Montana: Acting Locally to Have Global Impacts

IMG_2431We spent the weekend in Seattle, WA talking to law students at the University of Washington about climate change, and how they are seeing it affect their state. Washington state has been experiencing an incredibly dry year, which is strange for the Pacific Northwest where rain seems to be a daily occurrence. The consequences of these changes have been detrimental to the state’s forests, rivers, and ecosystems as a whole. One of the students sarcastically observed that “it is almost like the climate is changing.”   These students are passionate about policy, and are working to figure out new and creative ways they can support laws that prevent environmental harm. After this pit stop in Seattle, it was off to Montana.

The past few days we have been Missoula and Bozeman learning about the local actions that groups are taking to address climate change within their community, in addition to us presenting to them about what is happening internationally. Both cities have climate action plans, and are trying to push the climate issue forward in a way that engages everyone in solving local challenges such as municipal growth, protecting the environment, building community, understanding rural vs urban concerns, and saving money as a nice bonus. The local programs that communities like these pursue have global impacts as they move the conversation on climate change forward, which helps national governments uphold their commitments to acting on climate.

IMG_2429For example, the University of Montana does not have extra land to build on that they can dedicate to parking lots. They know they have to get their students to campus, and need to create a transportation system that serves their students effectively. Therefore, they have implemented a no cost bus system and they are working with the city to create a more bicycle friendly community. The result, it saves students and the university money in the long run, it makes their campus more walkable and safe for pedestrians, and it lowers emissions.

In Bozeman similar quests are being taken by local groups and the city. The Bozeman Energy Project has been switching their streetlights to LEDs, which has cut energy usage significantly and has save the city quite a bit of money, they have been retrofitting buildings, and have been supporting businesses in energy audits to see where they can improve. Thus far 22 businesses have participated.

IMG_2442We also had the pleasure of meeting with two individuals that are leading the Transition Streets initiative in Bozeman. Bozeman is one of 15 cities that are participating in this initiative with the goal of expanding this idea throughout the rest of the country. The basic concept is to get neighbors to talk about how they can use less energy, conserve water, limit waste, increase consumption of local food, and rethink transportation. The overall goal in all of this being to reduce emissions while connecting communities. Some simple examples of how this can work is neighbors sharing what produce they grow in their backyards, carpooling, and running errands for one another while they are already out so it saves time and transportation costs.

In addition to connecting people, these two are connecting waste to fuel. They are taking used frying oil from restaurants and converting it to fuel that can be used to fuel the free public transportation, garbage trucks, and other city vehicles. They are also converting business heating systems to switch to this fuel instead of natural gas, which has saved one business $450/month. Pretty exciting stuff! These simple solutions are innovative, easy to adopt, save money, and utilize resources efficiently. What more can you ask for?



Ode to Oregon

IMG_2361Immediately after we presented at Willamette University in the wonderful capital of Salem, OR, we hustled on south to Corvallis, home of Oregon State University. Corvallis is the definition of a college town, and is centered around the university. Everywhere you can see Beaver pride.

We checked into the hotel we were staying at, and then after a couple hours of conference calls (which an organizing story cannot be without) we headed off to a very important meeting. The night that we got into Corvallis was the eve of the People’s Climate National Day of Action, and we had been working with a student from Oregon State University to plan an event on the campus, but we had not met her yet. Now was the moment of truth!IMG_2365

We met Jacqueline in a middle eastern restaurant.  She is a feisty individual with a passion for environmental and social justice. Jacqueline met a People’s Climate organizer this summer and she wanted to do something on her campus, but needed a little help, and that is where we came in. We wanted to make sure that the day of action was centered around a local issue, and there is currently a competition that the city is participating in to win $5 million for climate action projects. Corvallis is competing with 49 other cities to successfully implement an energy reduction program, and the city that comes up with a plan that reduces the most and can be replicated will win the money. The campaign in Corvallis is called Take Charge Corvallis. For this to be successful, the city must effectively engage students since a large portion of the population in Corvallis is OSU students. Therefore, Jacqueline decided to center the day of action around this initiative.

