Dispatch from a Hampton Roads Organizing Fellow

Hi, my name is Zion Claude and I just completed the inaugural Hampton Roads organizing fellowship for CCAN. I am a Savannah, Georgia native, so I was excited to work on climate issues during my time at CCAN. I am also a sophomore political science major at Virginia State University, a state also threatened by numerous climate impacts. During my time at CCAN, I’ve worked on a few different climate-related projects and I’m excited to share my findings with you! 


My first big project revolved around the Hampton Roads public transportation system – more specifically, what needs to be done to improve it. Most climate activists understand that reliable public transportation is essential to fighting climate change — it cuts pollution from single passenger vehicles, and would reduce overall carbon emissions by taking more cars off the road — resulting in less traffic congestion. The coronavirus pandemic has caused public transit rider numbers to plummet, causing revenue shortages and forcing local transit agencies to make tough decisions. Our reasoning behind this project was: residents need an accessible, reliable bus service — this is essential for climate but it is also a matter of justice — as low-income folks urgently need reliable transit for school, work, and childcare. 

I began by researching public transportation in Hampton Roads in search of a community organization or city-run website that allowed for resident feedback on the public transportation system. Such a forum could not be found so instead I gathered information about all the problems reported by residents from news articles and surveys and made sure they were on our data compiling form. After completing this, I worked with CCAN’s communications team to create a QR code poster for the survey to be dispersed around Hampton Roads. I traveled between Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton hanging posters up at 40 different bus stops. During this time, I noticed that most bus stops did not have shelter or even a bench! Some stops with benches were inaccessible due to trash overflow or the stop being on someone’s private property. Most of the bus stops looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in months, they were unsanitary and there was litter everywhere. These are the problems that inspired us to create our public transportation data survey. CCAN hopes that bus riders will take this survey, and then share these data findings with elected officials so we can reform our transit system to be sustainable, equitable, and reliable.

Researching a Fracked-Gas Pipeline Project

In between my work with public transportation, I also researched the Header Improvement Project (which CCAN aptly renamed the Header Injustice Project), a natural gas pipeline project comprising of three pipelines totaling 24 miles from Northern Virginia to the Richmond area to Charles City County, as well as three gas compressor stations, which pressurizes the gas for transport through the pipeline system. These two massive plants would be located in communities with majority-minority populations, far higher than the Virginia average.

I wrote a Letter-to-the-Editor (LTE) for my local newspaper about how the Header Injustice Project will pollute drinking water, negatively affect the climate, cause excessive noise pollution to Virginia homeowners, and endanger water quality, as well as raise concerns for public safety. 

Sea Level Rise

My next project is focused on sea level rise in Hampton Roads. Sea level rise is a climate threat in many places in Virginia, causing flooding issues that impact quality of life for residents. Flooded streets make it difficult or impossible for residents to travel to school or work, and this issue also damages property values. The sea level around Hampton Roads is up to 14 inches higher than it was in 1950. This increase is mostly due to Virginia’s sinking land, and it’s causing major issues. Hampton Roads is second only to New Orleans as the largest population center at risk from sea level rise in the country.

I helped CCAN draft a sea level rise educational webinar, and researched community stories of first person experiences of flooding. I also helped CCAN create social media content and strategy to be used moving forward to raise community awareness and engagement. 


I was very excited to be the inaugural Hampton Roads fellow, it was an amazing opportunity and I look forward to seeing the results of these campaigns and what projects CCAN will work on after me! I would love to stay involved with CCAN in the future as a possible Student Climate Ambassador at Virginia State University, which I believe would make a great impact on my campus. Thank you, CCAN!!

Letter from the Director: Closing Out 2020

hands up in celebration

Dear friends, 

Have you finished exhaling yet? Joe Biden won! Donald Trump lost! The US Senate runoff races in Georgia won’t wrap up till January 5th, I know. But HOLY COW, the biggest victory is complete. The “climate arsonist” Donald Trump is on his way out. 

Across this nation, we know time is almost up for a swift and transformative clean-energy revolution. But here’s what gives me hope. In the middle of a pandemic, with a hate-spewing President explicitly trying to push disruptive chaos into the process, our country at every level and in every state conducted an incredibly smooth and fair election with record turnout. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is proud to have played our role, both regionally and nationally, in the climate movement with several major victories. As the year comes to an end, won’t you make a gift to keep us going? 

Another four years of Donald Trump would have wrecked our global atmosphere — period. Now our next President, Joe Biden, can quickly rejoin the Paris climate agreement, rebuild the US EPA, end all drilling on federal lands, and bring science back to policy. 

But Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris can’t do it alone. They need the help of the states. The Biden climate platform was amazing. It included a call for 100-percent clean electricity nationwide by 2035 with net zero emissions by 2050. And it put equity for disadvantaged communities at the center of all climate policies. 

So here’s what you’ll see CCAN doing in 2021 to begin a down payment on those goals:

Nationally, we’ll use our geographic proximity and sizeable connections to the Biden administration to pressure the White House to keep its promises on all executive actions on climate. We’ll also work even harder on Capitol Hill to hold climate polluters accountable for past denial and current deceptive practices.

In Virginia, we’ll insist state lawmakers pass a clean cars bill to open a floodgate of electric vehicles in the state. The bill will help move us toward a net zero economy while, separately, we work on affordable, equitable public transit for all Virginians. And of course we’ll follow our huge victory in July of stopping the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by keeping up the fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

In Maryland, we’ll push for the “Climate Solutions Now Act” to plant five million trees, cut climate pollution 60 percent by 2030, and incentivize solar. And speaking of pipelines, we’re not done fighting the absurd “Eastern Shore Pipeline” for fracked gas. Plus, we’ll push for a fair and equitable “price on carbon” in the state.

In DC, we’ll make sure the DC government stays on course for 100% clean electricity by 2032. And we’ll insist that electric vehicle charging stations spread quickly in the city while we work to “de-gasify” all the city’s buildings.

So yes, despite four years of Trump, Americans can still come together to do great things against long odds for the common good. We did it in November by preserving our democracy. 

