Pokeberry, Pine and People

This guest post was written by Dan Bensonoff, Permaculture Initiative Coordinator at UMass

Instinctively, many of us recognize that reciprocity, the act of giving and receiving gifts, is the basic foundation of gratitude and therefore, lasting relationships. When we receive a gift it encourages us to give one in turn. When we perceive the gifts that are always present in our surroundings, we are apt to praise and care for them.

And so, at the 11/15/18 Talking Truth event “With Thanks: Pre-Thanksgiving Connections in Food & Art”, we practiced reciprocity by first receiving the various gifts of our local environment and then offering one of our own. After enjoying a hearty potluck meal- itself a time-honored form of creating reciprocal relationships- our facilitator, MFA art student Emily Tareila, presented us with a display of handmade plant-based inks: purple pokeberry, brown walnut, and other earthy tones. Emily then asked us to use these plant essences to paint a place that feels intimate, cozy, known. A place that is or was a true home for us. Lastly, we were asked to write a message to someone we associate with this place we’ve just painted and then send it to them.

As I painted with pokeberry, and drank my pine hemlock tea, I couldn’t help but feel nourished and to pour that gratitude onto someone who I once made a home with, someone who I think about constantly but rarely communicate with anymore. Though no turkey nor cranberries were served, this was a chance to celebrate a veritable thanks-giving.

Work That Reconnects: A Moving Experience

This guest blog post was written by Rachel Berggren, Editor in Chief of Paperbark Literary Magazine,
Masters of Sustainability Science candidate with a concentration in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems

My life has been dedicated to looking at what is wrong with the world,
what is not enough, what leaves people out of the conversation and what
creates barriers to social justice and equity, and the world we want to
see.  I have also spent many years committed to looking for what is right,
what is beautiful, what engages and persuades us, and what brings us
together to create meaningful and intentional change.

On October 19th, undergraduate student Bela Schultz led a Talking Truth event
focused on Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects, combining both of these
strategies for how we live our life.  I had heard word that the Talking Truth
series created space for conversations, but I had no idea how the experience
would open us up to one another and allow for vulnerability, expression, fear,
joy, sorrow and gratitude all at once.  As I looked at the people around the room,
sharing in their anguish about climate change, revering the earth that is our home,
and steeping in the wonder of human connectivity, I realized that I was not alone.
I was one of a global network of people who are part of this deep work that is
the process of living, the process of seeing all that is, both beautiful and difficult,
and using it all as a force to believe in change.

Often we feel overwhelmed by talk of climate change, politics, famine, and war,
and we shut ourselves off because our energy is zapped.  We feel that all we can
do is disconnect from the bigger picture and face just this day.  That is why it felt so
lovely to come together and engage these conversations from a new perspective.
In a quiet corner of the Du Bois Library, people from all walks of life came together,
not just to share their fears, but to share their hope and to recommit themselves to what
is possible.  The Work That Reconnects did just what it claims to do; it connected us to
ourselves and to each other, and it enlivened us with a new vigor to move forward,
to continue on toward creating a more sustainable and just world.

With Thanks: Pre-Thanksgiving Connections in Food & Art (11/15 6pm)

Last event for Fall 2018
Thurs 11/15, 6:00-8:00pm, Goodell Lounge
With Thanks: Pre-Thanksgiving Connections in Food and Art (with Emily Tareila, MFA candidate)

Share in a meal and facilitated conversations around harvest, gratitude, families, waste, fear, legacy, hope, and more. We will also be utilizing natural dyes and textiles to support this work. Bring some food or drink to share, if possible.


Volunteers needed short term

Seeking an opportunity that addresses societal collapse? Learn, build your resume, do good in the world.

Our friends at MAHB need volunteers to provide feedback on their website design and outreach strategies. The time commitment is minimal – around 5 hours/month starting in December for 2-3 months.

Talking Truth: Finding Your Voice Around the Climate Change Crisis is a node of MAHB.

The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) is an organization addressing the political, social and environmental challenges we face in order to reach a sustainable future and avoid societal collapse.

If you are interested or would like more information, please contact Brittany-brittany@mahbonline.org.

UMass green buildings = deep knowledge and passion

This guest blog post was written by Madeline Szczypinski, Green Building Researcher, Master’s of Architecture 2020

As a Masters of Architecture student, my interest in green buildings and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) led me to my current position as the Green Building Researcher for Campus Planning under Facilities and Campus Services. Prior to my architectural pursuits, I received a Bachelor’s of Business Administration from Isenberg 2017.  This is my sixth year at UMass, yet I am continually surprised by the various and extensive efforts on campus. I had never heard of Talking Truth, and one of my first tasks was to assist with Green Building walking tour, part of the Talking Truth fall 2018 series.

