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Even Giants Need Help

Climate Crisis Sparks Urgency To Act

By Tracey MacDermott, GPHC, Inc. Board Chair

“With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live.”

— Sylvia Earle

Photo of the author and her wife, Heather Shockey, with Dr. Sylvia Earle in the middle. Photo courtesy of Tracey MacDermott

In late June I had the opportunity to attend a few days of the Aspen Institute’s IDEAS Festival. The Aspen Institute defines the event as a “premier gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times.”

Speakers included Cory Booker, Katie Couric, David Brooks, Amy Walter and Sylvia Earle. I went to as many talks as my schedule would allow. The talent was overwhelming and mindboggling at times.

I was eager to attend any talk that focused on solving our climate crisis. This is where Dr. Earle comes in. Her love of the oceans began in 1953 as a kid diving near her family’s home in Florida. Now a world-renowned marine biologist, she is leading the way to save what is left of our oceans. She took the stage with Barbara Block a professor of marine science from Stanford University, along with Esau Sinnok from Alaska, who is working to save his village from the perils of climate change, and others.

To sit among individuals whose life work has been to save this planet and human beings place on it is humbling. Dr. Earle’s goals are to restore the health of the oceans and protect our oceans in the same way we have protected some of our lands. She wasted no time getting to the point when speaking about our oceans. “The ocean is in trouble, so we are in trouble,” she said.

After her presentation I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Earle for a few minutes. I asked, how do I get people from a landlocked state like Colorado to understand that what we do here ultimately affects our oceans. “When you figure that out, call me,” she said.

As we continued to talk one thing was clear: We need to keep talking, but we also need to act now. Some of that action comes through awareness and making changes in our own lives. Whether it is the trash we ignore on the street, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, or consumer choices we make, all impact our waterways and ultimately the “blue heart” – as Dr. Earle refers to the oceans.

Most people, she noted, do not know the ocean is in trouble. Half of the coral reefs are gone, but half are still in pretty good shape. So, while there is some hope, it is not without stressing the urgency to act. (Check out Earle’s website at mission-blue.org.)

“The power exists to leave the world a better place than we found it,” she said. “It does exist but we have to hurry. No ocean, no life. No ocean, no us.”

Listening to Dr. Earle and the other panelists, I realized I was sitting amongst giants. It will be their shoulders in which humanity will be standing if we can turn this around. But even giants need help. This is where the rest of us come in.

As citizens, we have to hold our elected officials accountable. Several weeks before the IDEAS festival, President Trump had pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement (also called the Paris Accord), drawing international and national derision.

Immediately after Trump pulled out, 30 U.S. mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses pledged their continued commitment to the Paris Accord, committing to cut greenhouse emissions and reverse the effects of global warming. Here in Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper was not among those who immediately pledged.

Three weeks later, Hickenlooper held an intimate chat with attendees at the IDEAS festival. The stunning, breathtaking Maroon Bells served as his background.  At the end of his talk I asked the governor why the State of Colorado had not yet committed to the Paris Accord. The governor provided a long explanation – the gist was, that he believed it was better for states to come out one by one versus all of them together.

I am grateful that the governor, almost two weeks later, did ultimately commit Colorado to the Paris Climate Agreement. But there is more work to be done.

In a recently published article in Rolling Stone magazine, Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, addressed what politicians must do if they are serious about climate change. With that in mind, I have incorporated McKibben’s call to action in a follow-up email I recently sent to Gov. Hickenlooper. The following is what I requested:

1) Commit to 100 percent renewable energy. This is a true test if a politician is serious about this commitment.

2) Keep fossil fuels in the ground. Yes, this means that Colorado needs and must stop being a leader for the fracking industry. No new pipelines, no new fracking wells, no new coal plants.

3) Acknowledge that natural gas is a dangerous fuel. Yes natural gas is “cleaner” than coal but not when you account for methane in the process, as it is a potent greenhouse gas. Pretending that natural gas is “clean” is merely a spin used by the fossil fuel industry, similar to the tobacco spin decades ago. Colorado is leading the fracking industry, second only to Texas. We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground and put our resources into renewables. This means we need our politicians to stand up to the fossil fuel industry if they are serious about this promise to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement. We cannot afford to continue with dirty fuels. We need to quickly move onto renewable fuels.

As citizens, we cannot expect this all to be fixed by our elected officials. We must be a part and that comes from making changes in our own lives. Time is short. We have to act and we need to hold ourselves – as well as our politicians – accountable. We have future generations who need us now.

Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Active in the Registered Neighborhood Organization for many years, MacDermott was the 2012 recipient of the Dr. J. Carlton Babbs Award for Community Service. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017.


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