Now let’s do it across our region and nation to preserve our planet. 

On we go,
Mike Tidwell
Executive Director
Chesapeake Climate Action Network & CCAN Action Fund

Photo at the top from Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Welcoming our new Communications Director – Laura Cofsky!

Just a few weeks ago CCAN had the pleasure of welcoming our new Communications Director Laura Cofsky to our team and we are very excited to introduce you to her!

A New York native, Laura has spent the past few years working in progressive climate communications, we are lucky to have her joining the team and joining us today.

We sat down with Laura to chat about her journey in climate activism and her road to CCAN, her role in the climate movement, and what she sees as her most exciting challenge moving forward! Check out the interview below:

Laura is the Communications Director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, where she garners media coverage and develops messaging for CCAN’s priority campaigns, as well as oversees the organization’s website, email program, and social media accounts. Before joining CCAN, Laura was a senior communications specialist at the National League of Cities, led communications for 350 Philadelphia, and worked with the Sunrise Movement and on two winning political campaigns in Philadelphia.

Follow along with the transcript below:

Charles Olsen  0:10  

New York native Laura Cofsky is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and has spent the last few years working in progressive communications as a senior communication specialist at the National League of Cities. He has led communications for 350, Philadelphia, and worked with the sunrise movement and on to winning political campaigns in Philadelphia, a self proclaimed politics nerd and a fellow New York pizza snob, I am super excited to welcome Laura Cofsky to the CCAN team Laura, thanks for chatting with me today.

Laura Cofsky  0:40  

Thanks for having me.

Charles Olsen  0:41  

Could you start us off by telling me about the first time that you got involved in the climate space?

Laura Cofsky  0:52  

Yeah, absolutely. So I guess officially, the first time I got involved was in college, I was part of a few different environmental groups as part of the university’s garden, also their environmental group. But I think the first time that I really dived in was, I think, 2015, I was with 350, Philadelphia back then. And they need a press person. And you know, it’s a very small grassroots group. And the way that those groups work is all hands on deck, whoever volunteers to do things, is the person. So that’s kind of how I became their communications person, to be honest. But the first time that I did communications for them, the Pope was actually coming to Philadelphia, he was giving his climate change and cyclical, and we were having an event to celebrate His coming to Philadelphia. And I was doing press for that event. And it was just a very interesting experience. Because before that event, I had never invited journalists to anything, I’d always been on the other end. So before then I’d worked for place like USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer. But I just did not know how to reverse engineer it. So I remember emailing all these acquaintances who worked in communications, asking them, how do you write a press release? How do I get this out to press, and it was just really exciting, because, you know, I started out not knowing really much of anything. And we ended up getting a lot of really good press coverage. And it was just very exciting. And I kind of got addicted to doing that kind of work. And so I’ve continued until this day.

Charles Olsen  2:40  

So you are, first and foremost, a writer than a communicator? Can you just draw the line for me and tell me about how you got from your childhood, high school, college, and then through all of your professional experience? Now to see, can you walk me through that story? 

Laura Cofsky  3:03  

Well, so what brought me here was, um, you know, throughout my childhood, we talked about environmental issues in my household, even before it was cool. So I knew about climate change. And I knew about all sorts of other kinds of environmental degradation, because I lived in New York City. And so I personally knew people who had asthma, I personally knew even a few people who had cancer. So it was very close to my heart, the kinds of things that pollution was doing to my community and to the people that I knew. So, you know, as I was growing up in high school and college, it was just very striking to me that no one was having these conversations about the kind of public health toll that this pollution was having on people. Whenever people talk about climate change, whenever people talk about anything that had to do with the environment, you know, you’d see pictures of polar bears, you would see, you know, these numbers like 1.5 degrees Celsius. And, you know, honestly, to the average person who’s trying to put food on a table, that doesn’t really mean much. So what got me into communications, was the fact that I was just so jarred by what I saw as a deficit and how we were talking about these things. So I just really wanted to plug in and make sure that people were talking about the real costs of using fossil fuels and the real cost of pollution, because they do have a cost right now they do have a human cost and I just wanted to do my part to make sure people were aware.

Charles Olsen  4:36  

Can you tell me about what brought you to CCAN? Why now?

Laura Cofsky  4:41  

you know, right before coming to CCAN I was working for an organization we did have a climate portfolio but we didn’t really focus that much on the environment. And you know, I really missed this kind of work. And so when I saw the job posting for CCAN, I was very excited and I applied. And you know, I wish I could give you a more magical story than that. But really it comes down to I think I saw the add on might have been idealist might have been indeed, it really wasn’t like, you know, this magical story. But I was really happy to see the job open. And so I applied, and I was lucky enough to get it.

Charles Olsen  5:22  

Working in climate and communications, like you have for a while. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot. But this is a huge issue area, and things are developing more and more every day. You tell me, what is the biggest thing that you’re afraid of? in the immediate future? Aside from all of it, because I’m afraid of all of it?

Laura Cofsky  5:47  

Yeah, you know, we’re, we’re in a pandemic, we’ve got climate change, you know, we’ve got, you know, everything, it’s 2020, like, 20 is pretty scary in and of itself. You know, if we’re talking about in terms of like, global issues, I mean, my biggest fear really is about the environment, and that we’re just going to ignore the death toll of pollution, because it is one of the greatest killers, you know, and it’s something that I do think about is something that keeps me up at night, because, you know, I live in a big city myself, and you know, I’m near a highway, and you’re, you know, various pollution sources. So even personally, it does make me nervous, because I think, Okay, well, we know that this kind of pollution can cause heart issues, we know that some other sources of pollution nearby can cause cancer. And so even on a personal level, it really does make me nervous.

Charles Olsen  6:49  

Okay, now to completely 180 after that, on the lighter side of things, I think you are, like the sixth new yorker to join the CCAN team in recent years. But I’ve only been here a couple of months. So I don’t know if I’m the authority on that figure. And this forces me to beg the question, what is the closest thing to New York pizza that you have found in the DC area since moving here?

