During Spring 2019 I took the final required course for my Master’s in Public Administration at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs – PUBAFR 7900, the capstone research paper. In this course, students write a structured capstone paper on a project of their choice. Although the projects vary a lot, the papers all follow the same format:
Table of Contents
Background, including Stakeholders
As chair of the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Columbus campaign, I wrote my paper on how three cities that have committed to 100% renewable energy are getting there. At the time of my writing, 120 cities had made this commitment, including Cleveland and Cincinnati in Ohio, as well as several other major cities. I wanted to figure out a possible road map for Columbus.
Although I wrote about a topic I am extremely involved with — how cities can get to 100% renewable energy — the amount of rewriting and frankly unreasonable demands from the professor almost led me to withdraw from the course. No matter what I produced, it wasn’t right. If something was in a bulleted list, she wanted it in a table, but if it was in a table, she wanted a bulleted list. Even when I made the revisions asked for, it seemed she didn’t read them and said I hadn’t done the work. Halfway through the semester, she wanted me to change my topic!
I got the Exemplary Community Service Award from the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at its pre-graduation ceremony in May.
But after encouragement from my Glenn College advisor, I stayed in, earning barely enough points to pass with a B, but I did get the B. And it’s a good thing because I not only learned a lot despite the difficulties, I also was able to graduate. Even better, during the Glenn College pre-graduation ceremony, I was given the Exemplary Community Service Award.
In writing the paper, the first thing I had to do was identify which cities I was going to look at. I got a list of all cities that had made the commitment, then identified which ones are in the top 100 cities in the United States by population. Those included San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Washington D.C., Portland, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Cleveland, St. Louis, Saint Paul, Cincinnati, Orlando, and Madison, Wis. Of these, most had made the commitment within the past year, and only about half had published energy plans for how they would get there.
Of the cities with published energy plans, I picked three: San Francisco, the first city to make a commitment to 100% renewable energy in 2010; Atlanta, the only city to include a full consideration of policy alternatives in its climate plan; and Cincinnati, which has the most comprehensive plan of all large cities that have committed to this transition.
I also consulted the academic and think tank literature. On the academic side, I found that most people who study this question believe cities, states, and countries can transition to 100% renewable energy, but there’s a debate between those who think it can be done using only sun, wind, hydro, and geothermal, and those who believe it must include nuclear energy. The 100% renewable energy side is led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, founder of the Solutions Project who mapped out how states, cities, and countries can get to 100% renewable energy. The critics include 21 scientists who published an evaluation of Jacobson’s work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The dispute was covered by David Roberts in Vox here and here.
I also found a lot of think tank and advocacy group literature on how cities can transition to 100% renewable energy. The two best sources were the Carbon-Free City Handbook, published by Rocky Mountain Institute, which looked programs cities could implement by sector such as buildings, transportation, and energy supply, and Pathways to 100, a primer for how cities can use legislative, financial, and structural practices to transform their energy supplies.
I found that by instituting best energy practices on the city level, rather than depending on state or federal action, cities could take control of their energy supplies and significantly lower their carbon emissions. San Francisco, which has been working on programs to get to 100% renewable energy since 2011, has significantly lowered its emissions.
I was also able to put together a high-level blueprint for how cities can get to 100% renewable energy:
STEP 1: ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Buildings are the top source of carbon emissions in most cities. Making energy efficiency upgrades helps by reducing the amount of energy being used, which both lowers emissions and saves money. Also called retrofitting and weatherization, energy efficiency includes activities such as installing LED lights and EnergyStar appliances, adding insulation, sealing windows, and using low-flow plumbing. This needs to be done on both the residential level, particularly in low-income areas where housing is often very inefficient, and in large commercial buildings, financed through the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. Cities can also require or incentive new builds to be LEED-certified or net zero, and they need to address the split incentive in which which tenants pay for energy, so landlords don’t want to pay for upgrades. This can be done by requiring landlords to list energy costs with rent or by providing incentives for landlords to make needed upgrades.
STEP 2: RENEWABLE ENERGY
To run on 100% renewable energy, we need more renewable energy! This includes building out solar generation on city property, and helping residents and businesses to install more solar. Cincinnati is building 25 MW of solar to run its water treatment plans, and Cleveland has a solar farm on a capped landfill. San Francisco has incentives for purchasing solar equipment as well as a solar equipment leasing program, which has lowered costs and spread solar panels on homes and businesses across the city. In Ohio, Solar United Neighbors runs bulk purchasing programs.
STEP 3: TRANSPORTATION
Transportation is the second large source of carbon emissions in cities. Cities have a lot of options for tackling transportation emissions, such as converting their own fleet to electric vehicles, encouraging residents to drive EVs, rolling out charging infrastructure, supporting biking, walking, and scooters, offering bike share and car share programs, and building bus rapid transit and light rail. City form is also important. Channeling development into the city center rather than urban sprawl lowers emissions from cars and makes getting around by public transportation, biking, or walking easier.
STEP 4: ENERGY SUPPLY
The most effective way to lower carbon emissions from energy use is to ensure that the energy supply is generated from renewables. This can be done in two ways: building more utility-scale solar and wind generation, and using renewable energy certificates to offset fossil fuel use. In Ohio, we have a third option: Aggregation. This is when a city pools together its customers and uses them to bargain with utilities for more renewable energy at a lower price. Cincinnati is aggregated for 100% renewable. Aggregation is legal in only eight states, and we are lucky Ohio is one.
STEP 5: FINANCING
Whenever renewable energy comes up, the first question is usually “But how will you pay for it?” Fortunately cities have lots of financing mechanisms to choose from, including programs like Property Assessed Clean Energy, bulk purchasing, power purchase agreements, green banking, and more. For example, Los Angeles allows low-income residents to “rent” their rooftops to the city electric utility, which installs solar panels that put clean energy on the grid. Atlanta offers a “round it up” program for people to pay a little extra on their utility bills; the money funds energy efficiency upgrades in low-income areas. New York has a Green Bank that works with private-sector banks to fund clean energy developments.
My intensive summer internship doing Ready for 100 work showed me what was possible when you put your mind to a campaign. I was determined to keep up the pace in the fall, not just with Ready for 100 but with other environmental and political activities as well. So much was happening in Central Ohio, it wasn’t possible to do it all, especially balancing work and school. But I did a lot.
The Ready for 100 team tabled at Josh Fox’s performance of The Truth Has Changed on September 14.
The Ready for 100 Columbus campaign held its regular steering committee meetings on the fourth Thursdays. In addition, I held one-on-one meetings with key volunteers such as our camapign manager Michael Wang, grassroots chair Raemona Cannon, grasstops chair Scott Bond, volunteer coordinator Angie Santo-Walter, communications chair Brittany Converse, and new volunteer for social media Andrew Keller. We did a lot of planning and pulled off several fantastic events:
Tabling and speaking Josh Fox’s performance of his one-man show, The Truth Has Changed, at Wexner Center for the Arts. Afterwards I got to speak about Ready for 100 to the audience of about 500.
A research party, maybe the first of its kind, in which a dozen people showed up to eat pizza and go through city documents, looking for information relevant to climate change, carbon emissions, and renewable energy. From the results of this, we were able to create a new Ready for 100 Columbus fact sheet (pdf).
A General Meeting in Franklinton that brought out about 25 people, some of whom became new volunteers.
I got to speak along with other local activists after Josh Fox’s performance of The Truth Has Changed. Photo by Paul Becker
We also began sending volunteers to attend area commission meetings in Franklinton and Linden, two neighborhoods identified by the 2018 Franklin County Energy Study as having unacceptably high energy burdens. As in many low-income and communities of color, the percentage of income that people pay for gas and electricity is much higher than average, both because they have lower incomes to begin with, and because they live in inefficient buildings with old appliances. We also met with Council Members Elizabeth Brown and Michael Stinziano.
Rise for Climate
Mother Nature came ready to protest fracking. Photo by Paul Becker
Another major event of the fall was the Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice rally and march held September 8 and sponsored by a broad coalition of environmental and community groups including Sierra Club Ohio Chapter, Simply Living, Defend our Future Ohio, Ohio Poor People’s Campaign, Move to Amend, Central Ohioans for Peace, Columbus Community Bill of Rights, Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio, Citizens Climate Lobby Columbus Chapter, Central Ohio Worker Center, and more.
