Community Voices: What I Learned While Talking To The Homeless About Climate Change

by Brian Smugsworth

Did you know that the United States is ranked as the 86th worst country in the world when it comes to pollution? We actually pollute almost as much as Ireland and Finland combined! So, when I saw a homeless camp under the single bridge that connects my mid-sized town’s east and west sides, the first thing I thought was, "Wow! That is a LOT of single-use plastic items, littered along the riverside."

Because I like to think of myself as a community engagement sort of guy, I had no problem approaching the men gathered around the various plastic items that surrounded their makeshift tents. One of them asked me for a cigarette, which was a perfect segue to me offering him an informative lecture on carbon emissions. Boy was he surprised, when I told him about the ways in which our ecosystem is struggling to adapt in the current climate. Then, another one of the men asked me for a dollar to buy food...time for a talk about capitalism!

I sat with these gentlemen for a few hours and they learned a lot, from the importance of re-usable grocery bags to the ways that cutting animal-based proteins from their diet could benefit the planet. I like to think of myself as not only a social justice advocate, but an educator, as well. Whenever I encounter someone who is unintentionally harming the future of our grandkids, I like to offer them a little bit of wisdom and encouragement, especially when they’re not just polluting the river, but living next to it.

If the men sleeping under the bridge in my hometown could just count every car that drives over them and then multiply that by twenty, they’d grasp exactly how bad things are in certain parts of Asia. As I say in my TedX Talk, "think globally, act locally."

(More July / August 2019 Articles & Content)