Laura Cofsky  7:18  

I would say wiseguys, and, honestly, I think that’s it. That is the best answer. I have. I mean, I’ve been told about other places. Um, you know, people like, and I won’t say that I’ve tried every pizza place here. Maybe because the first few I tried besides wiseguys, just were okay. Um, but I definitely would recommend them and they have several locations.

Charles Olsen  7:44  

I am sure that is a hot take that will be greatly contested from all of the people listening to this. But thank you. So, just to keep in this more positive light now, we are on the other side, as of yesterday, of really bad four years for climate and the environment. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re hopeful for the next couple of years? Uh,

Laura Cofsky  8:15  

well, I’m hopeful that we voted invited, that definitely made me feel pretty good. Um, I would honestly just say that, you know, again, as a communications person, like, I have to pay attention to what the news coverage is on environmental issues. And you know, what people are talking about. And I have definitely noticed, in the last maybe year or two, that more news outlets are covering climate change and actually communicating the urgency of it. I’m noticing more and more people who are actually prioritizing, talking about this. And you know, that’s not a quantitative measure at all. It’s more qualitative. But at the same time, like I feel a difference, I feel that there is a movement and things and I feel like, you know, there was a time when people were saying, we are not ready to move to renewable energies. We don’t have the technology yet. And, you know, there are still people saying that, but I think there are more and more people realizing that that’s not the case. Like we can go renewable, basically, whenever we just need to transition justly, and it’s really just an issue of political will. And I think we’re finally getting to the point where a significant number of people are realizing that.

Charles Olsen  9:30  

So in that vein, you are joining CCAN right at the dawn of this new political age, hopefully, fingers crossed. With the ending of the Trump administration, it seems like the days of playing defense are starting to be behind us. More specifically, what are you excited about doing while you’re at sea Can

Laura Cofsky  9:54  

I mean I’m excited about the fact that we’re actually probably going to make progress on a lot more things. than we’ve been able to do under this past administration. You know, we have a president who’s coming in, who really is a climate champion, we may end up with a congress also that will support his endeavors with climate change. I know Fingers crossed. So I really want to see those victories. And you know, secant has done really great work. We’ve had an impressive number of victories considering what we’ve been up against. But, you know, it wouldn’t be great if it was just a victory after victory after victory after victory. That’s just really what I dream about.

Charles Olsen  10:44  

Yeah, the wins are definitely, definitely a huge bonus. So climate change is a big, scary, depressing issue at times. And we don’t always get wins. But in between the winds that we do have, how do you deal with the stress of climate change? Do you go for hikes? Sorry, drop something. Do you go for hikes? yoga, what do you do?

Laura Cofsky  11:14  

I go for runs. Awesome. Yeah, no, the endorphins are really important, right? Um, so there were things I did before the pandemic and things I did during the pandemic, I would say during the pandemic, I’m hiking, I do like that. Reading. Honestly, watching Netflix, I just know I’m late to the game, I just discovered the Great British baking show. And it actually is as relaxing as people have said, like, if I’ve had a stressful day, I just binge that show. So that’s really helped my anxiety before COVID. I really like dancing. I really like trying new foods, you know, and I still like spending time with friends. Although obviously nowadays, I need to be a little bit more careful about it. But I do value quality time with the people I care about. Because, you know, at the end of the day, they’re basically the people that I’m doing this for.

Charles Olsen  12:07  

So obviously, you are a communicator, and a writer. But can you tell me a little bit about what you think is your most valuable skill for your job?

Laura Cofsky  12:19  

Um, well, I mean, writing actually is very important for my job. Um, but, you know, on a more fun note, I make accidental puns of lots. And believe it or not, when you’re trying to write snappy subject lines, or you know, catchy emails or catchy social media posts. Being punny can actually be helpful. I mean, sometimes it drives people crazy. But sometimes, you know, I hit adjust, right? And it really is just right. Um, you know, so I don’t know if I should necessarily say I’m proud of being clingy. But it has helped me a few times.

Charles Olsen  12:59  

Can you give me one right now? Oh, my God. on the spot. I can edit out all the waiting that I do or not will see.

Laura Cofsky  13:10  

Agh i don’t know if I can come up upon that quickly. Usually, it’s by accident.

Charles Olsen  13:16  

I’ve got time. I can edit out the empty space. What is the recent one that you’ve done?

Laura Cofsky  13:27  

Okay, here’s one that I’ve done recently. Um, so I was recently emailing people about a clean car that we’re going to be putting on, and I assured people in the email that the event would be electric.

That was by accident.

Charles Olsen  13:50  

I gave you some crickets for that one. Well done, well done. I can’t wait. I expect more. I’d like to include more in the show notes for this. If you can come up with them and send them to me, that’d be great. Okay, um, if you could enact one policy right now, what would it be

Laura Cofsky  14:19  

The Green New Deal? Can I count that one? Um, honestly, just a policy that would transition us to 100% renewables, or I mean, alternatively, a policy that would give us universal health care, you know, on the upper end of the spectrum, I did get into this for like, public health reasons. So every one of those would be absolutely amazing if I could wave my magic wand.

Charles Olsen  14:38  

Alright, a question for the youngins. I know. I am included in that group of youngins. What would you tell young people who are just getting their footing and getting started in climate policy and communications?

Laura Cofsky  14:54  

I would tell them Welcome to the movement. First of all, they’re doing very important work. You know, even if it doesn’t always feel like it even feels like, it’s very difficult sometimes, or they’re hitting walls, this is the kind of work that needs to get done. And there are successes in this work, even if it gets frustrating. And one of the big tips I honestly would give is, I always believe in the motto, don’t pour from an empty cup. So, you know, give, give this movement as much as you can. But at the same time, you know, one point, you need to make sure that you’re keeping your own sanity. So you know, if you need to step away and do your yoga, or do your hiking or whatever you need to do to make sure that you are strong, strong enough to keep fighting, you should do it and you should not only not feel bad about but you should be proud of yourself for taking care of an important activist.