Representatives of these groups met several times throughout August to plan the event, but with so many groups, disagreement arose about what kind of event to hold. One group wanted to hold a large rally and march, which another wanted to make it a small teach-in. We were not able to get the park space we wanted, so we couldn’t have tabling or food trucks. But in the end we put together a fantastic lineup of speakers (pdf) from the environmental, faith, indigenous, and labor communities.
Chuck Lynd brought the earth balloons that we popped in front of Sen. Portman’s office. Photo by Paul Becker
The morning of the event it began pouring rain, and I feared that despite all our publicity, no one would turn out. But 100 people did, some in amazing outfits. We started at the Statehouse with indigenous and labor speakers, marched to Senator Portman’s office, where we popped huge earth balloons while citing all of Portman’s votes to destroy the planet, then went to City Council where we heard from Council Member Emmanuel Remy, chair of the environment committee, Rev. Susan Smith of Crazy Faith Ministries, and were led in song by the Vocal Resistance choir. Here are photos by Paul Becker and Ralph Orr.
Throughout the fall I continued to participate in city meetings and events. Each August the Columbus Foundation holds a Big Table event for community conversations to take place across the city. I attended the one on electric vehicles at the Smart Columbus Center, then rode as others test drove EVs including a Chevy Bolt. A reporter from the Dispatch covered the event, quoting me that the Bolt would be my next car.
Majorca Carter explains how her company led development that cleaned up the Bronx and jump-started new business at the MORPC Summit on Sustainability on October 25.
On September 7 the Office of Sustainability invited me a meeting to prepare for their interview with the Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of their application for the Bloomberg Climate Challenge Grant. I sat in on that interview September 12. Several VIPs who had not attended the preparation showed up, including Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus for the Columbus Partnership, and Laura Koprowski, vice president of Central Ohio Transit Authority. As they took charge of the interview, I realized I was the only volunteer in the room.
On October 25 I attended the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Association’s annual Sustainability Summit. I had never been before, and found the day extremely useful and insightful. The keynote was Majora Carter, who had brought equitable development to the South Bronx. Breakouts included sessions on regional energy, smart agriculture, and social equity.
A few days later I got a message from Alana Shockey, assistant director of sustainability, that the city had won the Bloomberg grant! This grant funds a climate advisor for the city as well as money for energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as consultation about how to get buy-in from residents for new programs. It was fantastic news that we were more than happy to shout from the rooftops – or at least all over our social media. Ready for 100 team members met with the Office of Sustainability — now with a staff of five — to discuss next steps on November 15. They are not ready to make a commitment, at least not now, but they continue to lay the foundation for making one in the future.
Ohio Sierra Club
Raemona Cannon, Vicky Mattson, and I attended the 2018 Sierra Club Grassroots Network workshop at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife training center in Shepherdsville, W.V.
Meanwhile my work with Ohio Sierra Club continued. I attended bimonthly chapter Executive Committee meetings and participated in biweekly strategic planning calls to hammer out proposals for chapter communications and leadership development. From October 19-21, I attended the 2018 Grassroots Network campaign planning workshop, held at the training headquarters for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Shepherdstown, W.V. It’s a beautiful campus setting about an hour from Washington, D.C. The workshop covered movement building, equity, justice and inclusion, campaign planning, building campaign teams, online tools, and action planning. Also attending Ready for 100 Columbus grassroots chair Raemona Cannon and Ohio Chapter ExCom member Vicky Mattson.
Another Sierra Club success happened on December 4, when we packed a hearing by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on AEP’s proposal to build 400 MW of utility-scale solar generation in southeast Ohio. About 55 people turned out to testify, with every single person testifying in favor of the proposal. I testified on behalf of Ready for 100 explaining that cities want their electricity to come from renewable energy. My tweet about the hearing got 20 retweets and almost 7,300 views.
Unfortunately not everything regarding Ohio Sierra Club was happy. When I got back from my summer study abroad trip to South Africa, I found messages from four different people telling me about the behavior of the chair of Sierra Club Central Ohio Group, who was also a member of the state Executive Committee. He had literally tried to get the chapter to stop the statewide Ready for 100 training I had spent all last spring planning and that by then had speakers committed and 50 people signed up. He was angry that it hadn’t gone through him.
I had a long history of problems with this man, who had tried to stop everything I wanted to do when I was in Central Ohio Group. Unless he could control it, he didn’t want me doing it. He accused me of running a “rogue campaign” — never mind that I was working with the national campaign and a state planning committee. He wanted me to clear it with him every time I spoke to any public official or said anything about Ready for 100 in public — although he spoke constantly to public officials and represented the Sierra Club publicly without consulting anyone. He had made meetings of Central Ohio Group so unpleasant that I stopped going and ran the Ready for 100 campaign on my own.
I had thought that by holding my meetings separate from Central Ohio Group I would not have to deal with this man, but I was wrong. He had attacked the campaign I had worked on for so long, and he did it while I was out of the country. I decided I could no longer ignore his attacks, and I wrote a 13-page single-spaced letter to the national office of chapter support outlining the years of problems I had with this toxic volunteer. Several other women had previously filed complaints against him, but I still had to check on progress every few weeks to keep my complaint from being dropped.
Ohio Chapter tried to deal with the matter for awhile, but was unable to do so effectively. After several months, it finally went to the top three people at Sierra Club, who conducted an investigation, then suspended this man’s membership. At that point this toxic person who had driven away so many good volunteers for so many years resigned his membership and quit his leadership post. Central Ohio Group still has not recovered, and Sierra Club nationally is working to come up for better procedures for dealing with toxic people like this. Ohio is far from the only chapter to have had these issues. Organizations must deal with toxic conduct like this quickly and effectively, or they risk derailing all the good work their volunteers are trying to do.
Sunrise and politics
Members of Sunrise Movement get ready to interrupt the DNC meeting on August 23, 2018, in Chicago.
Meanwhile, I continued trying to keep participating in national climate politics. I found out that Sunrise Movement planned an action at the Democratic National Committee meeting in Chicago on August 23-25 and decided to go. The action happened on the first day of the meeting, when the Resolutions Committee was discussing a proposal to stop taking large donations (defined as more than $200) from fossil fuel executives and employees. Sunrisers attended the meeting, then in the middle stood up singing and marching, then held a rally outside the meeting. It was a great privilege to be part of this.
Selina Vickers and me at the DNC meeting no April 24, 2018, in Chicago
The next day the DNC had a vote about whether to reduce the power of superdelegates. Many progressives wanted the party to do away with superdelegates altogether, but they were not going to do that. However, they did have a proposal that superdelegates would vote only if selection of the presidential nominee went to a second ballot at the convention. Debate over this proposal was bitter, but I joined with member of Our Revolution Chicago to lobby DNC members to support the resolution, and it passed. The entire meeting was livestreamed by Selina Vickers of West Virginia, who has been livestreaming every meeting of the DNC since 2016.
Canvassing for Democrat Rick Neal in German Village, Columbus.
During the fall I somehow found time to do some local politics. I canvassed for Rick Neal running for Ohio House District 3 in October, then for Richard Cordray and Betty Sutton running for governor. Ohio Sierra Club had interviewed Cordray as part of its political endorsement process, and I was impressed with his plan to increase Ohio’s renewable energy standards while cracking down on fracking violations. I had originally supported Dennis Kucinich, even raising money for him, but supported Cordray after he won the primary decisively. I also helped pass out fliers for the Columbus progressive group Yes We Can on election day.
(left to right) Me, Carolyn Harding, and Elizabeth Hixson had to get our photo outside after we could not get in to Rep. Joyce Beatty’s office in November. I went back later myself but could not get her to support the Green New Deal. Photo by Paul Becker
After the election, Sunrise sent out a call for people to visit their local members of Congress and ask them to support the Green New Deal. I made an appointment with Rep. Joyce Beatty’s office and invited local progressives to attend. Two others showed up. Unfortunately, when we got there, we were told we did not have an appointment, and the security guards would not even let us drop off our materials. I posted about this on social media, and the next day, Beatty’s office called me and made another appointment. I had to go to that one by myself, and I tried to explain the urgency of climate change and why we need a Green New Deal. However, Beatty is close to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who does not support the Green New Deal, and I could not get her on board.
