Evaluation and Learning Officer, McKnight Foundation
The Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation makes grants locally, nationally, and internationally across a diverse range of issues, including support for the arts, regional & community economic development, and climate & energy issues in the Midwest. Prior to joining McKnight, Nora worked with the ClimateWorks Foundation in strategic planning and led a leadership development program which prepares young professionals to serve on nonprofit boards. She holds an M.P.P. from Sanford School of Public Policy and an M.E.M. in Global Systems Change from Nicholas School of the Environment, both at Duke University, and a B.A. from Williams College. Before embarking on my career in the nonprofit sector Nora worked as a seamstress in a theater costume shop, and still enjoy designing and sewing clothing in my spare time.
What are your thoughts on this year’s theme, Climate Chaos I Climate Rising?
I think the festival title Climate Chaos | Climate Rising really captures the moment that we’re in. While we’re seeing increasingly dramatic “weather weirding” in our own backyards and across the globe and the public discourse around climate change is very polarized and pretty chaotic, we’re also beginning to see solutions growing from the ground up, as our friends, neighbors, businesses and local governments take the lead by choosing to change the way they use energy, get around, and do business.
Of the topics: move, nourish, interconnect, perceive, act, which engage you? With which does your practice align, reflect or agitate, and how?
I engage most with interconnect and act. To me, climate change is fundamentally about interconnection- the atmosphere is a global system which cannot be divided by human boundaries. I cannot separate the air I breathe from the air that I pollute when I plug my smartphone into coal-powered electricity; the emissions that I produce today on my drive to work will deeply impact the lives of my grandchildren decades from now. That interconnection is what drives me to act- I owe it to all of the people, present and future, who are affected by my choices to try to find new ways of being that do not inflict harm on their world.
What are two important ideas or questions related to the subthemes you identify with, that the public should know or ask?
How does climate shape your memories of your favorite places? How will future generations of your family experience those places if the climate changes significantly- what will be different? What opportunities are there in your life- small or large- to cut back on carbon? What’s one thing you could change today that would make a difference?
From the perspective of your field in general, what are two of the most pressing concerns about the effects of climate change that the public should know?
Climate change doesn’t just make the world warmer, it makes the weather “weirder” with more extreme weather events like floods, heat waves, and droughts. Those “weird” weather events can have a huge impact on the systems we depend on like water infrastructure, electric grid, and food supply.
What is missing from that conversation about climate change? Whose voice is missing?
I think the voices of youth are not taken seriously enough in the conversation about climate change. This is their world- they will pay the ultimate price for our failure to take action. If you think that it is too expensive to address the causes of climate change and prevent further damage now, just imagine the incredible debt you are passing off to your children and grandchildren who not only have to take on the task of shifting to a less carbon-intensive economy but will also be stuck dealing with the chaos of sea level rise and increasingly frequent and damaging severe weather disasters.
What has been your experience of how and why people’s behaviors change in relation to climate change?
I think people change their behavior when they see that climate change challenges us but also gives us the opportunity to re envision our world and transform it for the better. It is individuals and families that ultimately drive change- as consumers, innovators and entrepreneurs, citizens and voters, and as neighbors and friends. When people feel like their actions count, then they are more likely to make decisions that are good for their communities.
In your view, how does or could art add to the climate change conversation?
Climate change and our response to it will transform our world- from our energy systems to what we eat. We can’t possibly solve the problems that we’ve created by relying on the ways of thinking that got us into this mess, so we are going to need to be open to totally new ideas and solutions. Art opens up the space for creativity and imagination; it invites us to step outside the box and think differently. It spurs us into conversation about the current state of our world, but also invites us to envision a different, better future.