Charles Olsen  15:53  

That is one of my favorite, like, phrases or like frames of thought, the empty cup. I am stoked that somebody else mentioned that because I love that one. Um, if you could sum up yourself, describe yourself in two sentences for the people listening? How would you describe yourself? I guess I would say

Laura Cofsky  16:22  

I am the kind of person who really values relationships, and really wants to do her best and grab life by the horns. And I guess another motto I like to live by as I don’t want to be the sidekick in my own story. So I guess those are two sentences. Hopefully, that encapsulates properly who I am.

Charles Olsen  16:49  

You said you value relationships. And it makes me wonder how do you incorporate that into the work that you do?

Laura Cofsky  16:55  

Well, so I mean, what drives my work at the end of the day, is that I did see loved ones growing up who were affected by pollution and who are getting very sick. So when I do this work, I, you know, I, I do think about, you know, selfish terms, I do think about myself, I want to live in a world that’s, you know, has clean air and clean water for myself as well. But I also think about the people I care about who have gone sick, or that I worry might someday be affected by climate change might someday be affected by pollution. So that’s really how that plays out in this work. And I am very grateful to have people in my life who have supported me on this journey. Because you know, like I’ve said before, this, this work is extremely important, but it does get, you know, it does get difficult sometimes, but I have a really great support system. And that has made it all doable and worthwhile. 

Charles Olsen  17:58  

Who is one person in all of human history, past, present, future even, that people would be surprised that you admire?

Laura Cofsky  18:03  

Um actually Julia Child! Which, yeah, I would say that’s definitely someone that people would not expect me to say. I actually, secretly are not so secretly, I’m an amateur foodie. I really like to eat and try restaurants, and cook. Actually, last year, I had a goal of trying to make 52 recipes. I only got to 45. But I mean, that should tell you something about you know, the value that food has in my life. And actually she was I mean, she of course, she was on my radar, even a few years ago, but the way that I became one of her admirers was I went to this use book sale, and they were selling her autobiography and just on a whim, I decided to buy it. And you know, I read it and she’s just one of the most fascinating people. And also something that’s not even in the biography, which is very interesting. Apparently, she’s one of the people who co invented shark repellent.

Charles Olsen  19:02  

I am totally stealing that for the next seeking trivia night.

Laura Cofsky  19:08  

You should, you should.

She was an amazing woman. So I really admire her.

Charles Olsen  19:15  

That is a really cool fun fact. We’re gonna use that to see who on the team listens to these audio interviews.

Laura Cofsky  19:25  

Yeah, sounds like a great idea.

Charles Olsen  19:27  

Often we get caught up in the day to day work of saving the planet, it becomes a job for us. One policy at a time, inch by inch, we try to do what we can. Can you paint me the picture for the world that you are fighting to achieve?

Laura Cofsky  19:46  

Yeah, I mean, honestly, I just want a world that has equity. You know, we have a world even at this point that has all the resources that we need so everyone can live a dignified life. I mean, at the most basic level, that’s why I want to see play out. I want to live in a world where everyone can afford decent quality housing. I want a world where everybody can afford decent quality food, where the air is clean, the water is clean, we have good schools to send the kids to.

Laura Cofsky  20:20  

I mean, I think that’s a world that a lot of us want. I don’t know the best way to achieve it, but that is what I would like to see.

Charles Olsen  20:32  

Laura Cofsky, thank you so much for talking with me. 

Laura Cofsky  20:35  

Thank you, 

Charles Olsen  20:36  

and thank you, everybody for listening.

New Patrick Gonzales Poll: Montgomery County Voters Are Highly Concerned About Climate Change and Want Major Action Soon, Especially on Solar Power

More than 75 Percent of Voters Say They Want a Concrete Plan, Within Six Months, that Will Lead to “Major” Pollution Cuts. Nearly 69 Percent Support Solar Power on Farmland With a Cap.

ROCKVILLE, MD – A bi-partisan majority of Montgomery County voters in Maryland say they are personally concerned about the rising impacts of climate change, with a whopping 94 percent of Democrats expressing concern. In a new poll released today,  voters also say they are eager to see the County Council keep a 2017 promise by adopting — within six months — a plan that will lead to “major pollution cuts.” As a first step, nearly 69 percent of voters countywide support a bill now before the Council to allow a limited number of solar farms on agricultural land in the northern part of the county. 

The poll, conducted by noted Maryland pollster Patrick Gonzales, comes just one day after Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released a long-awaited Draft Climate Action Plan for the county. It includes a host of recommendations but no concrete legislative plan to achieve pollution reductions. 

“This poll clearly shows enormous voter support for climate action in Montgomery County — but also growing impatience with the pace of action, “ said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The County Executive and Council must do more, and soon, to keep pace with voter expectations as extreme weather pummels our region.”

The Gonzales poll, commissioned by CCAN, shows that a strong 70 percent of Montgomery voters support the County Council’s 2017 declaration of a “climate emergency.” That declaration called for an 80% reduction in climate pollution by 2027, but the Council has adopted no major bills to make this happen in three years. Now 75.1 percent of voters want major action within six months.

More immediately, voters overwhelmingly support a bill, passed by a committee of the County Council last summer, to place a limited number of solar farms in the County’s Agricultural Reserve with certain conditions. But full passage of the bill has not yet occurred. Interestingly, the greatest voter support for the bill comes from the County’s District 1 which contains most of the Ag Reserve.

The poll was conducted by Gonzales Research & Media Services from December 2nd through December 6th, 2020. A total of 325 registered voters in Montgomery County, who indicated that they vote regularly in county elections, were queried by live telephone interviewers, utilizing both landlines and cell phones. The margin of error, per accepted statistical standards, is a range of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

“This is a noteworthy poll for Montgomery County with strong results on policy questions,” said Patrick Gonzales. “We asked clear and direct questions that help fill in some of the voter opinion gaps that always exist on key issues, especially at the more local level.”

For the past 35 years, Patrick Gonzales has been widely recognized in Maryland for his ability to conduct unbiased surveys, and analyze the results in an impartial, even-handed manner.

