply those principles to the effects of the climate disaster given that women, as Sabrina mentioned, are disproportionately impacted. Since 80% of people displaced by climate change are women, we need to bring that empathy, nurturing, and care to migrants and refugees, and we need to really consider that after natural disasters, so many women face sexual assault and negative health outcomes of all kinds and think of climate work as healing work and public health work. As you know, it’s about healing our land, our waters, and our Earth, but also one another — having embodied social justice and that sense of deep nurturing and loving connection.

The economically poorest countries and people who are at the frontlines of climate change are people who have, in them and in their communities and cultures, a great deal of loving kindness, of community, and of emotional wealth. So, drawing upon that, when we are seeing that women between the ages of 25 and 34 are 25% more likely to live in extreme poverty, let us see that as an opportunity to connect and also to invite these women to know. Help us know how to build family and community from the ground up and how to be happy with less in the way of material goods. Let us learn to be better minimalists and not feed our own greedy monster, right? I believe that women are strong peacebuilders and effective leaders, and when they are making decisions, it is often for the good of the group.

My mother was a leader in microfinance, and she would work with women — basket weavers or tile makers or woodcarvers and so on — to build these small village enterprises. She would often say that if you give a woman a loan, and it can be a very small loan, not only will she repay it, but she will end up impacting the whole village positively. So I think that we need to see these women leaders all around the world who have often not been given a voice or been invited to the room. We need to see them championed. But we also need to hear from them in order for us to learn and to not live in transactional ways and to do this work in really loving ways. As Sabrina mentioned, there is a meta-review of 17 studies spanning the globe, and it concluded that conservation efforts with women leaders were more successful, ethical, peaceful, and, importantly, enduring. So I think if we are looking at sustainable solutions, we need to think about solutions that are brought to the table by women.

Ginny Whitelaw: Your message is reverberating throughout the summit. You know, I have to say, the theme around helping leaders find how to heal the world around them is really a theme of the entire summit and in our work with wonderful elders like Ilarion Merculieff and the Wisdom Weavers. We really emphasize the connections between the extractive mindset that exploits Mother Earth and the violence done against women and how the peacebuilding that you so embody — the healing and the values around that — helps us envision a different world. It helps us envision a different possibility.

I think of how the young people on the screen — you’re all young compared to me, the way you will, but especially you, Katie and Sabrina — inherit the decisions of the generations before you. You’re both very positive people. How are you able to amplify the sense of positive peacebuilding and messages that are positive, creative, and ambitious and not get into the despair that I think a lot of young people very legitimately feel, and yet it doesn’t help move them into action? So how do you do it? How do you amplify these positive messages?

Sabrina Wong: There is a sense of fear or anxiety around climate change, but at the same time, I think young people have very powerful and valuable contributions when it comes to the climate crisis. We are still youth in society, and a lot of the largest or higher-up positions of power are held by people in older generations. And I think, sometimes, it can be a bit more difficult to have our voices heard. In addition, personally, as I find myself growing older each year, I can sometimes forget what I felt like at a certain age. It’s great because I find myself learning and growing more every year, and that’s an exciting part of life for me, but I also think it doesn’t invalidate the things that I knew and the insights that I had at a previous time or stage of life. If people could understand those perspectives and be reminded of that, then people of all ages might be more readily given the opportunity to offer their contributions, especially related to the climate crisis.

If you’ve ever heard of the word “positionality,” I think it’s a really important concept, and it connects to our previous discussion about women as well. It’s the idea that your values, beliefs, views, when and how you grew up, and your social and political context all play into your identity. Your identity, in turn, shapes how you understand the world and how you move through it. Age is a factor that also shapes your positionality. Maya mentioned before that each generation brings something new to the table. My generation is growing up in the digital age, and I would argue this has shaped many things for us.

