No place is too small to make a difference - Greta Thunberg
At the end of my first cross-country bike tour, two companions and I settled in to Crested Butte for a ski-bumming winter. This was in early 1991, just as the George Bush Sr. Gulf War was about to start. Anxiety about that coming conflict tainted our anticipation of a great Colorado winter. When we heard there was a march to protest the war my friends and I eagerly joined in.
I made signs saying “Make Turns Not War!” and mounted them on ski poles. We got a photo on the front page the Crested Butte Chronicle and Pilot, and I considered my part of the struggle mostly done. Of course, that very short war happened, and spawned much longer ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, authored by George Bush Jr. My country used my taxes to invade countries on false pretenses, in wars that cost and diminished millions of lives and destabilized a critical region for decades. My part was not done.
Back then climate change was barely known outside scientific circles. But our 90’s war protest cries of “NO BLOOD FOR OIL!” are strangely relevant again. Now the battle over fossil fuels has now shifted from who can profit from burning them to how to stop anyone from burning them at all.
After a couple days of reveling in the mountains with my Missoula friend Erik, I rode back into town in time for a climate change protest organized by the Gunnison Valley Climate Crisis Coalition. I emailed Dana, one of the organizers, from the library courtyard. As I hit send, I overheard two women discussing the climate rally from just inside the building. When a bright, grey-haired woman emerged I asked, “Are you Dana?” She was. Small town serendipity.
Dana and I, and a hundred or so others met at the 4-way stop on one end of town. Dana coached us on our climate chants - “No More Gas! No More Oil! Keep the Carbon in the Soil!” - and badgered us to scan a QR code on our phones. The code led to a page of information on local climate actions and resources. Later we collectively pledged to take at least one action per day. That’s smart organizing in a small town - where it’s easier for a few motivated people to make an outsized impact.
Down Elk Avenue we marched; oldsters and youngsters, in strollers or on bikes or striding along with bright climate action signs held high. We interrupted street-side diners and window-shopping Texans - “Green the Grid! Electrify Everything!” - and for our efforts earned mostly surprised smiles and a few new slogan chanters.
A cold cloudbank moved in while we marched, and by the time we got to Rainbow Park for music and speakers, most people’s clothes were inadequate. But they mostly stayed put (shivering) for some impassioned speeches by young activists, climate scientists, engineers, water managers, and regenerative agriculture researchers. A seasoned local band provided taut climate-themed songs in between talks.
I was so glad I had delayed my departure for the march. I met the same kind of smart, joyful, aggrieved, and active Crested Butte community that I found here 30 years ago. It felt right to arrive by bicycle again and to see at a human pace the landscape that inspires such passion for a livable world.
Despite that passion, speaking out publicly on global issues can feel odd in a small town. What notice could the world take of this tiny protest? Just as our protest against the Gulf War I didn’t stop anything, could we expect anything different from this climate march? These questions go to a deeper insecurity about any individual activism - how can any one person make a meaningful difference?
My answer is that we live in complex interconnected networks, and we never know what the ripples we start or amplify will do. It may take months or decades, it could start here or on another continent, but the sparks can catch and spread. We surely know that if we hide our light, if we do nothing to ignite a change in how we live, those absolutely necessary changes will fade to nothing. Greta Thunberg was just a lonely kid sitting outside her school a few years ago.
Earlier in the tour I talked with an excellent group in Wyoming, the Lander Climate Action Network. They have taken up the task of moving the needle on climate action and awareness in coal-dominated Wyoming. I know there are other groups I passes by in Helena, Livingston, Jackson, Frisco, Leadville, and Buena Vista. Each of these lights on the Western landscape point toward better futures. Who knows what they will build, amplify, and inspire? I hope you will join them in advocating strongly for the future of our shared climate. See links below for ideas.
Some great individual climate actions can be found here.
But social and political actions usually have greater impact than individual choices. That means calling or writing your representatives.
What to write about? Congress is deciding right now about what will be in the giant reconciliation bill that carries most of our hopes for broad national action on climate change. Here is a summary of current climate legislation.
Some local links to excellent organizations doing this work:
Gunnison and Crested Butte, CO www.gunnisonvalleyclimate.com/
High Country Conservation Advocates https://www.hccacb.org/
Lander Climate Action Network landercan.org
Climate Smart Missoula www.missoulaclimate.org
MT Env Info Center, Helena MT meic.org/our-work/climate-energy
High Country Conservation Center https://highcountryconservation.org/climate-action-plan/