A recap of key findings from the report include:

  • Eighty three percent of voters in Montgomery County are concerned about climate change
  • By party, 94% of Democrats; 69% of independents; and 51% of Republicans are worried about global warming
  • Closer to home, 70% of residents support the resolution the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed in 2017 declaring a climate change emergency
  • Further, a supermajority 75% of Montgomery County voters support the County Council adopting a climate solution plan within the next 6 months
  • Nearly 69 percent supported a limited number of solar farms in the County’s Agricultural Reserve as long as most of the solar energy powers the homes of low and moderate income residents of the county

Further breakdowns by age, gender, race, district, and political party can all be found within the report. You can download it here.


The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Mike Tidwell, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, mtidwell@chesapeakeclimate.org, 240-460-5838
Laura Cofsky, CCAN, laura@chesapeakeclimate.org, 202-642-9336

Turning the page – End of a chapter for Comms Director Denise Robbins

Denise Robbins has spent the past four years as communications director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Denise grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, went to college at Cornell in upstate New York, and has called DC home for the past eight and a half years. She first decided she wanted to save the world from global warming when she was just eight years old. She co-authored a book about climate refugees called rising tides, climate refugees in the 21st century, published by Indiana University Press in 2017 and is currently working on a novel and short story collection. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Denise before she passed the baton off to our new communications director.

Follow along with the transcript below: 

Denise Robbins  0:40  

I feel like I should start with how I started, um, which was right after Trump got elected. My final interview, my in person interview was two days after he got elected, so I just barely had time to like, get over this brief hangover. Um, and prepare for this interview and get to the office and meet Mike and meet Kirsten. And it was just insane, like mental space to be very somber, very, you know, shell shocked. And the interview, you know, the mood was somber, but like people are so you can be ready, you know, they were ready to take on Trump. They’re like, this is why we’re here. This is why we exist. It’s not just about wanting the higher ups at the federal level to wave their hands and solve climate change, but about building movements from the ground up. And continuing to do that and outpace the federal, especially during the Trump administration, my first legislative session in Maryland that the state legislators were similarly like, Oh, my God, we have to do so much. And Marilyn passed a ban on fracking. And it’s sort of it’s interesting, because we do kind of wonder if Trump hadn’t been elected, would Maryland have banned fracking? It’s, it’s hard to know. And we’re, it’s hard to even say that because I feel like just looking back, it’s almost unconscionable to imagine Maryland having fracking, but it was very seriously gonna happen. And it took a long time. And a huge fight to ban it. So I started at CCAN at the tail end of this seven year battle to ban fracking in Maryland, it started with a moratorium, it started with our organizers just going from city to city to county to county, and getting local bands. And I just was able to ride the coattails of that and just pass this incredible bill and my first legislative session, and it was such such a whirlwind. It was pretty incredible. I just recall specifically sitting in the conference room in our takoma park office, and Governor Hogan announced that he supported a ban on fracking. And it was like, what, like we were so not expecting that. But on the other hand, earlier that day, we had just gotten word that there was a veto proof majority of support for the ban on fracking for the fracking ban bill. So Hogan essentially had no choice. I mean, he at that point was like, I guess I should take credit for this, because it’s happening, whether I like it or not, a few have vetoed it. That would have been overturned. But it was very, you know, itself just to like, Oh, my God, it’s actually happening. And I think everyone kind of freaked out. I think somebody bought a bottle of champagne. And I think most of us were just like, No, no, no, we have too much work to do, we have to do all this work. And then Mike, just being like, hey, like, stop for a minute. And enjoy this. Like, we got a ban on fracking in Maryland. And, um, and yeah, so that was just, you know, the first couple of months of my time at sea can. And in the next four years, we passed an amazing bill, a clean energy bill in DC, we passed another really great clean energy bill in Maryland. And then finally, an amazing clean energy bill in Virginia, like all the big three, the Atlantic coast pipeline was rejected. All of our other pipeline battles have so far, none of those pipelines have been built any and all of the pipeline battles that I’ve taken part in, none of those pipelines have been built. So it’s been a while you look back at our CCAN’s work, you know, federal landscape aside, and absolutely incredible for years.

Charlie Olsen  4:48  

Can you tell me about some of the lessons that you learned from that first victory and how you use those in the campaigns that followed?

Denise Robbins  4:57  

Yeah, so I think when it came to the ban on fracking. It was very clear, first of all, that this was a totally grassroots up from the ground up campaign, that it would not have happened if there weren’t so many localities that were educated and over the span of so many years, changed their minds about fracking Marylanders used to support fracking. And that was just a long time of education to switch that. And then, you know, eventually getting to a point where most people in Maryland didn’t want fracking in the legislator, legislature needing to respond to that. And so I think that, you know, first of all, it was just a really great way for us to learn how to reach out to a whole state around one campaign and get more people involved. And, and build on that to pass forward looking legislation, you know, not just to always be fighting against fracking and to be fighting against pipelines, but to be fighting for solutions, like clean energy, 

Charlie Olsen  6:09  

The next major campaign after that the passing of the Clean Energy DC act, what did you learn from that?

Denise Robbins  6:16  

The really great thing about that, for me was just, I live in DC. And it was, this is what democracy is, you know, getting to like, see the legislature legislator who represents me and witness the dozens hundreds over the course of the campaign, probably thousands of DC residents, you know, come into the DC council building and lobby their legislators and build a strong movement toward to where DC council just simply had to pass an amazing bill otherwise, we wouldn’t have gone away or left them alone. And it was that that was really cool. You know, it was I learned a lot that lobbying really just seems um, having I guess, I don’t know what lobbying means. Anyone can lobby, you know, any your neighbor on the street, your grandma can lobby like anyone can be a lobbyist. In fact, it’s a much more powerful way to express your voice to your legislature, to your legislator than voting, for instance, it’s much more direct and pretty cool. And this particular campaign was great because it just brought so many organizations around DC together to support and pass the Clean Energy DC act and weren’t forced to make a lot of connections. So that you know, a lot of these organizations still coordinate, we still have a coalition called the DC Climate Coalition. And I’m still pretty, you know, active and involved in DC politics just because it’s my home.

