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2014 course offerings that will apply toward a Climate Change Studies minor

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A Little Taste of D.C. in the Woods

By Becca Boslough, Undeclared major
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I never expected to be sitting on a log, in a campground, discussing environmental politics with Nancy Pelosi’s previous Environmental Advisor. In fact I didn’t really expect to ever discuss these things with anyone so important from Washington. As Karen Wayland talked, we all scrambled to write down nearly every word she said. Her sentences were dense with information and knowledge, and the three hours we were sitting there felt like no more than one as we tried to absorb everything we heard. There was an array of striking facts, humorous stories, and an abundance of political knowledge. From the Kyoto Protocol and the Farm Bill to the Media and personalities of certain politicians, I was a bit overwhelmed. But with all that information, Karen did a pretty amazing job of breaking it down into smaller, more palatable pieces.

Of all the things that she talked about, the importance of grassroots movements and individual actions stuck with me. Throughout this trip I have had to keep an open mind, because almost every day it seems like something shocked me or changed my mind. Karen certainly did this within her three hour talk far more than once. When it comes down to it, the importance of these small successes and how they impact the Federal Government was yet again something I didn’t expect to hear about from an important figure from Washington.

These small successes can come in many different packages. Karen mentioned things we’ve seen in our trip, such as the education and conservation opportunities Northwest Connections. When we learned about the Blackfoot Challenge, she talked about how Washington had noticed what was going on in Montana and the impact it was having politically. A point she made was that Congress usually to waits for states to take action on an issue before the Federal Government does. State and local projects are viewed as living experiments. When these experiments are successful, they tend to put pressure on the Federal Government to create an overarching policy.

Karen Wayland hiking in the Swan Valley, bringing the best of D.C to us.  Photo by Nicky Phear.

An example of this is AB 32 in California, which was the first ever Cap and Trade legislation. The oil industry sponsored a referendum to get rid of it, but there was quite a fight put up at the local and state level, and it didn’t work. This was a huge industry in terms of environmental policy. Washington definitely took note of this, and today we have national legislation for Cap and Trade. Cap and Trade involves a variety of factors, including a carbon tax, emissions targets, and investments in research and renewable energy. The Western Climate Initiative is yet another example; as are states and businesses trying to comply with the Kyoto protocol. Internationally, legislation is being drafted to replace the Kyoto Protocol as it expires. But after the U.S. didn’t sign the agreement in the 90s, this local and state action was taken to try and pressure our government to respond.

Karen also outlined the effectiveness of writing our local representatives. She said that a handcrafted letter is a far better more effective than a copy and paste email. From firsthand experience, Karen noted that, “Accessing the system in a different way and making a personal appeal can have more of an impact than you realize.”

In the end, Karen had an abundance of knowledge to share with us, but her standout points were a bit easier to understand than the politics of carbon pricing. When it comes down to it, local action really does make a difference. It makes a difference in the place you live, and the Federal Government takes note of success stories.

Karen has just been appointed as the new head of Climate Change Policy at the Nature Conservancy. When asked what it is that she is going to take back with her to DC, she said it was “looking at the impacts of climate change in our own backyard” and seeing those “small successes” that she views as so vital. So when asked what we can take from our experiences living in Montana and the ingenuity and successes seen here, what would you say?