For millions around the world, the war in Ukraine has only underscored the need to rethink not just our energy systems but our entire economies.
For Gary Reusche, a Climate Reality Leader living south of Kyiv, it's a lesson he's been teaching for years to young people who come to his "distance educational facility." Now, as rockets fly overhead, Gary works with Ukrainian youth to explore a new vision of community for when peace comes. One grounded in sustainability, moral purpose, and a commitment to facing our climate challenges together.
As he explains, it’s time to think not just about our challenges today, but the deeper structural issues beneath them. To ask the big questions.
“What will communities look like if people adapt to a unified world and ecological constraint? To living a good life beyond consumer lifestyles and structurally moving away from growth-based economies? I believe we should transition in communities and especially with the youth to a living strategy where people set out to meet their basic material needs as simply and sustainably as possible.”
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In Their Own Words
What was the problem you saw?
We are surpassing planetary limits increasing the risks to the Earth system. Renowned scientists have identified 9 processes impacting the Earth system. From climate change to biodiversity loss to environmental degradation and pollution-- humanity is being compelled to develop more mature, collaborative, and constructive relationships between its peoples and with the natural environment.
The question is whether the needed action will be taken as a matter of conscious choice and prevention, or whether it will be prompted by the destruction and suffering wrought by escalating environmental breakdown.
What was your idea/insight to solve it and the end result/vision you wanted to achieve?
The ongoing Russo-Ukraine war is not only killing soldiers and civilians, but it also impacts agricultural exports to Africa and the Middle East. Ukrainian agriculture is the #1 export activity of Ukraine. When I first moved to Ukraine, the soviet agricultural system was weak. Since 2000, everything has changed. Ukraine’s agriculture is now a “bread basket” for Europe, with the most and best agricultural land. However, agricultural production is linked to climate change. To avoid a disaster, the international community must unify and avoid the long-term consequences of food shock.
Why is this solution important to your country and community?
If we consider Ukrainian agriculture, the war, and the export of Russian fossil fuel to the European Union, we must address the threat of climate change. Huge amounts of oil and gas sold by Russia to the European Union and other countries, needs to be curtailed as fast as possible. Fossil fuels, in such quantities, impact climate change, food exports, and the cost of war. IPCC’s latest report on Mitigation of Climate Change stated that emissions must peak by 2025 and reduce by 43% by 2030. Cutting fossil fuel is required starting today. Switching to alternative energy sources will slow down and end the war in Ukraine too.
What were the biggest challenges you faced/ran into?
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has been going on for more than eight years. The “Revolution of Dignity” transformed Ukraine in 2014. Six months ago, Russia increased its military activity with the intent to return Ukraine to Russia territory. The Ukrainian populace arose to maintain their culture and land. The biggest challenge is to overcome the war and return Ukrainian land to its control. Many Ukrainians escaped to the EU, but others stayed and learned how to hide in basements from attacks. Women and children could move to the EU, but men under 60 stay to fight and win.
How did you mobilize people to take actions?
Initially, the region south of Kyiv was not being attacked. Because I have a farm with residential facilities, I was able to provide a place to live in a safe area for refugees. So many people from Kyiv moved to rural areas, or to the West in Ukraine. Because we had good internet facilities, those that were staying with us were able to continue working and helping others that need it.
Who were key stakeholders/partners that worked with you?
Although my official address is in Kyiv, I now spend most of my time in the Hromada of Medvin (2 hours south of Kyiv) where my “distance education facility” is located. The community has 5200 residents and also includes war refugees After the revolution in 2014, the Ukraine government established hromadas, new, unified, administrative units. I work with the administrative council to build and develop the hromada’s charitable organization whose primary objective is social well-being, and territorial safety during the war – utilizing the solution- and climate justice-oriented approach of The Climate Reality Project, which we also integrated to the development of the Kyiv Environmental Strategy development process.
What insight, ideas, or suggestions would you offer someone looking to take action in a similar way?
What will communities look like if people adapt to a unified world and ecological constraint? To living a good life beyond consumer lifestyles and structurally moving away from growth-based economies? I believe we should transition in communities and especially with the youth to a living strategy where people set out to meet their basic material needs as simply and sustainably as possible. But, once those basic needs are secured, a decision is made to pursue the good life in ways that don't rely on much money, expensive possessions, or ever-rising material living standards.
How did this project you created promote equity or justice in your community?
Today's environmental challenges—at once global, technological, and commercial—require new behaviours, new institutions, and new principles. My wife and I work with children and youth, helping them to create a positive character and describing how the future will change during their life. Taking steps in response to the challenges of today “requires the development of capacities in a range of areas.” We also teach children and youth in “online” courses. Online courses are the norm today in Ukraine, and even before the norm they began to be the main idea for many parents.
Perhaps even more important, we help students to be more social in nature, focused on strengthening and refining patterns of interaction, association, and relationship in the community. We also focus on the moral and normative aspects of collective life. This can include religious heritage. It can include foundational issues of meaning, higher motivation, and moral purpose in life.