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My climate story

Locations: Opinion Published

As I stood on the Sopris Park gazebo looking out over the crowd that assembled for the Strike for Climate Action I organized last September, I had a combined feeling of relief, satisfaction, and extreme personal pride. It was a daunting task. I’d never done anything like this before.

It wasn’t like the throngs Greta Thunberg was attracting at the time, but it was about 150 socially conscious people in the small town of Carbondale expressing concern and demanding action over what’s perhaps the greatest threat mankind has ever faced. It was particularly gratifying to see a full third of the attendees were students, the generation that’ll be most affected by climate change.

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I thought back to five years ago when a hopeless drunk spent every waking hour sitting in front of the TV watching sitcom reruns while a bottle of Jack Daniels slowly sucked out his essence. I didn’t have the ambition to empty my mailbox. I never would’ve been able to put together something like this.

Not that I did it alone. Pam Rosenthal ran the show, shuffling speakers on and off the stage. Illene Pevec took care of the signage. Jimmy Byrne sang a song. Bill Flanagan handled the sound. Laurie Loeb got the crowd fired up with her patented drum circle. Richard Vottero did most of the heavy lifting. Many others pitched in. I harkened back to my days as a supervisor in a steel mill. I relegated.

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Getting student involvement was a challenge. The Roaring Fork School District told us any student who participated would receive an unexcused absence. Finally, we caught the interest of Roaring Fork High School teachers Matt Wells and Wendy Boland. Wells was the sponsor of the school’s Energy Club and those members attended. They were followed by students from Carbondale Middle and Waldorf Schools.

Although generally considered a success, there are aspects of organizing the event I would do differently. The publicity wasn’t smoothly done. We put up crude, handwritten posters on the various bulletin boards around town. I know a graphic arts designer who could’ve put together some much more professional-looking flyers, but I forgot about her.

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I suppose my interest in climate issues began with viewing former Vice President Al Gore’s 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” at the Crystal Theatre. I listened to Gore’s dire climate change predictions, then watched them come true.

Nineteen of the last 20 years have been among the hottest years on record. The last four years have been the hottest with 2020 on pace to break 2016’s record. The polar ice caps are melting six times faster than in the 1990s. The resulting sea level rise has been 2.6 inches since 1993. 

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Eleven cities including Miami, Houston, New Orleans, and Virginia Beach, Virginia are partially underwater and in jeopardy of becoming completely submerged. Gore predicted ground zero where the World Trade Center used to be would be underwater. The 2012 Hurricane Sandy made that happen.

Sea temperatures have risen 1.5 degrees since 1901. The Gulf of Mexico was four degrees warmer than ever in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey hit causing it to be the wettest storm on record. Forty inches of rain fell on the Texas gulf coast in four days. There have been 16 Category 5 hurricanes in the last two years, an unprecedented total.

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Refugees aren’t fleeing to El Norte from Central America, the Middle East, and North Africa because of political strife and gang violence only. Their home countries have become uninhabitable due to persistent drought. 

In 2015, Carbondale’s Julia Williams and Glenwood Spring’s Jennifer Moore had a booth at Carbondale’s Farmers Market. Williams was the volunteer coordinator for 350 Colorado, a subset of 350.org, climate activist Bill McKibben’s organization. The Farmer’s Market is right outside my door, so I spent quite a bit of time discussing climate issues with Williams and Moore.

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Attending college in the ‘60s, I was quite politically active. I joined a somewhat radical campus political party called the Progressive Reform Party. We were mostly concerned with campus issues like open dorms and disarming the campus police, but we were very antiwar, pro-civil rights, and pro-women’s rights as well. 

I circulated petitions for the Equal Rights Amendment and to have the Communist Party USA put on the 1972 ballot. Also in 1972, I went to Greenville, Mississippi on a voter registration drive sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality. I faced the business end of a shotgun more than once.

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Then came the 1972 election. Richard Nixon was reelected in one of the biggest landslides in history. I figured what’s the point? I slumped away from politics for about 45 years.

Strangely, another absurd presidential election result awakened my public spirit. An absolute horror of a human being named Donald Trump was elected in 2016. The most dangerous aspect of his presidency is he’s a climate change denier who calls it a Chinese hoax. I said Fred, it’s time to get involved again. I have no children, but I accept responsibility for the future of everyone else’s young ones. That future is in peril.

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July 1, 2016 is also my sobriety date. 

I became active in 350 Colorado, first as a volunteer, then, along with Jennifer Moore, as a co-leader of the newly formed 350 Roaring Fork. Carbondale’s Will Hodges has recently been hired as the coordinator for 350 Roaring Fork.

We put on educational presentations showing climate change films at the Carbondale and Glenwood Springs libraries. We made public comments at Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Air Quality Control Commission, and Garfield County Board of County Commissioners meetings. We circulated petitions for the 2018 Proposition 112, the oil and gas setback initiative.

This year, I signed up for the Climate Reality Leadership Training that was scheduled for Las Vegas in March. That was wiped out by the coronavirus, so I’m currently taking an online version of it. That program actually inspired this piece as one of our assignments is to write our climate story.

It’s hard to be optimistic about our climate future. We’re so far behind on the goals set by the 2015 Paris Accords it seems unlikely we’ll get caught up in time to avert the climate catastrophe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted in ten years. We’re already seeing the negative effects of climate change and we’re not doing anything about what’s causing it. It’ll get nothing but worse in the coming years.

I take hope from the younger generation. They’re very climate conscious. The millennials will take the steps that’ll allow us to ride through the ensuing calamity and build a better future for their children, which we’ve failed to do so miserably.

What I’ve put into the climate movement is nothing compared to what I’ve gotten out of it. Unlike five years ago, I get up in the morning with a purpose. No paying job I ever had was this fulfilling.

It all seems like a strange twist on the Don Quixote analogy. By promoting windmills, I may be jousting with them. Whatever, this is my quest, the impossible dream.

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