“If I can find hope, so can you. We made it through Nixon. We’ll make it through this,” my mother told me in November. She is the most outspoken feminist I know, so I look to her often for a guiding light when it comes to most things in life and politics. But, as for climate change, I can sure feel hopeless and desperate.

It’s no secret that our current political climate is, ahem, muggy. After serious progress in the last few years, like the Paris Climate Agreement and the Clean Power Plan, we are now dealing with an administration dead set on undoing important pieces of legislation and generally flipping the bird at science. Along with my mom, I look towards my friends for inspiration. Senior brand manager for Protect Our Winters, Barbara Weber, and the Sierra Club’s AddUp community manager, Ryan Dunfee, are fighting the fight and helping us all find the light in the darkness.

What is the tip of the spear?

BW:
POW is committed to growing, organizing, and arming our passionate outdoor community with the education and tools they need to take immediate action. We’ll be focusing heavily on the midterm elections and doing our best to target some seats we think can be flipped and where we can get pro-climate solution candidates in office. We’re not going to back down on shining a spotlight on those who aren’t in line with anything less than positive climate action moving forward. For us, the gloves are off.

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RD:
The largest challenge, and I say this with no disrespect towards Trump voters, is the open hostility the current administration has towards the idea that protecting the environment does anything to sustain American values, communities, and jobs. That clean air and clean water is anything but an impediment to industry, or that environmental regulators should be doing anything other than finding a way to get more fossil fuel projects going. That, coupled with the disregard for science and the unapologetic hostility towards women and minority communities. It’s enough to give you an aneurysm.

In the big picture, the Sierra Club is a grassroots, people power organization. We have lawyers who tie bad stuff up in court and do their nerdy lawyer stuff, but our real power comes from all the volunteers and everyday people who engage with the causes we support. So the broad strategy has been outlined as resist, recruit, train, and sustain.

How can we still smile and where can we find hope?

BW:
Lucky for us, the outdoor community naturally has a rebellious, don’t-f-with-us mentality, and that’s absolutely going to work in our favor. This community is used to challenges and adversity. We thrive on it. And climate change is by far the biggest challenge and issue of our time. People are waking up to that, they are fired up, and they are stepping up to the plate. I find hope and motivation in that every day.

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Calling your elected officials, being an active participant, and voicing what you want can be incredibly empowering. These politicians are our public servants. They are in office to serve our wants and needs, not the other way around. Also, remember to celebrate the wins. Last week we had a great “W” for the climate movement. The Senate voted to keep the Methane Rule, which regulates the amount of methane (the most harmful greenhouse gas), that can be released into the atmosphere, despite efforts to abolish the regulations.

Despite what’s happening with the federal government, there are opportunities on the state and local level to affect serious change. States have the ability to put their own policies in place, and in turn, incentives for citizens who utilize renewable energy, regardless of what’s coming out of D.C.

RD:
I think things have generally gotten a little more positive than they seemed in January and February. That was a flood of bad news. But those of us who differ strongly in opinion over what the president and his team should be doing can actually take some heart in the fact that their efforts to dismantle some of the progress that’s been made has been hampered by their chaotic rollout.

Even though Trump’s called climate change a “hoax” and his team has been pretty dismissive about it as an issue, they were set to decide whether the U.S. would stay in the Paris Climate Accord last week, and they waffled. They keep pushing the decision back because they’re getting thousands of calls from CEO’s from all kinds of industries, even coal, to stay in it. They’re seeing that the majority of Americans want to stick with it, and Trump’s own advisers are pushing to stay in.

States and cities are taking action on their own, and electric sector is moving faster and faster towards clean energy, just because of the economics. 252 coal plants have been retired since 2010. Back in 2008, coal was half our power. Now it’s less than a third. Maryland just approved the largest offshore wind farm in the country. Wind and solar costs are plummeting, more and more of it’s getting built everyday, and it’s creating a constituency for it in deep-red places like Texas. And something like 26 different cities and towns have started working to get 100-percent of their energy from renewable sources. This momentum just can’t be overstated.

What are three concrete actions we all can take?