Charlie Olsen  8:00  

What was your favorite action that you coordinated for that campaign?

Denise Robbins  8:05  

Oh, there was like, a, such a fun action that we did, which involves playing volleyball at the unfreedom Plaza right outside the council building. And oh my gosh, I don’t even really remember. I think we were like, We needed it to pass. We were like we had done all the work, basically. And we’re just waiting for the council to hold a vote and pass it. And they were gonna delay it and not have it happen in 2018. And then, of course, there was a heatwave, because there’s always a heat wave, you know, once a month in DC, in October and November and so it was very warm. And we got everyone out to the freedom closet wearing like swimsuits and lifeguard outfits and like, erected these giant volleyball tents and had a humongous inflatable Earth and we were just batting it around. And it was just like, such a joyous day of action and and, you know, telling the DC Council, you know, stop playing games with this bill, pass it and, you know, so there’s some fun metaphors going on there. I specifically, you know, picked up the volleyball mat from somebody and I had to trudge like on a very rainy night in Ward five. I remember, but it was super worth it.

Charlie Olsen  9:28  

The Virginia clean Economy Act is one of the strongest pieces, I believe the strongest piece of environmental legislation passed in the American South ever. Can you tell me about some of the lessons and takeaways from your work on that?

Denise Robbins  9:42  

Yeah, the Virginia clean Economy Act is basically involved in the story of a state, you know, Virginia that was so rad for so long, and so far behind on climate and so many other issues that once the state legislature flipped to blue. They’re like, Alright, let’s go. They changed decades of history and their 90 day session. So the Virginia clean Economy Act, it was an amazing bill, it was still a really tough battle, you know, people pulling on it from all sides, it was just going to be a very big bill that a lot of people had a lot of steak and but, you know, ended up passing it and allowed Virginia to totally blow out of the water and come from the back of the pack to the forefront and local state climate policy, you know, even beating Maryland. So we have little internal sea cam competition there. Um, but yeah, that was that was incredible. It’s, it’s kind of funny. The session ended just in time before the COVID lockdown. I was in Richmond on those final days, and people were just starting to like, joke about like, oh, should we not walk, shake our hands? Or should we do the elbow bumps? I don’t think it has been spotted in Richmond yet. But the lockdowns began just days after the bill passed. And you know, for instance, and Marilyn, Marilyn, could have kept pace with Virginia barely, they’re probably going to pass another really good climate bill. But the legislative session ended super early. And so they weren’t able to pass it. So at least we have some more to look forward to in Maryland this spring.

Charlie Olsen  11:36  

Looking back on all of the campaigns that you’ve worked on, for the past four years, are there? Are there any moments that you would go back and change or anything that you would want to do differently on those campaigns?

Denise Robbins  11:48  

Not really, I don’t know. I think the biggest thing that I would want to do differently is just not be so stressed out. I feel like, you know, saving the climate is pretty stressful. And we work really hard. And I just wish I had had a little bit more mindfulness, I guess, and just been able to not let myself get stressed out over over all the things and just go with the flow, and do what I needed to do

Charlie Olsen  12:18  

In the past four years since the 2016 election,  Can you tell me a little bit about how the climate activism landscape has changed in that time, from your perspective?

Denise Robbins  12:31  

Night and day? I think  that there’s so many more people who not only care about climate change, but really understand the urgency and want to get involved. I mean, four years ago, yeah, people just didn’t really join the big climate marches and things like that. And then well, first, the IPCC, the United Nations. In our panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released that report that said, we have 12 years, you have 12 years to solve climate change. I was actually on vacation at that point. I was in Scotland for a friend’s wedding. And I saw newspapers in the airport with that number like blasted all over the front of the front page of these newspapers across the Atlantic Ocean. I was like, Oh, my God, like, whatever it is about this one particular report, like, it’s really getting people to notice. And I, you know, it wasn’t actually new information for most people in the climate sphere. But for everyone else, it was like, Holy smokes. I’m so gretta fudenberg I believe, you know, came out of reading that report and decided to start her amazing inspiring school strikes and inspired millions of people across the world. I mean, the school, the strike, the climate strikes, that happened globally. That was like nothing else I’d ever, ever witnessed. And that was incredible to be a part of,

Charlie Olsen  14:15  

What about the school strikes? Like your experience with them?  What about them brought you inspiration?

Denise Robbins  14:22  

In general, it definitely was inspiring to see so many young people really getting involved and passionate. I just sort of wish at that age. I mean, I have cared about climate change since I was eight. But I would never have joined a protest when I was in elementary or middle or even high school. I just think that it’s amazing to see an entire generation that is now willing to go out of their comfort zone. And really speak up for what they care about and what they’re concerned about. Yeah. Well, between sunrise and Alexandria, ocasio Cortez, and introducing the idea of the green New Deal. It was sort of the first time that there is such a strong message of hope. And it’s so hard to just be, you know, Doomsday all the time. And it’s just so nice to have this breath of fresh air of hope. And I think sunrise and AOC made that

Charlie Olsen  15:28  

AOC in the intercept that video about what the future could be, I have that saved on my phone. And I sometimes just go back and watch it when I’m needing to pick me up as a communications director, like your position is heavily focused on like the media and climate media. And I think the question that I’m really curious about is like, how over the past four years, have you seen the media landscape? In reference to climate change?