That said, I believe youth are making a difference in various ways. It’s especially important for us to have a voice, both amplifying our own voices and for others to be able to hold space to listen and to make room for us as well. In terms of how we incite social change, I think we do so in creative and diverse ways. Maya spoke about how we have access to tools that previous generations haven’t. Disseminating information is easier than ever with the internet and social media. I see a lot of advocacy in that realm, but also community organizing and entrepreneurship are other instances where I’ve seen youth effecting change, among other avenues.

It’s important to note that those of us on this panel are working for a climate organization, but there are many ways through which people can contribute to climate work, and it doesn’t have to be your life’s work to make a difference. It’s a multifaceted and multidimensional issue that truly anyone can get involved in. I think about everyone I’ve met in university — we all study different things, we come from different backgrounds, but climate just intersects with everything. You see environment and health, you can see how art and history intersect with the environment, there is also environmental engineering—those are just a few examples. This is valuable because it creates a diversity of perspectives. You’re coming to a climate meeting or climate summit, and you have people from all different backgrounds and knowledge bases that are coming together.

To give an example, I write for the campus newspaper at my university, as Ginny mentioned earlier, and we do some reporting on the climate crisis. It’s an important issue, and we report on it in various capacities and at various scales, such as at the campus level, municipal, provincial, national, international, etc. I would say that our writers come from a variety of different backgrounds, and we all have diverse goals for the future. Not everyone is intending to work in the climate space as their profession. Regardless, however, I think we can all contribute effectively and help bring important perspectives to the table.

Ginny Whitelaw: What would you add, Katie?

Katherine Waters: I think that was beautifully put by Sabrina — the ways in which youth are changemakers in so many different facets. And I want to go back to the original part of your question, Ginny. You talked about youth inheriting the leadership decisions made by our current leaders, which is so true. But I think what’s also important to remember is that many youth are already feeling the effects of decisions that have been made in response to climate change. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the effects of conflict and insecurity on youth, especially as the climate crisis, pandemics, and armed conflict are upending the lives and livelihoods of many communities. I was actually, just the other week, reading through the UN’s Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) primer, which shared the statistic that right now, 1 in 4 young people is affected by violence or conflict across the globe.

While 25% of youth are affected by violence, at the same time, there’s this push from youth across the globe to use their voices to call for peace. I think that distinction of being deeply affected by insecurity but also pushing for change drives home how essential it is that youth are involved in building a peaceful future and looking towards a world that is different from the one we live in. On that note, it’s also important to note that young people are not just a homogenous group. Sometimes “youth” can become a uniform identity, but youth are affected in so many different and very disproportionate ways by violence and conflict, by climate change — depending on the region you live in, by gender, sexual orientation, race, and beyond.

When we think about the ways in which youth are both affected by and contribute to the amplification of social change, I think we can see that it looks very different for communities around the globe. As Sabrina said, youth have made a lot of really valuable and amazing contributions to the world and are working to amplify social change in so many arenas, from climate action, to human rights, to racial and gender injustices and health equity. I knew of young folks in my college community and back home who were running for public office, working and volunteering for nonprofits, doing political advocacy, and creating grassroots movements that are building up youth collaboration across the nation and globe in order to make change.

While it’s so inspiring to see the work of young people and to be a part of that changemaking force, it’s also important that the broader globe works to uplift these movements and actions. Global institutions must elevate the idea that diverse youth communities and groups are central to building and sustaining peaceful and climate-resilient futures. In the same primer by the UN, they were laying out the Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) Agenda and how we can start involving youth in peacebuilding and climate resilience to a greater extent. They set forth several ideas, such as supporting youth leadership and action by uplifting the knowledge that is provided by these groups, providing funding to youth organizations and youth action, and engaging young people during and after conflict when developing peace strategies. I think, however, uplifting youth has to happen at every level. Local, state, and national governments, organizations, and agencies have to work collaboratively to uplift the important work of youth today.

Ginny Whitelaw: Thank you, thank you. So, I come from a Zen background. I’m a Zen teacher. And I understand you also have some experience and background in Zen. How would you apply and how might we apply Zen principles, in your experience, to approach climate solutions in peaceful ways?