Arrested in support of the Green New Deal on December 10, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Paul Becker
Finally in December was the highlight of my fall: I got arrested with 165 other Sunrisers for the Green New Deal. This was a planned civil disobedience action in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of people met for training the night before at Luther Place Church. That morning we lobbied our local members of Congress — about a dozen of us visited Rep. Joyce Beatty.
That afternoon I went to get arrested in front of Rep. Steny Hoyer’s office. I was designated as a “door holder” — one of three people to hold open the door during occupation of the office so people could come in and out to deliver letters and tell their stories. When that was done, I sat with a few dozen others in front of the office and waited to be arrested. I was handcuffed, taken outside (where it was very cold), patted down, and taken to the police holding station, where I had to wait for over six hours to pay a $50 fine.
Washington, D.C., sees so much civil disobedience that the Capitol Police have a special procedure called Post and Forfeit, in which you pay a fine and avoid a conviction going onto your record. It is low risk but takes a looooooong time. By the time I got out, it was dark and I was starving. Sunrise had a meeting place with snacks, then called a Lyft to take me back to my hotel where I got a good dinner and finally some rest.
Ohioans lobby Rep. Joyce Beatty’s office in Washington, D.C., asking her to support the Green New Deal. Photo by Paul Becker
Me with my fellow door holders at the Sunrise action in Washington, D.C. on December 9, 2018. Photo by Paul Becker
Occupying Rep. Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office during the Sunrise action on December 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Paul Becker
Me (near the center) singing and chanting with a few dozen Sunrisers as we wait to be arrested outside Rep. Steny Hoyer’s office on December 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Scott Applewhite.
Green New Deal banner at Luther Place Church in Washington, D.C., on December 9, 2018.
ENR 7191 is the required internship course for the Master’s in Environment and Natural Resources. Students can fulfill this requirement through their jobs in an environmental field, through a formal full-time internship, or through part-time volunteer opportunities. I chose the third way to do this by working on the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign in Columbus.
Although I have been working on the Ready for 100 Columbus campaign for the past 1.5 years, I had not made it the center of my activities due to work and other courses. This summer I had the chance to spend my coursework time on the campaign. It was a great experience, and I learned that I love doing this kind of work.
Mike Foley, director of sustainability for Cuyahoga County, speaks at the Clean Energy for All Ohio Training on June 2, 2018.
The objectives I had for the summer were:
Hold a successful 100% Clean Energy for All Ohio training on June 2. We achieved that goal, training about 50 people who heard from energy leaders in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Oberlin, as well as Tom Foley, sustainability manager for Cuyahoga County. As a result, five new Ready for 100 campaigns got started around the state.
Restart the grasstops part of the campaign by doing power mapping of the mayor and members of city council, and community mapping in neighborhoods of Columbus. We got this done with the help of two other interns for the campaign.
Identify and start a new communications chair. We promoted Brittany Converse, a longtime volunteer who works for the city.
Speak about Ready for 100 at community and neighborhood events. I spoke at the Clean Energy for All Ohio training, a projection art event at Flowers and Bread in Clintonville, and led the panel discussion following a showing of Reinventing Power. I was also invited to be part of the city’s application for the Bloomberg Climate Challenge Grant, pulling together information about tax abatements for sustainability.
Hold tours of several renewable energy facilities in Columbus and Ohio. I was not able to do this. But I did make it to the Growing Local Solar workshop on August 1 at Denison University, where I learned about aggregation in Ohio, the carbon tax in Athens, how to overcome barriers to solar, and toured the Denison solar array.
About 45 people attended our showing of Reinventing Power with a panel discussion on August 9, 2018.
One of the best things about the summer was getting to work with two other interns for the campaign, one from the Glenn College and one from School of Environment and Natural Resources. Suddenly work that we had been wanting to do for months, like power mapping and community mapping, got done. We couldn’t pay these interns – we could only offer course credit – but it was amazing to have them on board. I wanted to get more interns in the fall, but national Sierra Club changed its policy and now requires paying interns $15 an hour. We don’t have money for that.
It is not an exaggeration to say this summer was pivotal to the direction of the Ready for 100 Columbus campaign. When we started, we were trying to get sign-on letters from local businesses in Clintonville and the Short North. It was a disaster. Employees couldn’t sign, managers were never there or too busy, and most were hesitant about signing. Quickly we realized that approach was not working and switched to gathering signatures on our AddUp petition to the city. We got 300 signatures at Comfest alone, about 1600 during the summer.
We also did some serious campaign planning work, identifying our theory of change, targets, tactics, partnerships, and budget. This laid the groundwork for our campaign moving forward.
Summer 2017 was extremely busy with environmental advocacy work, most of it centered around the Ready for 100 Columbus campaign and my work as a Climate Reality leader. I also participated in several progressive political events.
Ready for 100 Columbus
My work on the Ready for 100 campaign got underway in earnest this summer with two Sierra Club training conferences: the National Gathering of all Ready for 100 leaders in Miami on June 21-23, and a Connect the Dots training for four Ready for 100 team members in Oakland on July 13-16. Both trips to train local activists were paid for by Sierra Club.
Aerial Art Action in Miami
The Ready for 100 National Gathering was held in Miami in conjunction with the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which passed a resolution supporting cities committing to 100% renewable energy. At the gathering we got presentations on the vision for Ready for 100, creating a public narrative, campaign principles, effective practices, roles and capacities, and community dialogues. We also did an aerial art action on Miami Beach, coordinated by John Quigley, who organized the famous aerial art action at the Eiffel Tower during the Paris Climate Conference.
El Capitan in Yosemite, Summer 2017
I was the only one from Columbus to attend the Ready for 100 training in Miami, but in July I got to take a team of four people to a Connect the Dots training in Oakland. Whereas the Miami training was more about high-level campaign principles and story, the Oakland training concentrated on the nuts and bolts of how to run a campaign. Another Columbus group attended a second Connect the Dots training in Washington, D.C., and together our teams were assigned to put together the same Connect the Dots training in Columbus in the fall.
Muir Woods, Summer 2017
Since I rarely get to the west coast, I decided to go early and use two days before the conference to tour Yosemite National Park and Muir Woods National Monument. I stayed in a hostel in downtown San Francisco and caught a daylong tour to both places. I got hundreds of great photos at both Yosemite and Muir Woods, but photos cannot do either of these two natural wonders justice. You have to go and see them for yourself.
I wasted no time in putting what I learned at these trainings into practice with the Ready for 100 campaign in Columbus. This summer I started being asked to speak about Ready for 100 at multiple events, including:
My Ready for 100 Columbus team also organized a coalition launch on July 18, designed to reach out to supporters and like-minded advocates in other environmental groups in Central Ohio, to start building our base moving forward. About 20 people showed up, and a couple of them became core volunteers.
(left to right) Me, Kristen Ricker, and Preeti Jaggi gave a presentation of “The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions” on June 17.
After mentoring at the Climate Reality training in Denver in March, I worked hard to keep up with my leadership commitments. Upon returning to Ohio, I worked with Preeti Jaggi and Kristen Ricker, two other Climate Reality leaders in Columbus, to host a presentation of the slideshow at Upper Arlington Public Library on June 17. We each took a third of the presentation and gave it to an audience of about 40. Given how much we had to fit planning, publicity, and rehearsal of the presentation between other activities, we were thrilled to get that many people.
Also this summer, Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power was released. I was invited to a special showing of the film for city leaders in Cleveland on June 24, then attended free showing in Columbus at the Wexner Center on August 2, Gateway Theater on August 3 where I spoke as part of a panel after the film, and Lennox Town Center on August 9. At the three Columbus showings, we had postcards for people to sign asking City Council to commit Columbus to 100% renewable energy. We got about 100 postcards at each event.
Finally, in August journalist Jill Cody put out a call over the Climate Reality intranet for authors of book chapters for her forthcoming book Climate Abandoned. One of the chapters needing an author was on the “Product of Doubt.” Between school and other environmental activities, I didn’t have much time to write a book, but this is a topic I have read about extensively, and I couldn’t resist. I signed up to write the chapter, which ended up dominating my winter, spring and breaks until I turned in the 51-page manuscript in August 2018. The chapter was so substantive, covering climate denial campaigns of Exxon and the Koch brothers, that Jill broke it into three sections for the published book, which you can find here.
