“All revolutions start from the ground up. We are remaking the future right now.” In a large room, full of fleeces and outdoor gear at Patagonia Clothing Company in Downtown Ventura, Mary Anne Hitt utters these words to a group of one hundred local and eager environmentalists who gathered to hear from one of the most powerful environmental activists in the country. As I sit there and soak in her words I am reminded of a short environmental documentary I saw a few days earlier titled, Joshua Tree: Threatened Wonderland. Both the documentary and the activist panel at Patagonia reinforced the notion of the fragileness of the environment, and how if we don’t start making major changes we can, and will, impact Mother Nature in irreversible ways.
Over the last twenty years, Patagonia has been putting on a “Tools Conference” where experts in the environmental field provide training on how to make activists more effective. However, the conference is invitation only, so for people like me, and anyone else looking to make a difference for the environment, they published a book titled Tools for Grassroots Activists: Best Practices for Success in the Environmental Movement. Last Thursday evening, as part of a tour release for the book, Patagonia hosted noted environmental activists Mary Anne Hitt and Owen Bailey. Hitt, who is the national director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, and Bailey, who is the Executive Director of the Environmental Defense Center, spoke passionately about environmental activism and what it takes to tackle climate change. More specifically, both Hitt and Bailey spoke about the role of organization and inspiring people, in the hopes of making a difference in our political and geographical landscape.
“Being right isn’t enough. To win we must organize.” Bailey recalled how in 2007, he organized a rally that brought together over 2,000 individuals to city hall in Oxnard to protest the building of a liquefied natural gas terminal. The proposed terminal was set to have major ecological ramifications for Ventura and Los Angeles County. One environmental effect that stuck out was that 215 tons of smog-forming air pollutants would have been emitted annually from this terminal and, with the help of wind, those pollutants would have made their way to Los Angeles, the smoggiest city in the nation.
Hitt had her own battle to fight. She fought the big boys- coal companies in West Virginia, Indiana, and Kentucky. As she stated Thursday night, “Coal is the biggest contributor of air pollution, the biggest contributor of water pollution, and has the largest impact on climate change. I like to think of the current coal companies as the old tobacco companies. Over time if we continue to put pressure on them to change their ways and show the impact of their product not only on people, but also on the environment, then things will change. Luckily, we are seeing that happen now.” Over the past five years, Hitt’s Beyond Coal Campaign has closed a coal plant every ten days for the past five years. On top of that, the United States has seen its dependence on coal drop close to fifteen percent over the past ten years alone (!) (Coal used to generate over 50% of US power, but as of last Thursday, Hitt said that number is at 38% and dwindling daily.)
Both Hitt and Bailey are the extremes. The crusaders. They spend their lives fighting for the environment, and luckily for all of us, they are making a difference. But what can we do for the environment? I remember being in college taking an environmental writing course in which I presented about the atrocity of the BP Oil Spill. I did well with the presentation and shared valuable knowledge with my classmates, but I asked myself, 'who cares?' What did that do for the environment? As I share this information now, I ask myself the same question- ‘how is this helping the environment?’ Having information is crucial to making a difference in anything, but that information means little unless action is taken. Supporting environmental organizations like Greenpeace, getting involved with local environmental organizations, and doing the simple things like turning off the lights, not wasting water (especially in drought stricken Southern California), carpooling, biking or using public transportation to work, or reusing bags for groceries all work. Not all of these options may be feasible, but becoming conscious of our carbon footprint, and how we are impacting the environment on a daily basis, is something that all of us need to begin thinking about. With Earth Day 2016 one week away, it’s time to make changes. As Owen Bailey passionately stated to everyone in the room Thursday evening: “Passive people don’t bring change. Let’s work together so we can bring change to our local communities.”
Hitt also finished her talk with a call to action, and that's where I will leave you: “We have to create milestones and benchmarks to defeat climate change. We can do this in our personal lives, communities, and nationwide. We all play a part in this. If I learned anything [from Beyond Coal] it’s that we can win. We can stop climate change.”