The next day we woke up bright and early and headed out to the OSU Memorial Union quad. We set up our table with materials to help students sign up for the program. We also had students write down their “bright ideas” on a paper light bulbs for what they would do with the $5 million for climate action in Corvallis. We talked to over 100 students and had 70 of them write down their bright ideas, which will be delivered to the city.

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Directly after our National Day of Action event, I rushed over to the OSU Kelly Engineering building for a Climate Leadership Training with Youth Climate Action Now, or YouCAN- Corvallis. YouCAN is a program of the Our Children’s Trust and the Sierra Club. This program focuses on empowering youth to motivate cities into passing science based emission reduction commitments in cities around Oregon. In this leadership training I helped contextualize the local work that YouCAN is doing nationally and internationally. Then the YouCAN organizers provided information on what is happening in Corvallis, and they gave a training on how to create an elevator speech. They have longer trainings to help build organizers periodically, and they are hoping to effectively engage youth to create change locally.

After a very productive day in Corvallis we headed to Portland for a day. While in Portland we caught up on some work, and took some video to help with our compilation of the Road Trip to Paris. In addition to regrouping, we met with the head volunteer co-lead of the Sierra Club international climate campaign. This individual is incredibly knowledgable, and he gave us a briefing of where the current Paris Agreement stands and where he things it should go. Currently, the new draft climate agreement is incredibly weak, which is not what we want if we want to address climate change as a global community seriously. It does not effectively keep countries accountable and it does not encourage them to increase their ambition at any point of time that the agreement is in effect. If the agreement were to be passed tomorrow, it would not change much about the status quo. That is why it is so important that we make a lot of noise, demand more from our governments, and get serious about making something happen. Because without that noise nothing will happen. The meeting that we had with the Sierra Club leader was enlightening and challenging at the same time because it showed that there is still a lot that we must get done, but it is also going to be an uphill battle.

Today we headed into Seattle, Washington, but Oregon was a great state to visit on our Road Trip to Paris because of the wonderful things that are going on, and because we were able to participate in events that were part of larger conversations throughout the state.

On the Road Again- to the Northwest!

IMG_2323After our successful trip throughout Arizona we were able to take a break in Flagstaff, currently our home base. While in Flagstaff we gave a presentation to the Northern Arizona University Green Jacks. Prior to our presentation, we were able to hear about the work that they are doing throughout campus to engage students in sustainability initiatives. They were working on a green tailgating program and thinking about ways they could incorporate a costume contest into their work to get people involved, and they were thinking about how they could integrate sustainability more throughly into their student government. You can tell these students want to create a culture of sustainability and action throughout the school.

We had several other opportunities to meet with other community leaders that were organizing events around the UN Climate Negotiations while we were in town as well. We met with the organizer of the Flagstaff Climate March, which will be happening in late November. This march will be supporting a climate resolution that will go through the city council in December, and these  local actions will eventually lead to action on the part of the US federal government, which is why they are so important. The federal government only really acts when they feel it is safe to do so, and creating political will locally can help do that. In addition to meeting with this organizer, we met with the Flagstaff Citizen’s Climate lobby, a group that is also pushing the political agenda around climate change.

IMG_2347Several days later we were on the road again, and this time we were headed north. In this next loop we were going to be visiting Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Utah. The first two days were primarily used to get through Nevada up to Oregon, which is where our first presentation was on this second loop on the Road Trip to Paris. It was an incredible transition passing through Death Valley to get to the lush forests of Oregon, and it shows that wonderful diversity of ecosystems that cover the globe. What was also striking was that throughout this drive was that all of these ecosystems were parched because of the severe drought that has struck the western part of the United States this past year. You can see it in the rivers, the vegetation, and in the smoke hovering from forest fires in Oregon. It is a clear indication of the climatic changes that are coming.IMG_2362

Yesterday we had our presentation in Salem, Oregon at Willamette University, a small liberal arts college in the capital. We talked to a small group of students that was interested in getting involved with climate policy and engaging students. The university sustainability director helped host the presentation, and let us know that he is working to get students involved with Oregon’s planning of the clean power plan, which would be a great opportunity for students to make their voice heard in state politics. In addition to this, he encouraged the students to follow up with administration of the university to make sure they are on track for their carbon neutral goal. It was clear that the political atmosphere of Oregon is very different from Arizona, and they really want to work collectively on the issue of climate change.IMG_2365

The sustainability director then gave us a tour of the school. We were able to see the completely organic landscaping, their biking initiative, energy efficient buildings, the food recovery network program, and composting programs. This university is dedicated to addressing the issue of climate change, and is thinking of new and innovative ways to engage students in that conversation.