This summer I have not been able to do much direct political organizing, but I did attend three memorable events: the People’s Summit held June 9-11 in Chicago, a Bernie Sanders rally to save our health care on June 25 in Columbus, and the Mobilize 88 summit held July 22-23 at Deer Creek Park in Ohio.
I was somewhere to the right in the upper deck of this audience witnessing history.
The People’s Summit, organized by Our Revolution, People for Bernie, and the National Nurses Union, was full of amazing and inspiring speakers like Nina Turner, Van Jones, Nomiki Konst, RoseAnn DeMoro, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, Linda Sarsour, Thomas Frank, Larry Krasner, Chokwe Lumumba, and of course Bernie Sanders. You can see the recorded sessions here.
Bernie Sanders leads a rally to save our health care in Columbus on June 25, 2017. That’s my friend Puja with her arm raised on the upper left.
Bernie’s Save Health Care Rally was held inside Lifestyle Communities Pavilion, which only holds about 4,000 people, but it was packed. I worked the media table with my friend Puja Datta, who was also chosen to be on stage with Bernie. The atmosphere was electric, as local politicians Mary Jo Kilroy and Betty Sutton turned out.
Mobilize 88 featured keynotes by three women of color – Nina Turner, Anoa Changa, and Stacey Hopkins. Look up their work. Several local progressive activists also spoke. Here is coverage from Real News Network.
On June 1, Donald Trump stunned the world by withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Reaction was sharp and swift. Twelve states, more than 200 colleges and universities, and more than 1,000 businesses (including two dozen Fortune 500 companies) have pledged to honor the goals of the Paris accord whether Trump is on board or not.
Also committing to the Paris goal of reducing carbon emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 are almost 300 cities in the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, including Athens, Bexley, Cleveland, Columbus, Gambier, Lakewood and Toledo in Ohio.
Sierra Club Central Ohio Group urges the city of Columbus to join its peer cities in committing to 100 percent renewable energy. Science tells us that climate change is real, caused by human activity and poses an imminent threat to civilization and all life on earth. We have the solutions, but the window of opportunity to implement them is starting to close. We must act now.
Columbus has taken several positive steps to address climate change. Initiatives include:
The GreenSpot program that encourages businesses to save energy, reduce waste and promote green transportation.
The Columbus Region Energy Fund to help businesses and nonprofits improve energy efficiency.
The Green Fleet Action Plan to reduce the carbon footprint of city vehicles and maintenance.
Blueprint Columbus, which uses green solutions to mitigate stormwater runoff.
Branch Out Columbus, the goal of which is to plant 300,000 trees by 2020.
Columbus has also received a Smart Cities grant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through modernizing the grid, promoting electric vehicles and boosting the charging infrastructure. And on June 9, Mayor Ginther signed on to the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda.
All of these things are great steps forward, and we want to recognize the good things the city is doing. But it is not enough. Columbus can’t just enact green programs; we need to become a national leader on climate.
The Paris Agreement that the city has now signed has a stated goal of holding global warming as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius and no more than 2 degrees Celsius, which is what scientists have said is the highest we can go and still have a chance of an inhabitable climate.
However, if you add up all the pledges that every country has made under the Paris Agreement, that doesn’t get us to 1.5 degrees. It gets us to about 3 degrees Celsius, which is better than 5 degrees if we do nothing, but not good enough.
We have to do more than what the United States pledged under the Paris Agreement. Science is telling us that we must reduce emissions to zero by 2050.
In other words, we must transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
Some may think transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy is impossible. But that is not the case. Consider these facts:
$58.6 billion was invested in clean energy in the United States in 2016.
Enough solar energy reaches the Earth every hour to fill the entire world’s energy needs for a full year.
The cost of solar power has fallen from $79 per watt in 1976 to 41 cents per watt in 2016 – a staggering drop of 99.2 percent.
Wind generates enough energy to supply worldwide electricity consumption 40 times over.
The cost of wind power has fallen from 55 cents per kilowatt hour in 1980 to 2.5 cents in 2013 – a drop of over 95 percent.
The current fastest-growing job in the United States is wind turbine service technician.
The cost of lithium ion battery storage has fallen from $1500 per kilowatt hour in 2006 to $273 in 2016, a drop of 80 percent.
Renewables accounted for 90 percent of new electricity generation in 2015.
So the solutions are at hand, and adopting a target of 100 percent renewable energy community wide is within our reach.
100 percent renewable energy would also improve the health and well-being of the people of Columbus. According to the Columbus Department of Public Health, climate change will bring more extreme heat, which results in poorer air quality. This increases the number of people diagnosed with asthma and at risk of asthma attack.
Stronger, more frequent and more severe storms will increase chances of injury and death in a natural disaster. Warmer temperatures and flooding also increase the risk of diseases such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease and even Dengue fever.
Hardest hit will be the most vulnerable populations: the poor, very old and very young; those with mental or physical handicaps; and those with chronic health conditions. In other words, the people suffering most from infant mortality in our community will also be most affected by climate change. We must keep that from happening.
Finally, it is our duty to act. Although climate change is an international issue, we unfortunately have a federal government that has abdicated its responsibility to solve this problem.
In that vacuum, cities must step up. Cities account for 76 percent of carbon emissions from energy use. More than half the world’s population lives in urban areas, with more than two-thirds projected by 2050. Columbus is now the largest city in Ohio with almost 1 million people, but is projected to have up to 3 million by 2050.
All of these reasons are why 30 cities have passed legislation committing to 100 percent renewable energy. In addition, 90 mayors have pledged to support a vision of 100 percent clean and renewable energy in their cities, towns, and communities and across the country.
Columbus is well-positioned to join these forward-thinking cities. Besides the green programs we already have, the city is also home to several businesses that have a 100 percent renewable energy policy, such as Ikea, Anheuser-Busch and BMW Financial Services. A 100 percent green portfolio would attract more future-oriented businesses to locate here.
As a community, we can come together and deal with the climate crisis. The Department of Defense calls climate change a national security threat, but within this crisis is also an opportunity: to make our city stronger, healthier and more vibrant than ever before.
For all these reasons, we urge city leaders in Columbus to commit to getting 100 percent of our community’s energy from clean, non-polluting and renewable sources by 2050 or sooner.
On June 1, Donald Trump stunned the world by withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Reaction was sharp and swift. Twelve states, more than 200 colleges and universities, and more than 1,000 businesses (including two dozen Fortune 500 companies) pledged to honor the goals of the Paris accord whether Trump is on board or not.
Also committing to the Paris goal of reducing carbon emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 were hundreds of cities in the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. However, Columbus was not immediately one of those cities, so on June 2, I submitted a letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch urging the city not only to join those upholding the Paris, but also to join 30 other cities committing to 100 percent renewable energy community-wide by 2050.
My letter was published with a similar letter by Kevin Truitt on June 8. On June 9, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced he was joining the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda to support the Paris Agreement.
Here is the text of my letter:
To the Editor:
I listened with dread Thursday when President Trump announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement. This breakthough accord was the first time 195 countries had come together to deal with global carbon emissions that are destabilizing the climate.
At the time, no one knew if so many countries could come to agreement. I was one of tens of thousands of citizens who traveled to Paris for the 2015 climate summit to show my support. Although initial commitments under the Paris accord are not enough, it is a good start with mechanisms for nations to review and increase their pledges every five years.
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement makes no sense. It will result in fewer jobs and more pollution. It will boost carbon emissions just when the earth’s climate is at a tipping point. And it positions China and the EU to take over world energy leadership from the United States.
Fortunately, Trump’s short-sightedness has galvanized renewed climate action. Four governors, 82 university presidents, 100 CEOs, and 180 mayors have formed a climate alliance that will submit plans to the United Nations for meeting U.S. emissions reduction targets.
So far Ohio leaders have held back, according to your article “Response to Trump’s Paris accord withdrawal mostly muted in Ohio” (6/2/17). They should join this alliance. The state could jump start thousands of good-paying clean energy jobs, while the city could showcase what it’s already doing to lower carbon emissions on the world stage.
In addition, Columbus should join Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and 27 other U.S. cities in committing to a 100% renewable energy portfolio.