Denise Robbins  15:53  

change? Yeah, that has definitely also changed a lot before see Can I was actually working at media matters. So I was very clued in to how people in the media were talking about climate change. And they pretty much either weren’t talking about it, or doing this whole false balance both sides ism. That’s just so silly. It’s like having someone give the other side of gravity like, is gravity real? Who can tell? I couldn’t explain gravity, but I don’t question it. Yeah, I think, um, definitely, you see people talking about climate change more in the media, you actually start seeing people make the connections between extreme weather and climate change, which I think is huge. And I’m finding that both sides are still there a little bit, but it’s definitely gone down a lot. And I know that it was a little complicated for some journalists, because on the one hand, like, you can’t just not say talk about what the president says. And that was our biggest climate denier of all. But, you know, there’s a way to report on what the President was saying without necessarily just blanket repeating lies. And so I think that was a big learning curve for the media over the past four years, and the hope that the lessons they’ve learned apply to climate coverage going forward to can you

Charlie Olsen  17:26  

Tell me about one of what has been your favorite part about working at CCAN, for the past four years? Aside from the whole thing? I’m sure

Denise Robbins  17:33  

I know. Right? Um, how do you mean, it’s hard to just not say the wins. I mean, it’s just so it was so needed to have to have victories to have progress. And during the Trump administration, so it just allows you to fight for something and then enjoy it, when you succeed, I think it is kind of huge. And aside from that, I mean, the people at CCAN, people that work that you can over the past four years, and currently are some of the smartest, most passionate, funniest people that I’ve ever met.

Charlie Olsen  18:16  

So it’s, you mentioned the wins, and I think that those are super important. And aside from those, working on climate is really tough. Like, it’s really hard, it is an existential issue. How do you stay grounded? How do you find yourself back to some semblance of calm or peace?

Denise Robbins  18:39  

In a certain sense, there is a willful ignorance that’s almost required, like I, intellectually and theoretically, understand all the crazy drastic implications of climate change. You know, I’ve studied this for many, many years. But I on a day to day level, like, I just don’t really have the brain space or mental space to allow myself to really feel that, um, and I couldn’t I mean, I just couldn’t keep working if I did. Um, but every, every so often, it’s definitely, you know, like, when the people’s Climate March came through to DC, I think I found myself crying in the middle of that, and I couldn’t really understand why I think at that, at that point, just in the middle of this beautiful, super hot day, protest, marching through through the streets of DC it was just so moving. I was just like, so happy to be there and, and fighting for this thing that I’ve cared about since I was eight years old. So I think you know, you have to give yourself space to feel the climate crisis every once in a while, but aside from that, I mean You just gotta focus on what you can, what you can do and just keep working. And I will also say that a huge for me has just been writing, you know, I, you know that I love writing and especially writing fiction, and I get up every single day before work to write, and it’s just one thing that really helps get me through just being able. I think that’s, that’s the time of day where I give myself space to process. Um, and it’s in a way that I can like, sort of control.

Charlie Olsen  20:33  

You are leaving to spend a year off writing a novel, I believe? Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Denise Robbins  20:45  

Yeah, I would love to. I’m so excited. Not Not till you see can but to spend this year writing. Um, yeah, I’ve been planning to do this for a really long time, several years now. Sort of as an alternative to grad school. I was thinking about doing an MFA program. So now I’m just doing my own kind of MFA program, I have this huge list of things I want to read and things I want to write. I have a mentor who’s going to give me assignments, I’m going to be taking lots of workshops and classes. But yeah, I actually have already drafted a novel. And I’m, it’s currently in the email inbox of an agent who said that he would look at it, but Fingers crossed, but that’s, you know, we’ll see what happens there. But I just have so many other things I want to write. I have all these short stories and new novel ideas. And it’s really, I’ve actually found in the past couple of years that what I really love writing about fiction is climate change. I love writing about the solutions to one, you know, short story collection thing that I’m working on, of just all these different options there are and all these different, like really cool technologies and, and just how people like to react to that. And like their complications, there’s just so much material and art available, and when you get deep into the climate change world. And it’s another way for me to keep hope in, in my life. 

Charlie Olsen  22:29  

that’s super interesting. I’ve never met anybody who’s written fit who’s like written climate fiction. And I think that that is like a super, like, needed area of art. And I’m super excited to read whatever you produce. Is there a specific climate story that you’re interested in telling? I know, you mentioned, you like writing about solutions.

Denise Robbins  22:57  

There’s one story that I find, like, so amazing. It’s this pair of Russian scientists who are working to re-engineer mammoths to basically turn elephants like give them more fur so that they can survive cold weather, and reintroduce them to the tundra to try to recreate Ice Age conditions. And they’re doing this so that the elephants can tamp down the earth and help keep the permafrost from melting. And so there’s this whole ecosystem, they’re trying to recreate and bringing amis to help recreate it to help, you know, prevent one of the most devastating feedback loops of global warming. And I just found that story so freaking cool. And like magical. That Yeah, I did. I wrote a short story inspired by that. And it just sort of like dials the magic up to 11. But that’s just you know, one, one example.

Charlie Olsen  23:57  

That is really cool. That is like, really crazy. Could you tell me some of the one of the weirdest things you learned while at sea? Can the strangest, wackiest experience or thing that you have come into contact with?

Denise Robbins  24:14  

Yeah, I think all of the weirdest stories are just about how weird politics can be. And I can’t even imagine what it’s like on a federal level. But on the state level, I mean, there are just some serious high jinks. My favorite is when we were supporting the clean energy jobs act in Maryland. And there was this vote, this committee wanted to vote to destroy it, or what’s the word to make sure that it wouldn’t get voted on at all that year. And the saving vote that blocked this vote that would have taken it down was a republican named Rick and polyuria. And so he voted in favor of the clean energy jobs act essentially. And he did that because of the offshore wind provision, which would result in more offshore wind turbines outside Ocean City. And one time he got a DUI in Ocean City for driving drunk. And he’s like, had a big beef about that. So he just like, voted for this bill to stick it to Ocean City.

Charlie Olsen  25:25  

That’s so petty!

Denise Robbins  25:25  

 It’s so funny. It’s obviously not the best part of politics or anything. But is it was so funny,

Charlie Olsen  25:32  

I loved it. If you could go back in time, until 2015. Denise, anything, what would you tell her?

Denise Robbins  25:40  

I think, yeah, just don’t stress out. Just enjoy it. It was, um, I would say, Denise, you’re going to learn more than you can ever imagine. And then I would probably turn into a unicorn and like, jump off into a cloud or something. Because we’re talking about the theoretical here.

Charlie Olsen  26:08  

That’s an interesting take on it. 

Denise Robbins  26:16  

You’re messing with like, I can time travel then like, what else can I do? I can become a unicorn. 