I enjoy visiting and learning about all new buildings on campus regardless of major or use. I’ll walk into new buildings just so I can explore and see the interiors. What surprised me is how many other people were interested as well! Nearly 20 people attended the Green Building tour, some UMass affiliated and others from the greater Amherst community. Ludmilla Pavlova, Senior Campus Planner, led the tour. Sigrid Pollin Miller, architect and professor in the UMass Department of Architecture, joined us at our last stop to guide us through her very own creation, Crotty Hall. The collaboration between Talking Truth, Campus Planning and the Architecture Department provides an opportunity for people to engage with the deep knowledge and passion that fuels UMass and its green building efforts.

Watch for the next Green Building tour in Spring 2019!

Fall 2018 schedule!

Talking Truth: Finding Your Voice Around the Climate Change Crisis
Fall 2018 schedule

Thursday 9/20, 4:00-5:30 pm
Green Building Tour (meet in lobby of Du Bois)

Get the inside stories of Crotty Hall, the new Design Building, renovated Old Chapel, South College addition, Integrative Learning Center and others. Led by Ludmilla Pavlova, Senior Campus Planner.


Thurs 9/20, 7:00-9:00 pm, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, 26th floor
Emergent Strategy video and discussion

We will watch a short video of a keynote address by adrienne maree brown. She shares keen insights into how the natural world teaches us  about transformative justice, through ideas of adaptation, decentralization, resilience, iteration, fractal selves, and creating more possibilities. brown  is the author of Emergent  Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. Includes facilitated discussion with Brennan Tierney.

Brennan graduated from UMass Amherst in 2018 with a degree in Legal Studies and Anthropology. Through the UMass Alliance for Community Transformation (UACT), Brennan co-facilitated a course on Grassroots Community Organizing. He is living and working in the Valley and continues to be involved with UACT as a post-grad intern.

Thurs 10/18, 7:00-9:00pm, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, 26th floor
The Work That Reconnects

Engage your love for the Earth with a variety of practices. WTR builds community and connectivity, reminding us of our core mission. Starting in the 1970s, these practices have spread around the world, shifting how people perceive and address climate change – helping us move from our intellect to our hearts. Facilitated by trained facilitator Bela Schultz who is also a UMass student in
BDIC with a concentration in Environmental Psychology.

Thurs 11/15, 6:00-8:00pm, Goodell Lounge
With Thanks: Pre-Thanksgiving Connections in Food and Art

Share in a meal and facilitated conversations around harvest, gratitude, families, waste, fear, legacy, hope, and more. We will also be utilizing natural dyes and textiles to support this work. Bring some food or drink to share, if possible.   


Additional offering from UMass Green Building Council

Wed 10/17, 2:00-3:00 pm, meet at bus lobby of the ILC
Tour of the Integrative Learning Center Green Roof

Join the UMass Green Building Council for a tour of the vegetated roof on top the ILC. Hidden above campus, the roof hosts a variety of grasses, flowering plants and pollinators. We will learn the basics of green roofs, their benefits and successes.



Affirm Reality and Start Shaping It: Musings from a UMass Alum

This guest blog post was composed by Aaron Karp, UMass graduate (2012). Find Aaron’s current work HERE.

The UMass campus is home to many groups that invite people to discuss and take action on major issues facing human society. A deeper appreciation for these very useful resources is gained after one graduates, as I did in 2012. Since then, I’ve been researching and writing about how we can transform society to maintain a livable climate, and found Talking Truth while looking to reconnect with campus. The group is a great example of these many useful campus resources—one students should check out.