We don’t need Trump to fight climate change. We can – and must – do that ourselves.
As most of my friends know, I am currently working on a master’s in public administration at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. One of my classes was PUB 6010 Legal Environment of Public Affairs. As part of that class, I was asked to submit a public records request to an agency.
Flag Road leading into Oceti Sakowin camp.
Given that I had recently visited Standing Rock, I decided to submit a request on February 3 to the Ohio State Highway Patrol for all records pertaining to the deployment of 37 state troopers to North Dakota to assist with security regarding protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation from October 29, 2016, to November 15, 2016.
When a public records request is denied, it’s usually on the grounds that it is too broad. I didn’t think that would apply to my request, which concerned 37 specific officers deployed to a specific location on specific dates. Surely they could produce the records pertaining to that deployment.
Riot Police manhandle peaceful water protectors praying near DAPL construction and desecrated sacred sites on October 22, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
On March 17, I received a response from P.R. Casey IV, associate legal counsel and public records manager for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, denying my request on the grounds that it was too broad. He said I had to ask for specific records rather than all records related to the deployment. This was difficult without knowing what specific records they had.
The denial put me in good company: Public records requests from both the Columbus Dispatch and Cincinnati Enquirer had been denied as well. So I called Randy Ludlow, the Dispatch reporter who had filed their request for copies of any use of force reports during the deployment.
I asked if the Dispatch was going to take legal action on their denial. Ludlow said probably yes, so I asked if I could join the case. To that he said no, but he told me about a new procedure to file a complaint about the denial of a public records request through the Court of Claims. After hanging up, I looked up the site and filed a complaint that day, along with the filing fee of $25.
Court of Claims
Within a week, I got a letter from the court saying they were accepting my complaint and referring it for mediation. I then got another letter stating that two attorneys with the attorney general’s office were filing as legal counsel for the state police. Then I got a message from an attorney at the Court of Claims wanting to have a pre-mediation conference.
Ohio state troopers at a protest near Turtle Hill near the Standing Rock reservation on November 2, 2016. By Conor Handley and downloaded by Ohio state police.
All of this freaked me out a little bit, so I did some more research. I found that the large newspapers in the state are represented by attorneys for the Ohio Newspaper Guild. I found names for two attorneys who work on public records law at a high-priced law firm in Cleveland.
On a lark I decided to call one. I was surprised when he picked up on the first ring – I had expected to reach a receptionist or an answering machine. But since he did, I explained the situation and asked his advice. He told me that I couldn’t afford to hire his law firm, but if I would send him an outline of the case, he would take a look and offer some quick thoughts. I was pretty amazed, but I sent him an email the next day, and he responded the day after that.
I started with the Enquirer case, which was a gold mine. The Enquirer had asked for:
The names and ranks of the 37 officers sent to North Dakota under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) agreement between the two states
All communication issued or received by the highway patrol regarding the deployment
Any documents that outline the actual EMAC agreement between Ohio and North Dakota
Any highway patrol documents that govern EMAC agreements.
All of these requests were denied for various reasons: 1, because of concerns for the safety of the officers; 2, as overly broad (it was the same request I made and denied for the same reasons); 3, because of security concerns; and 4, because they didn’t have such a document.
The Enquirer case then went to mediation, which failed. At that point the case was assigned to a “special master” named Jeffrey W. Clark to hold a formal legal hearing, then issue a report and recommendation. Clark began by ordering the attorneys for the state to submit a response to the Enquirer’s public records request explaining in detail why they were denying it.
Why the denial
A photo taken by Ohio state police during a protest at Turtle Hill near the Standing Rock reservation. Via Muckrock.
Within two weeks, the state attorneys filed an 84-page document consisting of 19 pages of legal arguments and 65 pages of exhibits, including an affidavit from a commanding officer for the Ohio state police and pages upon pages of what they said were threats to the safety of police officers on social media, including doxxing one North Dakota officer.
The agency’s main reasons for denying the public records request were 1) they didn’t want the identity of the Ohio state police officers known because they were worried about their personal safety, and 2) they cited a pipeline about to be constructed in Ohio and said they don’t want to divulge police strategy because they may want to use that same strategy in case of protests in Ohio.
A woman holds up a feather in front of a line of riot police on November 1, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
Regarding their first reason for not producing the records of what Ohio state police did at Standing Rock, I thought they were far too concerned about police safety with very little concern for the safety of water protectors. In all the protests I watched online and heard about through social media, I did not see one single case of a protester carrying a weapon. Instead, I saw that a 19-year-old girl from New York City got her arm blown apart by a concussion grenade, an 18-year-old Sioux girl had her arm broken by police, another Sioux woman lost her eye to concussion grenades, while others were attacked by police dogs badly handled by private security traced to an Ohio kennel through a logo clearly visible on their truck and not licensed in North Dakota.
Remaining in prayer as the militarized police force moves in on the water protectors on Hwy. 1806 on November 1, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
Throughout all of this, the Morton County, N.D., sheriff’s department brazenly lied to the public about events when video easily proved they were lying, yet for months the media reported what the North Dakota police said as the truth while not even talking to protesters. Few journalists actually visited the camps and saw the protests for themselves, and one who did, Amy Goodman, was herself arrested and charged with felony rioting before the judge threw the case out of court.
Had online outlets like Unicorn Riot and TYT Politics, along with citizen livestreamers like Kevin Gilbertt, Johnny Dangers, and Ed Higgins not been there to document events, we would have no idea what really happened, and the Sioux would have been crushed with little fanfare – all because they wanted to protect their water supply from a pipeline that had been rerouted after people in mostly white Bismarck complained about it running next to their town’s water.
All that said – apparently one police officer from North Dakota did have his identity outed on social media (though I never saw it, and I paid a lot of attention to this issue) and felt his safety was threatened. On that basis, I decided to reiterate that identifying information about the Ohio officers could be redacted from any documents released to me. I figured that would be a show of good will and maybe make them more willing to release documents.
A photo taken by Ohio state police deployed to assist with security at the pipeline protests at Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. Click to enlarge. Via Muckrock
Regarding the second main reason for denying the request – that a pipeline being constructed in Ohio and they don’t want to divulge police strategy because they want to use that same strategy in case of protests here — this was the security exemption they kept claiming for not releasing the records. They don’t want us to know what Ohio state troopers did at Standing Rock because they want to be able to do the same things in case of pipeline protests in Ohio.
The pipeline under construction they were likely referring to is Rover, which is owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the same company that owns Dakota Access, and is slated to go across 18 counties in the state. Construction of the pipeline has begun, and already the state has fined ETP $431,000 for 18 violations of the Clean Water Act, including a spill of millions of gallons of drilling muck that destroyed a Category 3 wetland (the highest quality) in Stark County.
Apparently Clark, the special master in the Enquirer case, was as dissatisfied as I was with the state’s reasons for not releasing public documents regarding the state troopers’ deployment to Standing Rock. On March 8, he ordered the state to send him a copy of the EMAC agreement between Ohio and North Dakota under seal within five days so he could decide if it really was covered by the security exemption that the state attorneys were claiming.
Ribbons tied between flagpoles at Oceti Sakowin camp.
The state then filed a motion for a protective order for the EMAC (the first time I’ve ever heard of protective order being filed for a document). Clark granted this motion, but then ordered the state again to turn over an unredacted copy of the EMAC within five days, then he would have seven days to review it. The state turned over the EMAC on March 30, then on April 4 the state filed a motion requesting the EMAC be returned. On April 13, Clark filed for a seven day extension to review the EMAC. A few days after that, Gov. John Kasich took public responsibility for ordering the deployment of Ohio state troopers to Standing Rock.
Finally on April 24, Clark issued his report and recommendation regarding the Cincinnati Enquirer’s four-part public records request. On the first request for the names and ranks of Ohio state officers sent to North Dakota, Clark found the state had “improperly denied” this request. It was okay to withhold the names while the officers were on deployment, but now several months after their return, the state had not demonstrated the officers were at risk of harm, Clark said.
The medic tent at Oceti Sakowin camp
On the second request for all communications issued or received by the highway patrol regarding the deployment, Clark supported the state’s denial on the grounds it was too broad. He said the state had given the Enquirer a chance to file a narrower request, but the Enquirer had not done so.