BW:
1. Check out our newly released Climate Activist’s Roadmap. It has an assortment of concrete ways to take action, right now.

2. Look at your own life and what you can be doing better, on a daily basis. Commit yourself to forming habits that are going to better serve the Earth. I think a lot of people get hung up on “Well I’m just one person. What can I do?” We’re not asking you to go vegan, though that would be rad. Some of us love bacon, but make changes where you can. Dedicate one day a week to not eating meat, for instance. Ditch the single-use plastic, rethink how you get to work, learn how to compost, turn off the lights when you leave a room, and, for the love of god, enough with plastic bottled water.

3. Follow us. We’re keeping a pulse on what’s happening in D.C. but also on state and local issues where we think we can make an impact. We’re committed to continuing to make it easy for you to make your voice heard. We push these out both on social media and through eBlasts as they occur.

RD:
1. Add your name to the Sierra Club’s public comment on whether or not Bears Ears should continue to be protected as a national monument. After doing a listening tour through Utah, Ryan Zinke and the Department of the Interior are hosting a public comment period that’s lasting just two weeks, trying to rush it by before many monument supporters can have their say. Share it with your friends.

2. Call your representatives in the Senate and in the House of Representatives at least once a week. Give them a shout and share with them a personal reason or story about why you want Bears Ears protected, or us to stay in the Paris agreement, or to have clean energy supported. You’re a skier and you moved to that state because the snow is great and you don’t want to see it disappear. You’re a hiker and you took an engineering job in Denver to be closer to the great public lands. Whatever it is. They need to hear from us, and they listen, they’re keeping track.

3. Start volunteering. Progress on environmental stuff isn’t automatic, as we’re now seeing, and more of us need to be involved in our civic institutions. This doesn’t have to be much, whether you’re helping a local Sierra Club chapter with their social media, writing an occasional letter to the editor, helping new people get outside and make a connection with nature, or even just helping build and maintain trails wherever you go play after work. It’s fun, more often than not, very rewarding, and you instantly feel more ownership over how our shared future unfolds. As outdoor bums, we’re not used to advocating for ourselves, but it’s critical that we do.

What are your thoughts on the Climate March?

BW:
People have both positive and negative thoughts on these marches. But I find them to be remarkably cathartic, if nothing else. After the election, I immediately felt helpless, enraged, stressed….all the bad emotions, all at one time. When I marched in the Women’s March in January, I finally felt a sense of relief. I know there are a lot of people who feel the same way I do, and that means this is temporary.

We have to keep speaking up. The majority of people want equality for all. And I felt that way with the Climate March. There were groups from all walks of life there. I came across a group of hippies in their 60s and 70s. It made my heart swell. These people aren’t going to even be around for the worst of it, but they have the wisdom and foresight to know that this is happening, and we need to do something now. There were indigenous groups, young people, old people, marching bands, and organizations from all over the country.

While I think there could have been more people, I was pretty happy to see there were 200,000 people alongside me in D.C. We had POW contingents in 15 marches across North America and Europe, many of which were led by our professional athletes. Seeing the images and videos flood in throughout the weekend, the feedback from the athletes and our community, the enthusiasm and energy, it felt like the pieces were clicking into place for us. The worldwide POW community all came together on one day to make our voice heard. But it’s far from over. We marched, yes. But now the work continues.

RD:
It was great. I couldn’t make it to D.C., and it looked hot as hell there, but I went to the one in Salt Lake. More than anything, it was super gratifying and encouraging to see so many other folks on the streets advocating for the same cause as you. Especially in a red state like Utah, where the state legislature is denying resolutions put forth by eighth graders to admit climate change is real as seamlessly as they reach for a tissue. It was edifying to be surrounded by so many others who care. I think that’s probably the greatest value of these marches, to know you’re not alone with your concerns.

And some great studies have come out showing that “the resistance” isn’t fading, nor are the scale of these protests, and that there’s a lot of new people coming out. It’s great to see. If you are still reading this interview this far down the page, you must be a true believer. Feel free to email me directly if you want to find a way to get involved ryan.dunfee@sierraclub.org.

Photo by James Q Martin.

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