Maya Soetoro: First of all, I’m really eager to learn more from you since you are far ahead of me in your Zen practice. But I do think the practice allows us to recognize the strength and interconnectedness of all living things, including the self, so when we cultivate these practices, it’s just naturally climate forward and friendly. It helps us to become more resilient and maintain effective action and energy in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges. I have really leaned on mindfulness and meditation to help me connect more deeply with nature but also to see the tenacity and strength of all living things, and so it has helped me to be more optimistic as someone who has experienced fear and existential dread around the climate crisis. It helps me to think about the importance of just taking one step by step. I can take this step that is best for me at this moment.

I love Thich Nhat Hanh and have listened to him for a long time, and I’ll quote him here. I wrote it down: “Each step brings a fresh breeze. Each step makes a flower bloom. Kiss the Earth with your feet. Bring the Earth your love and happiness. The Earth will be safe when we feel safe in ourselves.” I think that’s just such a lovely quote to express the power that resides in mindful steps, taking moment by moment that which is reverential regarding the Earth beneath us and familial with everything around us and to know it.

I think that mindfulness is even for people who are not Zen Buddhist. Mindfulness and meditative practice can help everyone become a careful listener, to fully embrace the present moment, to feel aliveness, hope, and deep respect. I see the creative dance of birds and then the whispers of my mother in the wind. I see in the clouds all kinds of beautiful patterns and shapes, and I go the other way and I’ll meditate. I’ll see a little bright shoot sticking up from the waters of the Ala Wai canal, and they’re being buffeted, but they’re bracing themselves against moving waters. I’ll see a bright flower or fern emerging through old lava flows, and there’s such strength in this. There’s such a spiritual sucker that we all need, that can be gotten from the simple acts of worship as I see it. So I encourage everyone everywhere: if you’re in Pacific Waters, honor the ocean and all that resides beneath it; if you’re in an old growth forest, then in doing so, we’re also showing respect for our ancestors and source, however we define source.

Sharon Salzberg has a wonderful passage in one of her books about looking to water for its wisdom. She talks about all the many ways that we experience water: it trickles, it spurts, it floods, it pours, it streams, it soaks, and it shows itself in many more modes. She says all of these convey evanescence, release, and flow, and she talks about how water is flexible. It takes the shape of whatever vessel it flows into. It’s about not being stuck. It’s always interacting, changing emotion, and revealing continual patterns of connection. Water might seem weak or ineffectual, yielding too much or not holding firm, and yet, over time, it will carve its own pathway, even through rock.

So, paying attention to these things in nature that we want to not only protect but also, again, learn from is something that can help us feel strong in times of exhilarating crisis or personal struggle. We are in a time of accelerating climate crisis, but living in a state of fear or paralysis is neither healthy nor productive. Mindfulness is about living from a place of courage rather than fear and acknowledging no mud, no lotus. There is, in the storm, an opportunity for us to refashion everything, and when we emerge, we can do so braver and more responsive to opportunities for healing ourselves and others. It gives clarity on some level.

I think the practice of mindfulness not only helps us weather storms, but it helps us to have that sense of awe. And sometimes, for me, that enables me to develop a practice of gratitude and appreciation even in the presence of trauma, so we can feel gratitude for the wisdom around us, for the beauty, for the love, for these gorgeous young people, and for elders. Our growth mindset and insight allows our responses to be smarter than before and our determination greater. Also, when I think of engaged Buddhism, in this moment, we are all being called to courageous enlightenment. We have to not only have insights but change our ways of seeing and doing and live in accordance with our interbeing.

Additionally, the environmental crisis encourages everyone to engage in humble work, as we must become seekers and lifelong learners in order to address the climate crisis. I also think that this isn’t practice. It’s about lifelong learning and this idea of keeping our wisdom so that we do less harm, and so, for me, mindfulness and walking meditation helps me to feel the duty to walk softly in the world, to cherish each moment, each leaf, each creature, and to know when to be careful about not doing harm. I think that with mindfulness, we develop and build sensitive agency and empowerment, thinking about our every action, however small or local — using our hands, our heart, and our minds to have benevolent impacts on nature, community, ecosystems, and one another.