Charlie Olsen  26:22  

I was thinking it’s more like back then depending on your time travel mechanism. Is it like Back to the Future? Or is it Doctor Who time travel? Like, can you interact with your past self?

Denise Robbins  26:34  

I think Well, yeah. Well, then I would go even further back, obviously and kill Hitler. Good, because who wouldn’t do that?

Charlie Olsen  26:41  

Okay, that’s Yeah, true. I would have a hitlist Hitler would be on there. But like John D. Rockefeller, be pretty up there.

Charlie Olsen  27:01  

Speaking of time travel, could you tell me who your hero is? Who do you look up to in the past and present, future even?

Denise Robbins  27:11  

Yeah, I think right now, um, I don’t really know if I have heroes per se. But somebody who I really admire right now is a podcast host actually, named David naman. Um, he runs this podcast called between the covers, and he brings in authors to talk about their books and just like asks these really amazing, insightful questions. And I actually listened to an interview with him in Jennie to feel about this book about climate change. And it was like, such a beautiful interview, and I don’t know something about how he will bring in politics into like this literary space and have that be the norm. I really admire that. And, you know, I kind of am nervous about going into a writing world and feeling disconnected from the present day reality by I think he can show you how all of these politics and art really aren’t disconnected at all, and bringing them together. So I think that’s really cool. I will also say that Bill McKibben is a big, big hero of inspiration of mine, ever since college ever since he convinced me to go to DC and get arrested for the Keystone XL pipeline. And also, he’s just an amazing writer, like he is a beautiful writer, and has done amazing work. And that’s very inspiring.

Charlie Olsen  28:42  

Being a communications director is a big role. I’m not sure how big from what I’ve seen of your work, it seems like you’re all over the place working on it. Do you have any tips and tricks for managing at all?

Denise Robbins  28:59  

Oh, really, really, really good to do list? Honestly, that’s like, pretty much the only thing. Paper digital, digital, Oh, God, not paper. Now you have to be able to cut and paste and x things out. And yeah, I definitely learned so much about, you know, strategic time management and planning and all of that. And, and there are lots of spreadsheets that we have for references. We have so many planning documents. But at the end of the day, like all I have is just this one like digital to do list and that’s what gets me through. If I need to do something, and I don’t write it down, it’s not going to get done. So always write things down.

Charlie Olsen  29:50  

I have learned that the hard way over time, I’ve learned that the hard way. That is a good tip. Final question: you’re going to take You’re off, you’re going to be writing, putting together your own MFA program. What’s next for you in this is you’re turning the page on this chapter of your life and going into the next key. Tell me a little bit about what the future looks like.

Denise Robbins  30:15  

Not quite sure if I think part of it depends on how this next year goes. Um, I’ve honestly never really planned more than a couple of years ahead. I’ve always just realized what is the next best step? What’s the next right step?

Charlie Olsen  30:33  

Thank you so much. Thank you for all of your contribution sissy can and to the climate movement and everything. We wish you the best of luck.

Denise Robbins  30:44  

Thank you and I to you as well. I’m definitely excited about the crew that’s there right now. And we have a lot of a lot of good things coming and I’m really glad to have been a part of it.

Key Permit for Eastern Shore Pipeline APPROVED


Laura Cofsky, laura@chesapeakeclimate.org, 202-642-9336
Anthony Field, anthony@chesapeakeclimate.org, 301-664-4068

Advocacy Groups Criticize Maryland Board of Public Works Decision in Wake of Climate Change and Justice Concerns

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Leading environmental and justice groups expressed shock today after members of the Board of Public Works voted 3 to 0 to approve a key permit for the Del-Mar Pipeline to carry fracked gas into the Eastern Shore region of Maryland. The Del-Mar Pipeline is one of the two controversial, dirty-energy pipelines proposed for the region in an era of rapid climate change and environmental justice sensitivity. 

Although Wednesday’s vote does not guarantee the pipeline will be built, it does signal that opponents of the project — including the NAACP and Chesapeake Climate Action Network — are running out of options for fighting it. The Del-Mar pipeline is already under construction in Delaware to carry gas from that state into Maryland. The seven miles of pipeline proposed for Maryland would supply concentrated animal feeding operations, businesses, and residential areas. 

“By approving the Del-Mar pipeline, the Board has elected to ignore numerous climate change and environmental justice concerns,” CCAN’s Maryland campaign coordinator Anthony Field said. “Building this pipeline will set back the state’s climate goals while further burdening vulnerable communities on the Eastern Shore.”

For months, the Hogan Administration has put its thumb on the scale in favor of this project. While studies have shown that there are cheaper and viable alternatives to gas, including electrification and geothermal energy, the State of Maryland didn’t consider any of these options. Instead, it only requested applications for a gas pipeline to supply fracked gas to two state-run facilities.

“The proposed pipeline will produce large quantities of deadly methane that will accelerate global heating,” said John Groutt of the Wicomico Environmental Trust. “The Delmarva Peninsula is the third most threatened area of the country for flooding. Intruding salt water is already destroying productive agricultural land and forests, and this will increase with this project. The same energy could be supplied easily and more cheaply by solar and wind without the harmful side effects.” 

The two proposed pipelines are part of the Hogan Administration’s plans to spend $103 million significantly increasing fracked-gas pipelines and infrastructure in the state. This includes $30.3 million administered by the Maryland Energy Administration’s (MEA) new Maryland Gas Expansion Fund “for the expansion of natural gas infrastructure.” The remaining $70 million is recoverable from MD ratepayers. Read more about it here.

“This is not a smart decision,” Sierra Club Maryland Chapter Director Josh Tulkin said. “Greenlighting another fracked gas pipeline is like throwing more gasoline on the climate crisis. This project undermines the state’s climate goals and contradicts the recommendations of the Maryland Climate Commission, which is led by the Governor’s own Secretary of the Environment.”

As a next step, CCAN will continue to fight the pipeline, including the Chesapeake Utilities portion which is expected to come before the Board in the next couple of months. 


The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.