On the third request for the EMAC agreement, Clark found it should be released. The state had asserted the document contained deployment plans, vulnerability assessments, and tactical response plans, but Clark found most of it was administrative and billing information. The state had also claimed releasing the EMAC would put other states that had agreements with North Dakota at risk, yet at least six other states had already released their own EMAC agreements.
Keeping an eye on police atop Turtle Hill
Clark did say a few portions of the EMAC could be redacted under the security exception, such as some of the militarized police equipment – yet Indiana’s EMAC contained the entire list, including 42 sidearms, 37 AR-15 rifles, 16 riot gear outfits, and 23 shotguns, among other things.
On the fourth request for policies governing EMAC agreements, the state denied the request on the basis that no such documents exist, and Clark supported the denial.
Incredibly, after the special master found the state should release the EMAC agreement, the state still refused to do so. The point of contention is the names of officers who were deployed, which are listed in the document. The state simply said no to the special master’s recommendation. The case then went to an actual trial judge at the Court of Claims, who upheld the special master’s recommendation and ordered the state to turn over the EMAC agreement. The case can now be appealed to the 10th District Court.
My public records case
A photo taken by Ohio state police looking down on activity from atop Turtle Hill. Via Muckrock. Click to enlarge.
Shortly after my public records complaint was accepted at the Court of Claims, I got a call to have a pre-mediation conference with an attorney at the court. She kept asking me specifically which records I wanted from the state police. Without knowing what they have, I just reiterated that I didn’t see why a request for records regarding specific officers sent on a specific mission at a specific location on specific dates was too broad. She said it’s possible the state police would have personal correspondence with their families in the documents. I responded that I didn’t see why state police would be sending their wives grocery lists over the state email system. The court attorney then said it was likely my case would go to mediation.
Warrior woman water protector holds sage and walks in front of riot police near the desecrated sacred sites and DAPL construction on October 22, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
A week after that, I got a message from P.R. Casey, the attorney who had originally denied my request. He said he had a proposal for me. When I called back, he talked to me for a half-hour, which surprised me he would spend that long on my case. Casey offered to send me everything he had already sent other reporters who had filed public records requests to see if that would satisfy what I was looking for.
He also reiterated that I needed to ask for specific records. I told him that was difficult without knowing what specific records they had, and he acknowledged that was a catch-22. I agreed to look at the documents he sent, and if that wasn’t enough, maybe they would help me pinpoint specific records to request. Casey then asked if I would drop my case with the Court of Claims. I said that would depend on what I found in the documents, and he admitted that it might be up to the mediator to decide if a further request would be a new case or an addendum to this case.
Information sent to the deploying officers including weather reports in North Dakota, employee assistance information, how to vote absentee, and how to get travel reimbursements.
A use of force incident report with so much redacted that there’s no way to know what happened except that it was at Mandan County Correctional Center, where many of the people arrested at Standing Rock were held.
Financial documents showing that Ohio state police requested $574,271 in reimbursement from North Dakota for the cost of the deployment – $512,921 for personnel costs including $271,992 in overtime, plus $58,824 in travel costs and $2,530 in assorted costs including $1,473 for a cost that was redacted. It also showed the officers routinely worked 12 to 14 hour days while deployed at Standing Rock.
One disk of photos and videos taken by Ohio state troopers during the deployment, and one disk of videos taken by others during the deployment. The first disk showed that police had a sniper positioned on a hill above one of the main protest locations, and that they had someone embedded in with the protesters during the action. The second disk included video of activist Erin Schrode being shot by a rubber bullet. See more here
One commander’s personnel file with personal information redacted, with a promise to go through the emails of two commanders that reference North Dakota or the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
Sniper shown sitting on top of Turtle Hill in photo released by Ohio state police. Via Muckrock. Click to enlarge
This was a lot of interesting information, especially the photos and videos, which were released without any difficulty. I’ll have to remember that as a public records request trick next time. Another trick was asking for emails from addresses ending in “nd.gov” or “mortonnd.org” or addressed to specific commanding officers with the Ohio state police. A third trick was asking for financial documents.
A few weeks later, P.R. Casey sent another thing I had asked for, the list of other public records requests the state police had received from the date of the deployment until the present. I had meant to ask only for other requests about the deployment to Standing Rock, but what Casey sent me was an 88-page list of every request the state police have gotten. Most were news media and attorneys asking for accident reports. Only a few were about Standing Rock. It is interesting to see the sheer volume of requests this agency gets every week – it’s a lot.
Protests at the bottom of Turtle Hill in a photo taken by Ohio state police. Via Muckrock. Click to enlarge.
After that, the attorney from the Court of Claims contacted me again to ask if the response to my complaint had satisfied me or if I wanted more documents. From looking at the documents Casey sent, I was able to decide which specific things I wanted to ask for: a copy of the EMAC agreement, which for my purposes could be redacted; copies of the daily briefings given to Ohio state troopers; and any use of force reports, the same request as was made by the Dispatch.
Like the Cincinnati Enquirer case, my case did end up going to mediation. During a 30-minute teleconference, state attorneys agreed to send me a copy of the EMAC with the officers’ names redacted, but denied my requests for the daily briefings and use of force reports on the basis of the security exemption to the Public Records Act.
This is the militarized police force sent to confront and remove water protectors on November 1, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
The attorneys did clarify that the redacted use of force report they had sent previously was really a compilation of all the RTR, or response to resistance, reports that Ohio state troopers had filed during the entire deployment to North Dakota. They thought these reports would have the details I was looking for about what exactly Ohio state troopers did in Standing Rock, but that was also why they had redacted all of the information.
After that, the mediator asked me to dismiss my complaint so they could close my case. He said if I want to pursue additional legal action to get the briefing emails and response to resistance report, I would have to submit a new public records request, have that denied, go through mediation again, and likely take it to a trial court, where I would need to counter the state’s arguments as to why these documents can be withheld under the security exemption.
That’s really beyond what I as a citizen without an attorney or time to do detailed legal research can do, and I’m sure they know that. The Dispatch was also denied access to the use of force reports, and unlike me, they have attorneys, so I hope they pursue their case as the Enquirer did.
Three days after my mediation, The Intercept published leaked copies of 13 briefings given by a private security firm called TigerSwan to officers deployed to Standing Rock. The documents are appalling. They show exactly what all of us thought – that police were conducting nothing less than a counter-insurgency operation such as our troops have done in Iraq – only this one was aimed against peaceful American citizens simply trying to protect their water. The report shows how militarized police treated water protectors as jihadist enemy to find, fix and eliminate. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what happened at Standing Rock.
Water protectors march down desecrated sacred ground to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline on October 22, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
Front banner at the March for Science in Washington, DC, on April 22, 2017.
Front banner on the left side of Pennsylvania Avenue at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2015.
Front banner on the right side of Pennsylvania Avenue at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2017.
April is Earth Month – which under a Trump administration means a lot of environmental activism. This year saw two historic marches in Washington, DC, each with sister marches around the country: the March for Science and the People’s Climate March.
A denier dinosaur at the March for Science.
I had planned to go to the March for Science in Columbus, where thousands of people said they planned to attend, then go to Washington for the People’s Climate March. But when a family gathering unexpectedly pulled me to North Carolina, my husband, Paul, and I decided to go to Washington for both marches. It was a grueling but rewarding experience.
The weather at the two marches could not have been more different. On April 22, it was cold, rainy, and windy at the March for Science. I hadn’t brought an umbrella, and ended up buying one from a street vendor. Even so my clothes, shoes and everything inside my backpack got soaked.
Marcher at March for Science.
The rain didn’t seem to depress turnout. We arrived at the Washington Monument as the pre-march rally was getting under way. There was just one checkpoint to have bags searched, and the line to get in ran for dozens of blocks. Instead, we took refuge inside a tent that had wifi, where I plugged in my phone and watched the speakers through the live feed from Democracy Now.
When it came time to march, Paul ran out to get some photos at the front of the lineup. I lingered behind to take photos of people’s signs. The signs were unique and creative, based on specific areas of science or supporting science, facts, and evidence in general. These were people who had spent a long time studying in their fields and were proud of their accomplishments.
A sign left at the Capitol building.
