In the cozy atmosphere of a coffee shop basement, Athens activists and community members discussed efforts being made at the local and national level to mitigate the effects of climate change, even though only a select few attendees recognized they’ll be the ones still living to see the results.
At Donuts With Democrats on March 9, a monthly community gathering hosted by Athens-Clarke County Democrats, environmentalism and climate change activism was the theme at Walker’s Coffee and Pub that morning. McEver Dugan, with Athens Earth Strike, and Cary Ritzler, representing Citizens’ Climate Lobby, spoke about their respective organizations’ approaches to addressing climate change as the primary concern of this generation.
“Knowing that there's other intelligent, caring people that I can resonate with and synergize with, that’s powerful.”
—Kathy Stege, Donuts with Democrats attendee
Attendees got the chance to hear about and discuss the best methods in the fight for legislative action. For some, the meeting also served as a space for inspiration.
“I spent my time in research papers and out in the woods, and not engaged. So this is a whole new phase for me,” said attendee Kathy Stege. “Knowing that there's other intelligent, caring people that I can resonate with and synergize with, that’s powerful.”
Ritzler and Dugan provided very different perspectives on what should be done to address climate change. While the newly-introduced Earth Strike chapter places focus on worldwide demonstrations, the Athens chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby is hyper-focused on passing a specific piece of bipartisan legislation.
“The bipartisanship, I think, would be weakened if we were all out on the street yelling and holding signs, and then trying to walk into the office the next day and say ‘Hi, we’re here to talk about legislation,’” Ritzler said.
On the other hand, Dugan said it’s important to separate oneself from the systems of power that uphold the issues her organization is trying to address. While she recognizes the importance of a bipartisan approach and believes this is also necessary for change, Dugan sees more value in the mobilization of communities worldwide.
“There’s always going to be compromise, lowering your demands, and it upholds the same system that put us in this issue in the first place,” Dugan said regarding pursuing legislation changes.
CCL chapters across the country are working on passing the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act,” H.R 7173, in the Senate. It was introduced in the House last November. Essentially, the bill seeks to impose a tax on producers and importers of any carbon-based fuel that would increase each year, in the hopes of deterring the further production of greenhouse gasses from non-renewables like oil, coal and gas.
Money collected from the tax would go into a Carbon Dividend Trust Fund in which money would be “used for administrative expenses and dividend payments to U.S. citizens or lawful residents.”
Ritzler said she thinks this bill represents the “best chance of getting something done the quickest.” However, she stands behind the efforts of groups like Earthstrike, because, in her eyes, any actions that spark change are commendable.
“We’re all working for the same thing, so we respect … like I respect everyone's different approach to the problem,” Ritzler said. “And I can’t wait to see the one that works.”
As well as her work with CCL, Ritzler is also working behind the 100% Athens initiative, a local piece of a national effort headed by the Sierra Club to get local leadership on board with renewable energy plans for their cities. Mayor Kelly Girtz signed a Mayors for 100% Clean Energy pledge on Feb. 4.
In order to achieve funding, 100% Athens representatives proposed SPLOST 2020 Project 84, asking for $17 million to fund a multitude of subprojects.
Ritzler isn’t worried about funding, but more so about having the ACC community stand behind the initiative. She said the money spent on the program would replenish itself through the savings from renewable energy sources implemented in the city.
“Dealing with the complications of switching an energy system, it’s not going to be the path of least resistance,” Ritzler said.
Both speakers addressed questions and concerns during a Q&A session. Attendees asked about the viability of large-scale change from the existing power grid relied on by so many to one powered strictly by renewable energy. Both Ritzler and Dugan imposed the idea they feel is viable: a small-scale approach to energy use, where businesses and communities would develop their own infrastructure for energy production, rather than relying on big industry.
Regardless of how it's accomplished, change needs to come fast, Dugan said.
“Our lives are on the line,” she said.
Dugan, a 19-year-old, was aware that her audience was from an older demographic. In regards to how Earth Strike’s more aggressive approach might reflect the wants of the generation she belongs to, Dugan recognizes that an overall sense of impatience might be a factor.
“Our generation, the younger generations, have grown up knowing about climate change and fearing climate change,” Dugan said. “There’s just that difference in awareness and personal threat that mobilizes the younger people more so than the older people”
On April 27, Athens Earth Strike will host a march which Dugan said will go to city hall to express the demands of their organization. Beginning Sept. 27, a worldwide strike will take place under the national Earth Strike organization, where those involved in the strike are being asked to leave the workforce and schools “until our demands are met,” according to the Earth Strike website.