Kirsi Jansa has been tackling environmental issues since the 1990s. Today she wears many hats, as a journalist, documentary filmmaker, climate educator and activist. In 2008, the Finland native moved to Pittsburgh where she has been building a community for people to learn about and get involved in climate activism and sustainability. She is a co-founder of Creatives for Climate (C4C) and producer of the documentary film series, Sustainability Pioneers.
We sat down with her to talk about this vital issue and how Pittsburghers can get involved.
Climate change is often addressed as a matter of politics: There are those who believe it’s something to be deeply concerned about and others who don’t think it’s an issue. What do you have to say about that?
Climate change is a difficult topic for a human mind to grapple. It brings up different kinds of fears in different people, partly because we need collective political solutions. It would benefit all if we recognized that we are all in the same boat, and that boat is headed towards very stormy waters. There is no time for fighting.
Tell me about your accident and your biggest takeaway from it?
On Arbor Day last spring, a friend/colleague and I were driving my brand new EV (electric vehicle) to a climate-related meeting when a 40-foot tree fell on the top of our car. The car got totaled. We survived unscratched. It was one wild and visceral reminder of how fragile and precious life is. It was also a mysterious experience of our relationship with the natural world. It made me more mindful of how I spend my moments on Earth — I speak for the trees and a living planet even louder than before. Meditation and mindfulness are becoming not only my personal practice but a bigger part of all my work. The best, and maybe the only, way for us busy humans to find the clarity that we so direly need is by pausing.
Your career spans more than two decades. Has your focus shifted in that time?
My focus has not shifted that much. I’ve been intrigued by a sustainable way of living all my adult life. The way I do my work has changed quite a bit though. As a journalist, I tried to remain a neutral observer — a messenger. I still believe in journalism, but I’m now more interested in conversation. I see people as active participants instead of topics or audience of my stories. If we want to tap into our collective wisdom, we need to listen to each other better.
Do you find it difficult to remain optimistic?
I’ve stayed up nights, and I am very concerned about the state of the Earth. Many good things are happening, but we are still not changing our systems and ways of living as drastically and rapidly as we need to. It’s the challenge of living with the uncertainty of it all: If we think that we’re doomed from the start, then that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It comes from a place of privilege to think that it doesn’t matter what we do. If we say that all is well, we are not paying attention. So I choose to practice “active hope” — I do what I can. Focusing on the process instead of the outcome helps. Each one of us can do something, and there are so many things we haven’t tried yet.
What are your priorities as a climate educator?
To start a conversation about climate change, to break the climate taboo.
What do you mean by climate taboo?
According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, only four in 10 Americans discuss global warming at least occasionally. In our surrounding counties, even fewer people talk about this with their people. As long as we don’t talk, we remain apathetic.
At this point in our conversation, Kirsi handed me an envelope of small cards. They have photos of flowers, trees and other images of nature, with text printed on the opposite side. The card invites another person for a few minutes of “brave and heartfelt” dialogue about things we love about Earth and the things that concern us.
These are our very first C4C dialogue cards that we created for our workshop at the p4 Climate Summit. We invited people to have these conversations, inspiring and empowering their people to talk about things that matter to them.
What can people do to help the environment?
Leave a lighter footprint on our Earth: Slow down, pause and reflect. Insulate your house, buy renewable energy, eat less meat, take the bus to work. Plant trees. All that matters, because each one of us is an influencer in our own community. Yet collective action is the key. So not only vote, but reach out to elected officials and let them know this is a priority.
What do you want readers to know about getting involved with climate activism in Pittsburgh? What resources are there?
Learning and thinking about all this alone makes one miserable. There are many groups you can join. We have listed a lot of resources on our Sustainability Pioneers webpage. Connect with others and find your way to be part of the solution.