By K. C. Golden
The first snow falls on Sandy Butte and Thompson Ridge like soothing ice on a raw burn, a cool drink for a desperately thirsty landscape. But the smell of the burn is fresh. Images of torches on the horizon still leap up in our minds. The flames have died for now, but the urgent message of escalating fires and floods is landing loud and clear. Too slowly but surely, climate action is on the rise.
World leaders are gathered now in Glasgow, Scotland, now for the first big climate summit since the 2015 Paris Accord. Meanwhile, in Congress, legislators are grinding forward on a major bill – the Build Back Better Act – that could significantly accelerate climate solutions, including major rural clean energy and fire resilience initiatives. Congress’ success or failure will shape the outcome of the Glasgow talks; the U.S. has contributed more to global warming than any other nation, so the rest of the world won’t get very far until the U.S. steps up.
These big global and national developments are critically important. But it’s never the right time to wait for “leaders.” The U.N. and Congress are clunky, slow-moving beasts on a good day. They’re too beholden to the entrenched economic power of the fossil fuel industries that create the problem, so they’re never aggressive enough about solutions. When we hold them accountable, their actions can measure and codify our determination to build a brighter future. But they don’t drive our fierce love of our place and our kids. They don’t create our will to act on that love. That comes straight from us: people, communities, social movements. Gandhi was right: When the people lead, the leaders will follow.
Around the world, the movement for climate justice is growing broader and louder. Over 600 people were arrested in climate protests in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, led by indigenous water protectors fighting expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure on their lands. Youth climate leaders are organizing mass protests in over 1,400 locations around the world as negotiators arrive in Glasgow. And while millions march and protest, many more are speaking with their wallets. The fossil fuel divestment movement has now turned $40 trillion in investment capital away from fossil fuels. For scale, that’s more than the annual economic output of the U.S. and China combined — real money, ditching the problem and moving toward solutions. In 1980, oil and gas made up almost 30% of the S&P stock index. Today, it’s 3%.
And there’s an even bigger, if quieter, movement gathering in our homes and businesses and communities. Twisp got a taste of it on Sept. 25, with the launch of the Methow Valley Climate Action Plan. It’s a great local guide to climate solutions – analytically sound, organized for action, and built around local wisdom and initiative.
At the launch event at TwispWorks, the plan came alive in short presentations by a broad range of neighbors who are already doing the work, and eager to do more:
Stella Gitchos represented Liberty Bell’s Youth Climate Action Group, young leaders bringing fresh energy and bold ideas to the fight for climate solutions.
Liz Walker outlined Clean Air Methow’s critical work addressing the health impacts of smoke – a growing public health emergency, closely tied to the climate crisis.
Shannon Polson from Friends of the Winthrop Library gave the most compelling climate justice speech in the history of library advocacy. Who knew?!
Katie Haven challenged us to rebuild the power of public institutions to tackle big problems like climate change by running for elected office.
Sarah Thomas described how the Methow Housing Trust is addressing one of our biggest community equity challenges while modeling fire-ready construction practices that save energy and reduce emissions.
The Methow Beaver Project. The Town of Twisp Tree Board. C6 Biochar. The Mazama Store. Fire Adapted Methow Valley — sleeves rolled up, making the Methow more resilient to climate change and reducing our contribution to the problem.
Methow At Home, Methow Recycles, Methow Cycle and Sport, Methow Ready, Methow Salmon Recovery, Methow Trails, Methow Conservancy … all of them engaged in imagining and delivering climate solutions in our community.
The Colville Confederated Tribes, the towns of Twisp, Winthrop and Pateros, the University of Washington and hundreds of citizens and businesses contributed to the planning process. As much as any climate action plan anywhere, it’s a truly collaborative product – by, for, and of this community.
In the global scheme of things, our local actions are small. But when all the big stuff is said and done – the treaties signed and laws written – the real nuts and bolts of actually doing this thing will still be here at home, where we grow our food and power our communities and transport our bodies and goods. We’ll have to keep pushing hard on national leaders to deliver the policies and resources we need, but their progress will always be a lagging indicator of our own resolve.
From Glasgow to Methow, Wall Street to Glover Street, climate action is gaining steam. Is it enough? Can we rest easy knowing help is on the way? Can we, as the Twisp Feed sign asks, “get back to precedented times?” Not hardly.
But the lightning of climate action has struck, and around the world, it’s gathering into a wildfire of positive, desperately needed change.
Find out more and get involved at ResilientMethow.org.
K.C. Golden is a former Energy Policy Director for Washington state, serving on the boards of 350.org and Evergreen Action.