I was able to attend two meetings this past academic year, one in which participants talked about how we’re working towards a more sustainable lifestyle and the other a brief discussion of the “hinge decade” we’re living through, in which major social changes must take place to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Something that stood out to me about the first event was how many people view sustainability in an apolitical light. When asked to describe our efforts to advance sustainability, the responses almost entirely described personal lifestyle changes rather than efforts towards systemic social change. I believe this view is representative of the public’s understanding of sustainability, and it’s something I think we must reverse. Large-scale, systemic problems like climate change require large-scale, systemic solutions. I believe that we must change the economic institutions that force society to consume beyond sustainable limits and the cultural institutions that encourage us to see ourselves primarily as passive consumers rather than democratic citizens. While individuals can make more sustainable consumption choices in their personal life without becoming an activist, societal changes like those demanded by our big sustainability problems inevitably entail political struggle. Ordinary people must join together and build enough power to deeply reshape society against the opposition of elites whose financial interests are linked to its present structure. In wealthy countries like ours, overconsumption is the rule. We’re taught to think that our role in society is narrow, that personally consuming less is our only option. We can strive individually to be the exception, but we must not seek to change the rule. In that sense, the most important lifestyle change is transforming from someone not looking to actively shape society into a person working with others to do exactly that. A society marked by such an active public would be a true democracy, and only a thoroughly democratic society has a chance of becoming a sustainable society.

The “hinge decade” event presented participants with a few short clips from Kathleen Dean Moore, a philosophy professor who describes social change through the metaphor of a river she was observing. Imagining the immense issues and injustices we face as the river’s current, she said that as individuals contribute their energy to a movement they are casting stones to obstruct the flow. The metaphor illustrates the fact that each of us has something to contribute, and that when combining everyone’s effort major goals can be accomplished. She also noticed that obstructions seemed to reverse the current in certain spots, and suggested that enough obstruction could turn the river against itself. However, it seems to me that this is only part of the story. The stones represent activist resistance, which today is growing, but what is largely absent is a concrete vision of a democratic, sustainable society. Moore recognizes that our economy, which promotes infinite extraction, undermines our capacity to survive and must be fundamentally changed. But transformation does not follow automatically from obstruction. We build an alternative vision by reflecting on the principles that should undergird a just society, working to understand how our present society fails to live up to these principles, and doing the research to understand how we could transform our social institutions to embody these principles. As we block the current, a concrete vision of a sustainable economy and culture allows us to reverse it.

Talking Truth brings people together to share their thoughts and fears about climate change. By doing so, it reminds us that the problem is real. It’s very easy in our society to be blinded to the issues of survival that we face, because they are sparsely covered in school and the media. When these issues are mentioned, the coverage tends to promote fatalism (i.e. nothing can be done) or techno-utopianism (i.e. technology alone will save us), and conveys no sense that ordinary people, organized and empowered with a vision for change, are the only force capable of solving them. Year after year, surveys by Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication show that more than half of Americans rarely or never discuss climate change. Our perception of reality is socially constructed to a significant extent—if we don’t hear about climate change in the media, if we don’t think about it every day, if we don’t take responsibility for discussing it with others, it is easy to act as if it’s not real. And while many other groups on campus enable students to get involved in various sustainability projects and causes, Talking Truth is oriented towards thinking more deeply about climate change. This can lead to a fuller understanding of the issue and generate new pathways for action, which is essential to effective activism. Let’s affirm reality and start shaping it—check out Talking Truth before you graduate.


Telling Stories for the Climate

When you think of environmental activism, what roles do stories play? Activism can look like signs, protests, board meetings, and policy shifts addressing tangible institutional problems – but the harder issues to touch upon are the insidious cultural norms which are subconscious parts of our everyday life. Our world is formed by stories. Our relationships, our beliefs, and our daily experiences are defined by the stories we hear and the stories we tell. So it follows that changing the way we tell our stories can consequently change the world: but how to do so? One way is through communication, a method of change-making that we engage in every day. How we speak about climate change and our reasons for caring about the planet can have far-reaching impacts. Practicing empathetic speaking and listening can build bridges over the seemingly-impassable divide between political and ideological groups. We all have a story, regardless of what political and scientific beliefs are. We all have sorrow, joy, and reasons for who we are. Connecting to each others’ stories and practicing personal and broad-scale storytelling can be tools for individual and global shifts.

On Thursday, March 22nd, Lauren de la Parra’s Climate Reality storytelling workshop was an essential step to bring awareness to how we’re creating the world. She introduced the “elevator pitch” as a proven way to quickly synthesize and communicate information about ourselves and our beliefs. This can be as simple as the “and, but, therefore” formula, in which an entire story arch can be encapsulated in just one sentence. Lauren asked participants to formulate their own journeys to environmental action through this method.

Mine was:

“When I allow myself, I connect to nature on a transcendental level

And experience an almost maternal desire to care for and protect it.

But even I am terrified of climate change and close myself off emotionally

Therefore, I want to help people (and myself) reconnect to nature, for the sake of the present and the future.”