Eventually I worked my way out of the crowd to find the march had already started. So I ran down Constitution Avenue for what seemed like forever, and got in front of the lineup at the intersection with Pennsylvania. There I was able to get a few photos of the parade banner, where if you look closely, you can see Bill Nye and climate scientist Michael Mann leading the charge. I also got 20 minutes of video of the march until my phone batter ran out.
The March for Science ended at the U.S. Capitol, where I continued to get photos of people and their signs. Despite the rain, the mood was happy and defiant. People gathered in drum circles to chant “This is what peer review looks like” and wore dinosaur costumes with signs saying “The meteor is a Chinese hoax.” Many signs were left on the fence of the Capitol building as a message to those inside.
You can see a slideshow of 142 photos I took at the March for Science below.
People’s Climate March
Whereas weather during the March for Science was cold and wet, it was hot and sunny a week later for the People’s Climate March. The temperature hit 91 degrees F, tying a record for April 29 in Washington, DC. Marchers were told to bring sunscreen, which we did. Despite using an SPF 70, the sunscreen sweated off, and I got sunburned enough to peel on my face and arms.
The Indigenous Rights banner at the People’s Climate March.
Still, it was an incredible experience. We arrived an hour before the march began and got to take lots of photos at the lineup on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol building. Environmental justice was a huge theme of the march, with the Protectors of Justice –indigenous communities and people of color who are at the frontlines of climate change – leading the charge.
The CO2LONIALISM wagon at the People’s Climate March.
Some particularly notable displays included the CO2LONIALISM wagon shot full of arrows depicting sovereignty, language, reparations, and feminism; the 10-foot puppet of murdered Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres; and the many colorful parachute banners.
The lineup wound down Pennsylvania Avenue, turning on Third Street in front of the Capitol, then on Jefferson down the Washington Mall. After the Protectors of Justice were
Creators of Sanctuary – immigrants, LGBTQUI, women, Latinos, waterkeepers, food sovereignty and land rights
Builders of Democracy – labor, government, workers, voting rights, and democracy groups
Guardians of the Future – kids, parents, elders, youth, students, and peace activists
Defenders of Truth – scientists, educators, technologists, and health community
Keepers of Faith – religious and interfaith groups
Reshapers of Power – anti-corporate, anti-nuclear, fossil fuel resistance, renewable energy and transportation
Many Struggles, One Home – environmentalists, climate activists, and more
Resist banner near Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.
The next stop for the climate march was the White House. Marchers came up Pennsylvania Avenue, then turned up 15th Street NW to Lafayette Square. On the way they encountered the large “Climate Change Affects Us All” chalkboard that had made its debut at the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, along with the large Mercy for Earth balloon and a display of members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as puppets of the oil industry.
The Climate Change Affects Us All chalkboard made its debut at the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014.
By the time I got to Lafayette Square, I was exhausted. Everyone was sitting down, and I found a place in the shade to rest and put on more sunscreen. Finding my husband took a while, and finding water took even longer. I had long since consumed the water I had brought, and saw no water on the march route. Unfortunately there were only a few street vendors with water, all with long lines. Finally a police officer sitting in his air conditioned SUV gave me a bottle of water. He must have felt sorry for me – and might not have done the same for a person of color.
The climate ribbon display was also in Paris during the 2015 climate conference.
That water allowed me to finish the march and stay for the rally at the Washington Monument, full circle from where we had begun the week before at the March for Science. The rally featured indigenous leaders, music, and a long list of speakers including the children who had touched off resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline by running from Standing Rock to Washington, DC.
The climate ribbon tree that I saw at the climate conference in Paris was there, with people hanging ribbons for what they did not want to lose to climate change. Then everyone left their signs in front of the Washington Monument arranged to spell out “Climate Jobs Justice.” The crowd was buzzed a couple of times by low-flying helicopters from the White House.
You can see a slideshow of 170 photos I took at the People’s Climate March below.
A marcher at the rally after the People’s Climate March.
What do these two marches mean? First, they show the widespread public support for policy based on science and evidence, and for action to address climate change. About 1.1 million people marched for science on April 22, with 100,000 in Washington, DC. Over 200,000 people marched for climate in Washington on April 29, with 370 sister marches around the country.
Polls show that the vast majority of people think science has improved their lives and support public funding for science, while concern for climate change is at an eight-year high. Large majorities of Americans, including a majority of Trump voters, support action on climate.
A sign left at the U.S. Capitol after the March for Science.
Fortunately, we don’t need Trump to start taking action on climate. Some things you can do in your individual life include:
Bike, walk, or take public transportation to work
Trade your gas car for a hybrid or electric vehicle
Get an energy audit for your home
Ask your utility about energy from renewables
Eat less meat or eliminate meat consumption altogether
You can also act to change things on a collective level. Some ideas are:
Join the Sierra Club or another environmental group and sign up for action alerts. Sierra Club has a rapid response team to keep you posted on actions and events in your area.
Save phone numbers for your U.S. and state representatives into the favorites on your phone so you can call them quickly and easily when news breaks out.
Find and follow your local Indivisible or progressive group on social media.
A sign left near the Washington Monument after the People’s Climate March.
One promising front in the climate campaign is cities. Urban areas are responsible for 70% of carbon emissions, and 90% of cities are at risk from climate change. At the Paris climate conference, 1000 cities across the world pledged to go 100% renewable by 2050. Now that movement is coming to the United States with the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign. So far 28 cities and one state have committed to going 100% renewable, with discussions in dozens more.
Although things seem so bleak right now that scientists have to come out of their labs and Native American grandmothers into the streets, it’s times like this that show us what we are made of. I was heartened by the massive participation, creative signs, and visionary art at the March for Science and People’s Climate March. Millions of Americans are not going to let the current administration exploit the planet and destabilize the climate without a major fight.
Almost 1000 people participated in Climate Reality training, March 1-4 in Denver. Click on photo to enlarge it.
Ten years ago when An Inconvenient Truth came out, I like so many other people became aware of the climate crisis. The movie ended with 10 things each of us could do to help stop global warming, and I did all of them: changed my light bulbs, took shorter showers, started recycling.
Yet now the climate crisis is worse than ever. Each of the last three years has been the hottest on record. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest point since the age of the dinosaurs. Oceans are 30 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution, the fastest chemistry change in 50 million years. Glaciers worldwide are melting, the jet stream is wobbling, and ocean currents are slowing down.
I was lucky to get this pic with Al Gore at the Cedar Rapids airport in May 2015. No he doesn’t fly around on private jets. Photo by Brian Ettling
Clearly individual action is not enough. So two years ago, I attended my first Climate Reality training with Al Gore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to find out what else I could do. There I met hundreds of climate leaders from around the world and started learning about climate in depth.
Here are some mind-blowing facts:
The energy trapped by man-made global warming pollution is now equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days a year.
Extreme hot days are now 150 times more common than 30 years ago.
2016 was the 40th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average.
93 percent of the extra heat trapped by manmade global warming pollution goes into the oceans.
Seven 1,000-year floods have occurred in the United States in the last seven years.
A 1ºC mean temperature rise decreases wheat yields by 21 percent.
Water scarcity now affects 40 percent of the world’s population.
Air pollution kills 6.5 million people worldwide every year.
Land-based plant and animal species are moving poleward at a rate of 15 feet per day.
We have lost more than half of the world’s wildlife in the last 40 years.
My Ohio mentees at Climate Reality training in Denver.
I came out of the Iowa training determined to tackle the problem of climate change in a much more systematic way, through action on the local, state and national level. The first thing I did was join the Sierra Club, which helped me get to the People’s Climate March, testify about the Clean Power Plan, and lobby my state legislators on returning Ohio’s clean energy standards.
In December 2015 I went to Paris for two weeks as part of the Sierra Club delegation during the COP 21 climate conference. At the time, no climate agreement had included developing countries, and no one knew if almost 200 nations would come together to make it happen. But they did, and I came back full of hope that the climate crisis would finally be addressed.
My California mentees at Climate Reality training in Denver.
A year later, after the 2016 election, I knew I had to get back to climate activism. In January, Climate Reality announced a new training in Denver, so I applied to go – this time not as a participant but a mentor. I was thrilled to be accepted and get 20 mentees from Ohio and California.
