Gianna Andrews: Hope & Fear in Helena

state capitol Helena

photo taken by Gianna Andrews

Surviving the stifling heat in Helena, Montana, spurred the WRFI cycling group into discussions about climate change and policy. In the meetings we attended today we were given glimpses of fear, negativity, and hope. Enduring the hot weather, we all hoped that the forecast would be correct in calling for cooler temperatures later in the week. We were also fearful of the implications of the above 90 degree heat snap, possibly representing signs of a rapidly shifting climate.

In a meeting with Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC), we discussed how coal companies are fighting to mine Otter Creek, and ways in which the nonprofit organization is campaigning to stop them. The companies want to ship coal to Asia from the mine, and in order to do this they will have to build a railroad, ports, and the infrastructure to ship the coal across the ocean. “Corporations are getting the money, Asia is getting the energy, Montanans are paying the tabs,” stated Page, Community Organizer for NPRC. Coal use is negative for many reasons including health impacts, coal dust, and contributing to the carbon footprint, as well as disrupting communities. Northern Plains is using a generally negative campaign strategy with fear as its center piece to get a reaction from the public and unite people against these corporations. “Negativity wins with the American electorate,” stated Clayton, NPRC’s Lead Lobbyist.

Northern Plains feels that impacts on the negative impacts of coal trains are the most effective way to influence people in this situation. The area in which the companies want to develop for mining in the Powder River Basin is a beautiful natural place; it would be a shame for a mine to be developed there. I wonder if there is some type of positive promotion that could be done to build a hope for the future with natural habitat and renewable energies versus images filled with gloom, smoggy skies, and railways going straight through town.  Maybe the location’s pristine beauty could be promoted in Northern Plains’ materials. This at least would catch my attention.

In the heat of the day, the WRFI group was lucky enough to meet with a positive, hopeful perspective on climate change, head of Montana’s DEQ, Tracy Stone-Manning.  From nonprofit staff to policy makers, Tracy was certainly the most poised of them all. She recognizes all of the troubles and issues that America is facing while keeping a positive outlook and doing everything she can to make it a better place. She believes that “America should be leading the way on the charge” to a renewable energy future. However, part of the problem she recognizes is that communication between scientists and the American public is very poor, “the environmental community needs to get better at sociability,” Tracy stated.

Getting the word out there about the changing climate in a way that people can understand it is difficult. Just as Northern Plains is attempting to stop coal companies with their campaign, Tracy believes that to “stop China from using coal, make it irrelevant.” However, the public needs to be knowledgeable enough to know that coal is bad news, and not beneficial in any way. I wonder if it is possible to spread this message in a hopeful way like Tracy believes. In a hope for our future, and for our planet, I realize that we definitely need an alternative energy plan to move away from coal. If Northern Plains could put their energy into promoting this, that might give people a better idea of the work that needs to be done.

Today, the weather spiked over 90 degrees in the month of June. I wonder how much more frequently this will be happening if our dependence on coal is not terminated and our hope for the future doesn’t spur us to action. Yes, there are many negative and scary problems that we are facing, but how else will we change anything if we don’t hope and strive for a better tomorrow?

photo by Chase Olsen

photo by Chase Olsen

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This entry was posted in Cycle the Rockies, Fresh from the Field by lizveazey. Bookmark the permalink.

About lizveazey

Liz is a North Carolina native who first became involved in college organizing around clean energy.  She cofounded the Energy Action Coalition (EAC) in 2004 and was involved in the youth climate movement through 2008 including helping to start the international youth climate blog: www.itsgettinghotinhere.org and co-chairing of the EAC Steering Committee from 2006-2008.  She directed the Southern Energy Network, a founding member of EAC, from 2006-09. She has collaborated with a number of community, state, regional and national organizations on fighting new dirty energy facilities and promoting cleaner energy alternatives.  Through her work she became more interested in broader social justice issues, and her involvement with social justice in Knoxville connected her with the Highlander Research and Education Center, where she has been a board member since 2008 (www.highlandercenter.org). Currently, she is pursuing a masters degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon, but she hopes to soon return to the South. During the summer of 2013, she co-taught the Cycle the Rockies course with the Wild Rockies Field Institute (http://www.wrfi.net).

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