Another student, Karen Marquis, shared her creative version:

My Dad can’t wait for warmer winters with less shoveling,

And the thought of this keeps me up at night puzzling.

But I plan to help stop species from fading away,

Therefore I’m grateful that he got me to where I am today.

Although this activity proved to be challenging, I believe in its power. Expressing why we care about something is infectious. Talking about what’s important to us can inspire a ripple effect that spreads throughout social networks. Next time you’re having a conversation with someone, try asking them: What’s your story? Listening to someone tell their story open-heartedly can be an opening to connect in new ways to people, nature, and yourself.

Lauren de la Parra, Climate Reality Corps Leadership facilitator
and UMass graduate student in Sustainability Science.


What’s a person to do?

A UMass student recently interviewed a member of the Talking Truth planning team for an article she is writing about the project. Her final interview question was, “What can a person do to help stop climate change?” Instead of just one team member’s response, here are responses from a few of the TT planning team members.

Ludmilla Pavlova, Senior Campus Planner
I think of it as applying my human labor to preserving life and natural resources.  As often as possible I walk or bike when I am able instead of driving, tend a garden, hang the laundry to dry in the sun, buy local produce, clear invasive weeds, buy used or donate clothing, manage my stuff so there is less waste, spend time with people and animals, attend a concert or a museum.

Emily Tareila, MFA student
Making choices that sincerely take into account the ways decisions impact systems both inside and outside of the self. Consider systems in all forms: (and then list all different kinds of systems of which we are and aren’t directly apart). Not sure if that helps but I think it’s one that people can take on their own terms without promising that we can ‘fix’ anything!

Kris Nelson, Civic Engagment and Service Learning
Perhaps sustainable practices, in order to be “sustainable,” need to bring together the various kinds of work that happens on the inside (What is my role in this? What larger systems am I a part of? Am I listening to my feelings as well as my intellect?) and then how we live that out – our individual actions, and our collective actions, both in creating alternative practices for sustainable living and our work advocating for politically and economically just systems.

Will Snyder, Extension
Also asking “Is this trip (or whatever else) necessary?”   I would also remind the questioner that political action, including collective economic action, is the only “practice” that will really affect climate change in a meaningful way.

Our Spring 2018 series

Talking Truth: Finding Your Voice Around the Climate Crisis

Spring 2018 Series

Sustainability Slammer
Tues. 1/30 10am-3pm
Stop by the Talking Truth booth at this info. fair for campus sustainability groups
Location: Cape Cod Lounge

Interactive, Creative Responses to Climate Change
Wednesdays. 1/31, 2/7, 2/14, 2/21, 2/28, 3/7
3:00-4:00 pm (arrive 2:30 for quiet contemplation, check in)
Reflective writing, art making and sharing. A collaboration with Paperbark Literary Magazine
Location: Goodell 406A


Thurs. 3/22, 7-9pm  – Climate Leadership: Starting with Your Story
Why do you care about climate change? Learn how to discover and communicate your unique story in a compelling way for different audiences. Facilitated by Lauren de la Parra, Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainee (Pittsburgh, 2017) and UMass graduate student in Sustainability Science.

Thurs. 4 /5, 7-9pm  – Finding Your Life Purpose: Career Workshop
Reflective writing, group discussion and practical steps to support career exploration. Led by contemplative career coach and mindfulness teacher Jennifer Earls, M.Ed., Dance with Life Consulting.

Thurs. 4/19, 7-9pm – The Work That Reconnects
Engage your love for the Earth with a variety of practices. WTR builds community and connectivity, reminding us of our core mission. Starting in the 1970s, these practices have spread around the world, shifting how people perceive and address climate change – helping us move from our intellect to our hearts. Facilitated by trained facilitator Bela Schultz who is also a UMass student in BDIC with a concentration in Environmental Psychology.
Location: Du Bois 2601


Music and the New England Trail: Concert with Ben Cosgrove

Thurs 3/22, 7-9pm

Come spend an evening with the Appalachian Mountain Club and Kestrel Land Trust to learn more about the New England National Scenic Trail (NET) and hear music inspired by the trail and other landscapes, performed Ben Cosgrove, a young composer, essayist, and multi-instrumentalist whose work is guided by landscape, place, and ecology.

Green Building Tour
Thurs. April 5th 4:00-5:30
Get the inside stories of Crotty Hall, the new Design Building, renovated Old Chapel, South College addition, Integrative Learning Center and others. Led by Ludmilla Pavlova, Senior Campus Planner.
Location: Meet at Crotty Hall