At mentor training the day before the conference, I learned that 2,700 people had applied for 900 slots. My list of mentees was full of accomplished people – among them, a city councilwoman from Cuyahoga Falls, a county commissioner from San Jose, a staffer for Ohio EPA, a former staffer for Florida Department of Transportation who left for a job at Google after the governor told employees they couldn’t discuss climate change, a doctor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and a high-school student from Marin School of Environmental Leadership.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and Isa Caress performed their new song “Break Free” at Climate Reality conference in Denver. Photo by Jill MacIntyre Witt
On the first day we saw Al Gore give his entire slideshow, “The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions,” based on his presentation from An Inconvenient Truth. Gore updates this slideshow constantly, with many slides containing graphics and videos from recent events. This was followed by a panel discussion on responding to the impacts of climate change, featuring first responders, emergency managers, and community leaders on the front lines in Colorado.
Only the first half of Gore’s presentation is about the problem of climate change. If it stopped there, we would have been left hopeless, but it didn’t. The second half covered the incredible takeoff of renewable technologies. Here are a few facts:
In 2016, $58.6 billion was invested in clean energy in the United States.
Wind energy capacity has grown 16 times faster than 2000 projections.
The United States now has 75 gigawatts of wind power installed, enough to power 20 million homes.
Globally there is enough wind energy to supply electricity consumption 40 times over.
Solar energy capacity has grown 77 times faster than 2000 projections.
The cost of solar cells has fallen from $79.40 per watt in 1976 to 41 cents per watt now.
Solar installation has gone from 4 megawatts in 2000 to 35,800 megawatts now.
Enough solar energy hits the earth every hour to fill the world’s energy needs for a year.
Renewables accounted for 90 percent of new electricity generation worldwide in 2015.
The subsidy-free cost of solar and wind is now less than gas, coal or nuclear.
We also heard from Leah Greenberg, co-author of Indivisible, a guide by former Congressional staffers of best practices for making your elected representatives listen. The day ended with a performance by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and his sister Isa Caress, indigenous hip hop artists. Xiuhtezcatl is also a plaintiff in the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit of 21 children against the federal government for not fulfilling its public trust to protect the climate for future generations.
Al Gore’s photo with youth trainees at the Climate Reality conference in Denver.
Day 2 featured an incredible panel of scientists including Kevin Trenberth, climate scientist with NOAA; Henry Pollack, geophysicist at University of Michigan; and Don Henry, director of Climate Reality in Australia.
They talked about the impacts of various types of greenhouse gases, the most prevalent denier claims and how to respond (check out Skeptical Science), political forces aligned against climate action (see Merchants of Doubt), the Montreal Protocol that phased out ozone-destroying CFCs as a model for climate action, how to get coal country on board (clean energy jobs), and the outlook for carbon capture and sequestration (too expensive for coal plants to implement), nuclear (too slow and expensive for our needs), and fracking (methane leakage and risks to water make it untenable, and we should just leapfrog to renewables).
We also heard about best practices for communicating climate change from Ngiste Abebe of Aulenor Consulting, and Jon Shenk and Diane Weyermann of Participant Media, who talked with Al Gore about making An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power, which premieres July 28.
The 2017 Denver mentors get their photo with Climate Reality Chairman Al Gore and CEO Ken Berlin.
Day 3 began with a survey of the political landscape after the election of Trump by Ken Berlin, president of the Climate Reality Project. One point Berlin made is that Trump can’t just roll back climate rules or even agency budgets without new rules and action from Congress, and that environmental activists and groups will be fighting his anti-climate agenda every step of the way.
We heard from Director of Engagement Olena Alec about what we as climate leaders could do, with slides of actions by current climate leaders, including two people I had trained with in Iowa, Doug Grandt presenting to a room of fifth-graders and Ina Warren conducting a monarch workshop.
Al Gore recognizes leaders of cities and universities that have committed to going 100% renewable. Photo by Bill Trueit.
Gore then presented awards to representatives of several cities that have recently committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. Climate Reality’s 100% Committed campaign is working with Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign to bring on dozens of new cities by 2018. Stay tuned – this could be coming soon to a city near you.
Next was a presentation by Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, that explained both the technology and economics behind the unstoppable rise of renewable energy over expensive, outdated and polluting fossil fuels, followed by a livestreamed panel of Climate Reality leaders talking with Al Gore about their experiences.
Mentees at the very first training in Al Gore’s barn in 2006 for what was then called the Climate Project. Photo by Keith Bergman.
Over lunch the mentors got to meet Al Gore in person. I had gotten my photo with Gore at the Iowa training in 2015 – purely by luck meeting him at the airport – so this time I took photos for other people. Some of the other first-time mentors were thrilled, while the longtime mentors caught Gore up on their latest news. Two mentors in Denver, Keith Bergman and Bill Bradbury, had been among 50 people at the very first training in 2006 at Gore’s barn in Carthage, Tenn.
The afternoon was filled with breakout sessions on topics like public lands, the water/energy nexus, putting on sustainable events, but after an intensive four days of training, I took a couple of hours for myself before commencement at which I gave certificates and Green Rings to my mentees. I’ll be following up with them throughout the year, hoping to arrange a meetup for the Ohio mentees this summer. We now have at least a dozen Climate Reality leaders in the state.
The last day of Climate Reality training in Denver. My tables were in the back of the room that day.
Al Gore’s closing remarks to the conference summed up why I’m in the climate movement. Climate change, he said, is a moral challenge in the tradition of other moral issues of our time such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, civil rights, apartheid, and most recently gay marriage. These movements encounter roadblock after roadblock, until finally they succeed.
“When any great moral challenge is resolved into a binary choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is foreordained because of who we are as human beings,” Gore said. “That is where we are now, and that is why we are going to win this. We have everything we need. Some still doubt we have the will to act, but I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource.”
The Climate Reality Project has now held 35 trainings for over 11,000 climate leaders from around the world, and they are still going strong. This is a unique opportunity to learn about the most pressing crisis facing the planet, and how to make change even in a hostile political environment. It’s also a chance to meet some amazing people you will be in contact with for years. If you are concerned about climate change, this is a program you won’t want to miss.
A multiperson banner near the Washington Monument at the Women’s March.
I have read my entire life about Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, which happened the year I was born. When I first heard about the Women’s March on Washington, I knew it would be just as historic, and that I didn’t want to miss it.
Part of our contingent from Columbus, Ohio, in the subway headed to the march.
I managed to get a seat on the “Rolling into Washington” tour, operated by Rise Travel, which conducts advocacy and education travel to rallies around the country. Time on the bus went quickly as we listened to workshops with state Rep. Teresa Fedor and former Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy, watched films like Suffragette and She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry about the fight for women’s rights, and got to know our seatmates.
When we got on the metro into downtown DC, I started to get the feeling the march would surpass all expectations. Even at 6 a.m. at the outermost stop, the station was packed. By the time we made our way to the Washington Mall, it too was getting packed.
One of several signs about climate change that I saw at the march.
As more people poured into the mall, it became so full we could barely move. Yet somehow everyone was nice to each other, letting people by one at a time, and pointing out possible stumbling hazards like steps in the sidewalk or tree roots sticking up.
Unfortunately we couldn’t get near the speakers, but at least I saw them on CSPAN when I got home. We did hear the event was so crowded – at least half a million people with some estimates at 1.5 million – that they cancelled the march itself because the route was filled.
Around noon I got hungry and left to find lunch. It took a half hour to get to the Air and Space Museum at the other end of the mall, another half hour to get in, and another half hour in line, but eventually I ate.
I took the opportunity of the journey to get photos of as many signs as I could. The signs were colorful and creative, on all kinds of topics. I was especially heartened to see a lot of signs about the importance of taking care of the climate and environment.
Signs left outside Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.
After lunch I found people were marching spontaneously down Pennsylvania Avenue. I turned a corner and found the Old Post Office had been converted into a Trump hotel. Hundreds of people had spontaneously left their signs on the fence in front as calling cards for the new president.
Despite the crowds and confusion, the mood of the march was joyous and resolute. People had come to Washington depressed and in some cases in despair. What they found was hundreds of thousands of others who had the same American values they did, and who were not going to let their values be run over without a fight.
One sign summed it all up: “In this house we believe Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, No Human is Illegal, Science is Real, Love is Love, and Kindness is Everything.”
I and lots of others left Washington that night with a new emotion going into the Trump era: Hope in our fellow Americans.