Phoenix and Prescott: A Bumpy (but Successful) Road

After our first presentation in Tucson, Arizona we headed north to Phoenix early the next morning. We rolled into the massive city around noon and met with a staff member of the Salt River Project (SRP), which is a large water and electricity utility in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. She is also going to Paris, France for the UN Climate Negotiations as an alumni of Vermont Law School. The Law School provides technical advice for the country of Myanmar because, like many developing countries, they do not have the resources or capacity to keep up with all the new research and negotiations due to lack of financial capital to support those efforts within the country. This is a systematic problem with large negotiating bodies like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that leaves developing countries, once again, disadvantaged to fully participate. It was interesting to learn about what she was doing for Myanmar, but it was also interesting to hear that she is going to work on giving presentations to SRP so they are aware of the role they can play in reducing emissions within the state.

IMG_2291With the President’s Clean Power Plan, states in the United States will have to come up with a plan to reduce emissions by a certain percent (depending on the state) in the next year, or the Environmental Protection Agency will come in and make a plan for them. Arizona’s target emission reduction is 39% by 2030. This gives local utilities the opportunity to really think critically about their energy make up and what they can do about it.

After that discussion we headed to find our housing for the evening, however, the radiator cracked in the car we were driving, which delayed us for 3 hours as we had to get our car towed. Luckily, being carless would not stop us from our mission, and we had quite a few friends in the Phoenix area that were able to take care of us while the car was being repaired. Eventually we made it to our destination, and were stuck there for a day. It was a productive day full of writing, emailing, and pizza.

IMG_2288The following day was presentation day. Our car was not quite fixed yet so our friend let us borrow hers so that we could get to Arizona State University (ASU). ASU’s campus is large and covered in solar panels, recycling bins, and energy efficient buildings. Sustainability in engrained in ASU’s culture, which is important if we are to make the changes that we need to see in the world.

The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability sponsored our talk at ASU. Students, faculty, staff, community group representatives, and community members came to the talk. ASU News was able to cover our event and came out with The Road To Paris: The 9 Things You Can Do to Influence the UN Climate Talks, which outlines the actions that I discuss that you can take within the presentation that I give.

After the talk, we met with a representative from the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. In early November we will be speaking at an Earth Festival and helping with a tabling event, which will have information about what folks can do during the UN Climate Talks to make a difference.

Shortly after we completed our tasks for the day, it was time to retrieve out car. We hopped in a cab with a man named Lance, and he blasted Ray Charles as we cruised down the I-10. Once we acquired our car we immediately started to drive to Prescott.

IMG_2300We arrived in Prescott, AZ around dinner time and were able to have dinner with Sierra Club members and students that are in charge of the Sierra Student Coalition at Prescott College. We learned about the environmental issues that Prescott is facing such as protecting the Verde river from pollutants, water shortages in general, a need for building and energy efficiency, a need for improved bike lanes, and a plethora of other topics that these groups are working on. We also discussed the importance of connecting local work to global topics because the work that we do locally is most important in pushing the conversation further.


The next day we woke up bright and early for an interview on the Morning Scramble, which is a morning show that shows in Phoenix and areas of Northern Arizona. It was a great opportunity to be able to talk to folks that we would not traditionally reach about climate change, where the conversation around climate change is going, climate policy, and how it is affecting people on the ground.

After the interview we headed to Prescott College to talk to students about Care About Climate, and what they can do to help.

That evening we gave a talk in the Yavapai Title Conference room, which was sponsored by the Sierra Club- Yavapai Group. This audience was a little older and had different perspectives on how to address the issue of climate change, which was interesting to hear since we had been talking to students/university communities for the past two presentations. This group was more concerned with the enforceability of the agreement that we were creating and how we can keep the US accountable. I told them that it ultimately came down to their efforts, and it is up to us to make sure that we all Act On Climate together.