Ginny Whitelaw: Thank you, thank you. Anyone else want to chime in here? Anything else that you want to add?

Katherine Waters: That was a lot to follow, and just such beautiful words from Maya. I know I look to people like you and Ginny as I work on these practices in my own life. This is a very particular example, but for me, the natural world has always been a very grounding presence. When I was doing political campaign work in 2020, my stress levels were incredibly high and were deeply and unhealthily intertwined with the work that I was doing. So, every day on my drive home from work, I would stop at this park where there’s a river. I would stop, take my shoes off, step in the river, and close my eyes. There was something about that ritual and that practice that allowed me to find peace and grounding in the flow of the water. The river’s energy worked to refill my own energy and allowed me to go back to doing the work that I really cared about in a more grounded and full way. I spent, I don’t know how long, sitting on the shore with my feet in the water the day after the House of Representatives candidate I was campaigning for lost his election. I sat there trying to reflect and find peace and stillness in nature and in the natural world. I used that ritual to help me remember the agency and power I did have to make changes in the world, even if I didn’t totally feel it at that moment.

I think it’s those sorts of practices that I am working to instill more in my life, and of course, I look to leaders like you all to help me find that. At ICP, in particular, the team is really wonderful at making sure that each of us is striving to find balance and practice Zen principles when we engage in our often difficult and existential work. That way, we can bring as much of our own wellbeing to the space as we possibly can and come together in love and light and peace. By beginning within ourselves, we actually work holistically to create change, ultimately bringing this same peace and love outward into our local and global communities. This is a practice I am working on, and ICP has been a huge part of making that happen for me.

Ginny Whitelaw: Oh absolutely, and what you say, Katie, is so true that what we put into the world has to be real for us too. It has to be true on the inside to be true on the outside, right? Thank you for speaking to the practices that you both have found so helpful. I’ve had similar experiences, and we just point to the fact that I think what you both described just comes to life in talking about it. I think that’s what really stands out about these practices: they liven us up, and in livening us up, they give us energy to heal this world. I love the quote that you shared that when we feel safe in ourselves, we create safety and healing around us. So let’s tie it back to the mission of ICP and your work to create safety around you and positive peacebuilding. Anything you’d add about your work in the world, your mission, and how you’re feeling in your place at this time?

Katherine Waters: I just wanted to say, first of all, thank you so much for allowing this conversation to happen today. I think it’s so important to the work of so many changemakers in the climate space, so thank you, Ginny and Maya. I know Sabrina and I feel so honored to be here. The Zen practices and the work that you do is very powerful in its ability to cultivate resilience within ourselves, but also to find that strength and to radiate it outward into the actions that we put out into the world.

I think ICP, in particular, sees bringing peace into the world amid the climate crisis as an exercise of amplifying that peace within ourselves, and then, of course, in our local and global communities. Our approaches are uniquely holistic in the way that we weave together peacebuilding methods, science, Indigenous wisdom, and place-based wisdom and work to cultivate and amplify effective and culturally appropriate solutions in the climate crisis. I think we also work to approach everything we do and the spaces that we enter with a tenderness and consideration, from our individual relationships to the way that we relate to and interact with the Earth. At ICP, it’s the best combination of contributing to work that is making change at the highest levels — from last fall, taking part in COP27 and Geneva Peace Week to this year’s upcoming engagements in Aotearoa New Zealand and COP28 — but also, at the same time, imbuing that work that we do with love, fun, joy, and humor and growing the wellbeing of our team. I would love to encourage anyone watching this to please reach out to us if you are interested in getting involved with ICP because we’re always looking for motivated volunteers and interns who are passionate about working towards creating a more peaceful and climate-resilient world. Thank you.

