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Four Corners Climate Summit: Building community to grow climate adaptation in the Western Slope

Four Corners Climate Summit: Building community to grow climate adaptation in the Western Slope

More than 400 people attended the inaugural Summit, aimed at fostering awareness and unity around regional climate interests and building resilience to climate change.

DURANGO, Colo.— Sitting in a circle outside the President’s Office at Fort Lewis College, renowned environmental writer Terry Tempest-Williams and a handful of students discussed writing, art, activism, and the intersectionality of all three.

“I can tell you I was changed,” Tempest-Williams would later tell more than 400 people during her keynote speech at the inaugural Four Corners Climate Summit.

The intimate meeting preceded the day-long summit, which included presentations by the authors of the Fifth National Climate Assessment, artists, and local environment and sustainability advocates.

“The fact that traditional knowledge is being integrated and used with Western science [at FLC], the fact that there’s now greater representation of Native people in all aspects of leadership... it was something so much deeper than hope,” she said. “If we focus on the changes and the possibilities we see, then I believe we are on the right path.”

Tracking challenges to build resilience

A student wth Keri Brandt Off's Animacy and Kinship class discusses an art project during a breakd at the Four Corners Climate Summit at FLC.Attendees gathered at the Student Union Ballroom for the main event, packed with expert panels, presentations by local organizations, and art expressing the impact of climate changes.

In the morning, presentations were led by scientists and authors of the Fifth National Climate Assessment, discussing the impacts of climate change on human health, wildfires, agriculture, and drought.

Art also played a significant role in the Summit, with the Art x Climate Gallery showcasing the impact of climate change through artistic expression.

In addition, outside the Ballroom, attendees were greeted by a large art piece depicting a river. The project came from Keri Brandt Off's Animacy and Kinship class. Off is a sociology professor at FLC.

“We collectively decided that we wanted to create an artistic display of the animacy of all elements of life, including rivers, mountains, animals, soil, and water, and that we wanted to do it in the spirit of kinship and solidarity.”

Students found materials and brought their sewing machines, glue, and scissors to work on the project.

“For two weeks, we sat on the floor and tried to create this project that represented how we felt about the animacy of water, the life of water, and the value of water to all beings. It was partly inspired by the Rights of Rivers gathering in October in the fall. And so, it was in honor of the Rights of Rivers. It was just this exciting collective project where we decided to decenter traditional academic practice to think about new ideas and ways of relating together to create knowledge and beauty.”

Four Corners in action

Following a lunch provided with support from the USDA Southwest Climate Hub, Tempest-Williams talked about her meeting with the six FLC students and how impressed she had been with them and shared stories of community resilience, citing examples such as efforts to address the declining levels of the Great Salt Lake.

“Today, the story of colonialism is being transformed into a story of restoration and integration, where crisis is becoming a consensus to change,” she said. “Together, our collective works can change the weather system... the political weather, the spiritual weather, and become pragmatic visionaries like I saw today with the students here at Fort Lewis.”

The FLC students who had met with her in the morning were delighted.

“This experience with Terry… it was absolutely incredible,” said senior Brooke Laughter, a Tribal Water Media Fellow who talked about how through her film “They Call Me Water,” she wanted to highlight the Indigenous perspective of considering water as a living being. Laughter graduated Saturday with a B.S. in Environmental Science.


“It really invigorated me and my understanding that there are many forms of activism and that every little piece helps. That's very exciting. It's changed my view of my form of activism, my art.”

“It was really magical,” added Tanner Besse, who graduated Cum Laude on Saturday with a B.A. in Environmental Conservation Management, a minor in Sociology and Human Services, and a Regenerative Food Certificate. “She put a lot of things that I was thinking into words. Her courageous conversation resonated with me; if we trust ourselves with the future, that's a powerful tool. Seeing someone so wise as Terry taking time with a bunch of 20-year-olds and showing how hopeful she is in us just fuels that part of me that wants to cause change and create change that helps more people.’


The final portion of the public event was held at the Center of Southwest Studies’ exhibit “Coloradans and our Shared Environment in Times of Challenge and Change,” which featured talks by exhibit artists Holly Barnard, PhD (CU Boulder), and Jocelyn Catterson (Colorado Art Science Environment fellow).

Sarah Johnson, of Basalt, Colorado, works in climate change education in the Rocky Mountain region. She said the event was an excellent opportunity to hear about the latest scientific work on climate change and teach us more about the work being done in the Four Corners region.


“The State of Colorado is bigger than the I-25 corridor or the Front Range. There are so many examples of excellent relationships with the land and so many examples of people making a difference,” she said. "The different presenters affirmed the importance of storytelling. If this were a science issue, it would have been solved years ago, but it is a people issue. Hearing that in a practical, applied way was very affirming.”


Provost Mario Martinez said the call for action is also evident for the community and FLC.

“The purpose of today is to build awareness, to help you see the things that we do, but also the things that we can do together in partnership,” he said, “We've heard from powerful voices today. Voices of data, pictures, and graphics. Questions from those in attendance. Voices of poetry and writing from Terryi. Voices of song, voices of experience. Voices of our professors, staff, community members, and students. This is deep, deep work and things that we care about.”

The Summit is a collaboration between the FLC Provost Office, the FLC Foundation, the USDA Southwest Climate Hub, Department of Energy-Office of Legacy Management, and various donors.

Visit the Four Corners Climate Summit's page to learn more.

Donate to the Green Fund.

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