Truth to Power: How we Educated our Local Officials on the Issue of Climate Change

Written by Pam Dehmer from Harford County Climate Action

Our group aims to lessen Harford County’s carbon footprint and adapt to the effects of climate change. We started in October 2014 right after the People’s Climate March in NY. Seeing passionate activists from around the world gave us hope that change was possible. That’s why, over the past four years, we have been working to educate the local community about the causes and impacts of climate change.

However, there is a dangerous strand of climate change denial running through our community. On February 13, the retiring County Council President Mr. Slutsky ended a public meeting by spouting a number of misinformed opinions about global warming, including calling climate change a hoax.

We could not let this go without responding. So 16 of us spoke out at the next County Council public meeting. Each person took a point made by Mr. Slutsky and explained why his statements were false. At the end of the session, two HCCA members and a scientist spoke privately with Mr. Slutsky and arranged a meeting with him the following week. During that meeting, two citizens discussed the climate change subject again trying to inform our council president. Even though Mr. Slutsky was not convinced, he offered HCCA the opportunity to speak at a public meeting to educate the public.

So this was our chance to educate the rest of our local officials! Under the guidance of our leader, Tracey Waite, six of us worked hard to create a presentation. It took hours and hours of research, discussion and fine-tuning as we were given a time limit of just twenty minutes. We met and rehearsed four times in order to make sure the presentation was concise, accurate and informative.

On April 17, we made the presentation at the public, televised, County Council meeting. At the end, all six council members affirmed their support for HCCA and our mission to educate!

While we were pleased that we turned a negative into a positive, this is not the end of the story. Verbal support for our group does nothing in reducing Harford County’s carbon footprint. We are now asking the County Council to form a panel with stakeholders from the local community to find ways to drastically expand clean energy in our state and eventually achieve a 100% renewable energy future.

There are many towns and cities that are committed to this goal and we must do this now. As Bill McKibben said, “Winning slowly is the same as losing.”