Anger, Empathy, and Action

Map showing area of Duluth, east of Lake Avenue, where residents are asked to reduce their gas usage.

As another cold day breaks and 1/3 of Duluth households are encouraged to keep their thermostats at 62 degrees or below, I find myself thinking about our individual and collective responses to the challenges we face.

Anger is a very natural response when we, or someone or we care about, is negatively impacted (or we fear they will be) and we don’t have the means or power to control it. Anger itself isn’t bad, but sometimes we target that anger in ways that are harmful to others or use up our energy expressing it, so have nothing left to move toward empathy and action.

We can choose to be mad about the gas line puncture, being asked to live in colder homes, not knowing when this disruption will end, the cold weather, or our leaky homes. We can choose to be mad at the construction company, MNDOT, ComfortSystems, elected officials, or the other 2/3 of Duluth who aren’t experiencing the disruption.

Or, we can choose to use our temporary discomfort as an opportunity to empathize with others. That could be as simple as recognizing that we all make mistakes and some person had their “worst day of work ever” yesterday, and then feeling some compassion. Or expressing gratitude for the many working through a cold night to fix the problem.

And, we can choose this as moment to go much deeper. Perhaps it is experiencing how uncomfortable 62 degrees can be, and expanding our thoughts towards our un-housed populations whose very lives depend on staying warm when it’s -20.

And, we can choose to empathize with those experiencing energy poverty in our community. We have households whose thermostats never go above 60, because everyday is a decision between heating, eating, and medication. Our lowest income individuals often live in our oldest, leakiest homes- in other words, those least able to afford energy need more if it to reach the same level of comfort as others. Duluth also has hundreds of low-income households that have fuel oil and therefore are not protected by the Cold Weather Rule, that ensures consistent access to fuel during our brutal winters.

AND, we can choose to act! In this moment, we can check in on our neighbors, taking special care of elderly and youth that may be more sensitive to cold temperatures. We can use this experience as an impetus to finally get that energy audit and make efficiency improvements to reduce the future burden on our gas system. We can volunteer for programs like Ecolibrium3’s Giving Comfort At Home, where volunteers help insulate and airseal homes for low-income families, seniors, veterans, and disabled individuals. We can support programs like CHUM’s winter warming shelter.

Humans are complicated and so are the challenges we face. We can hold both anger AND empathy WHILE we choose to act. Consider getting involved in the Duluth Citizens’ Climate Action Plan where you can find options to learn more, engage with amazing projects and people to make a more resilient community, act individually or with others, and help define and create a more equitable and sustainable future.