Ginny Whitelaw: Thank you. Sabrina, anything you’d add?

Sabrina Wong: I think Katie put that beautifully, and I’d just add that we love to share our work with our community. Here at ICP, we hold our community very closely. Community is very important to us, so we want to encourage people to follow our team online, sign up for our newsletter, and support our work in any way they can—including getting involved, as Katie mentioned.

On a final note, I know Katie already said this: thank you to the One Earth Summit for seeing the value of our work and seeing the value of positive peace and how crucial it is in the climate crisis. I had a great time today in this discussion. I thought it was very fruitful and really reflects our values outward. Thank you, Maya. Thank you, Ginny, for hosting this dialogue. Thank you to the Institute for Zen Leadership. I’m really glad that we could bridge our different areas of work. I know that the climate crisis affects many individuals, communities, and youth on a personal level. It can lead to induced feelings of fear and anxiety. So, I hope, as a takeaway from today, you’re able to share ways in which you can contribute to building peace and resilience within yourself and within your communities in the face of climate change. Thank you.

Ginny Whitelaw: Thank you.

Maya Soetoro: I have nothing to add to these wonderful women’s words but thanks for them. As I said towards the beginning, inviting young, thoughtful, smart people like Sabrina and Katie into our work and into any conversation makes things better, right? Thank you, Mahalo, for making our organization, our life, and our world better. Mahalo, Ginny, for doing so much to make the world better as well, and Mahalo to the One Earth Summit for having us. I look forward to future and ongoing entanglements.

Ginny Whitelaw: One of the wonderful, miraculous elements of running a summit is that you never know where these connections will lead, and so I look forward to discovering where these connections will lead, as it has been such a privilege to join you in this conversation and to feel the warmth, love, and peace that you pour into this world and the hope that you give me. I can just feel the future that can unfold through you and how grateful I am to you for the heart you bring to it. I hope and I wish for you to always feel infinitely resourced.

Maya Soetoro: Mahalo to you. Thank you so much.

. . .

Dr. Maya Soetoro is a faculty specialist at the College of Social Science at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. She also serves as the university’s liaison to the Obama Foundation and works with the foundation’s Leaders Program and Global Girls Alliance on initiatives in Hawaii and in the Pacific-Asia region. Previously, she was the director of the Matsunaga Institute for Peace at the University of Hawaii, where she led outreach and development initiatives and taught leadership for social change, peace movement, peace education, and conflict management. For many years, she taught at the College of Education, University of Hawaii. Maya sits on several boards and is the co-founder of the nonprofit Ceeds of Peace, a peace studio, as well as the Institute for Climate and Peace (ICP). In 2021, Maya launched a podcast entitled “The Bravethrough Series: Courageous Conversations on Community” in partnership with the radio station KTUH Honolulu.

Katherine Waters is a recent International and Global Studies graduate from Middlebury College, where her undergraduate work centered on understanding climate security, climate justice, and policymaking. Katherine has worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), campaigned for political candidates in her home state of Virginia, and is thrilled to be a program analyst at the Institute for Climate and Peace (ICP). She spent her final semester with the Sea Education Association, where she sailed aboard a tall ship and conducted climate justice and place-based research with seven island communities. She is excited to be pursuing a career in climate security and positive peacebuilding and is passionate about working toward a more just, peaceful, and climate-resilient future.

Sabrina Wong is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto studying Earth & Environmental Systems and Economics. She is interested in the intersection between the physical sciences and social sciences and how to integrate them in research and policy. She is also passionate about issues related to gender, youth and education, climate change, and sustainability and has interests in space and planetary science as well. Sabrina has been an intern at the Institute for Climate and Peace (ICP) since May 2022, where she conducts research, publishes the monthly newsletter, and assists with program development and communications. She is currently completing an internship at the European Space Agency (ESA), where she studies the history of river deltas on Mars comparatively with Earth.

A special thanks to Kashish Ali for transcribing this event.