The Utah-based Association for the Tree of Life has a plan.
Michael Mielke speaking at a Tree of Life event. Data from political scientist Erica Chenoweth suggest that sustained nonviolent engagement from only 3.5% of the population is enough to create significant change.
Photo: Jean Arnold
As a progressive person living in This, Our Year of Regressive Politics, I’ve felt increasingly that I’m standing in the middle of a vast plain as fires spring up around me (DAPL! Planned Parenthood defunding! EPA gutted! Travel ban!).
Armed only with one relatively small and rather leaky bucket of time, attention and money, it can feel overwhelmingly foolish at times to think that my actions can do anything to dampen the heat from this multiplicity of problems… and with the conflagration of global warming burning ever closer, it sometimes seems things can only get worse.
This language might seem overwrought to those used to the short shrift given to global warming issues in national media and by the current administration, but as organizations like the Association for the Tree of Life (ATL) are trying to make clear, we are in a state of emergency. According to ATL Director of Development Jean Arnold and Strategist Michael Mielke, nothing less than the full-on siren of a speeding firetruck is an appropriate response. And it is up to people at the grassroots level to provide both warning and rescue response team. They say we must phase out fossil fuels now or we are looking at the end of both civilization and humanity.
The Association for the Tree of Life was founded in the 1980s by Lance Christie (now deceased) who served in various appointed and elected local government positions in Southeastern Utah. Both Arnold and Mielke are well-versed on environmental issues: Arnold is a well-known visual artist who has tackled land use and climate issues in her work, in addition to founding the Post Carbon Salt Lake group. Mielke worked on the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration act, successful passed by Congress in 1990 to counter wetland destruction along the Gulf Coast.
Arnold is clear on the crisis status of the global warming threat: “Over all other issues we face, the health and stability of our climate will determine the future of life on Earth, and the continuation of civilization,” she says. “We want to inform people that climate is the overarching issue. The majority of Americans know climate change is real, but think it is this distant, off-in-the-future thing. We need to get the word out that it is barreling at us full speed right now.”
And the Association for the Tree of Life really does mean now. According to Mielke, real action has to come with analysis and discussion. From their Salt Lake City headquarters, ATL is sponsoring the Climate Emergency Coalition (CEC), a national program with hubs around the country, including an office in Washington, D.C., where they support lobbying efforts for their current thrust, the Climate Mobilization Campaign. The Campaign is already gathering national support from those who embrace the notion of a radical emergency response.
But while the problem is complex, the plan is refreshingly simple. An easy-to-remember, easy-to-commit-to number comes up amid the detailed reports you can find on the ATL’s website: the number “two.”
The Climate Mobilization Campaign is built to respond to the idea that if radical change isn’t enacted in the next few years, it will be impossible to stop the average global temperature from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels (widely thought by the scientific community to be the point at which the worrying effects of climate change shade into the catastrophic).
Therefore, the ATL and CEC are looking at a two-year timeframe for the Climate Mobilization Campaign. The strategy guiding this radical action is focused on creating a “fee- and-dividend” structure to incentivize a rapid departure from fossil fuels.
The mechanics of such a program involve placing the “fee” on fossil fuels at the point of entrance into the U.S. economy, whether extracted locally or imported from abroad. Costs are passed down the supply chain, eventually reaching end-line consumers. These increased costs would make renewable energy sources more competitively priced in relation, and the “dividend” portion of the plan would then come into play as a pay-out to individual U.S. citizens to help meet these increased costs, even providing a net benefit to those who use fewer resources (i.e. the working and middle class). It is the ATL team’s hope that this market-based approach will appeal to both left- and right-leaning individuals.
The Campaign attempts to preach beyond the choir, but there is still some very good news for making this plan a reality even if the choir is all you get. That’s where another small and easy-to-digest number comes in: 3.5%.
The Association for the Tree of Life relies on data produced by political scientist Erica Chenoweth, which suggests that sustained nonviolent engagement from only 3.5% of the population is enough to create very literal revolutions, let alone tackle big issues with political ramifications.
This suggests that a movement of only 103,000 or so of Utah’s 2.9 million citizens, dedicated to changing the energy landscape at a local level may have a very good shot: “It can be difficult to jump in, because you think you’re overwhelmed by the majority… and it’s just not true,” says Mielke.
If organizing that number of individuals still seems overwhelming, consider that (according to data tracked at elections.utah.gov/p arty-and-status) nearly 158,000 Utahns are registered and active Democrats in this overwhelmingly red state.
But ATL isn’t ready to give up on those across the political aisle (and voters outside the two-party system) just yet. In May, Arnold and Mielke are offering a series of free programs that will review the background science and provide a detailed action plan needed to manifest a grassroots movement on a rapid timeline.
As part of the “Climate Change and Sustainability: Effective Responses in the Trump Era” program launching in May, the ATL team plans to provide all participants with a copy of Climageddon: The Global Warming Emergency and How to Survive It by Lawrence Wollersheim. Coming out early this month as both an ebook and print copy from Job One for Humanity, Climageddon lays out the details of a comprehensive action plan, developed hand-in-hand with the Association for the Tree of Life, that will give participants in the ATL’s programming the know-how to inspire others and take meaningful action in a decisive way.
If you can’t wait until May to get involved, you can sign the “Petition to Declare a Formal Global Warming State of Emergency."
The Association for the Tree of Life is also partnering with the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake (569 S 1300 E) for a special Earth Day service at 11am on Sunday, April 23, that will help those ready to defend a livable future immerse heart and mind in “sacred activism.”
Finally, the ATL is helping promote the Utah People’s Climate March, 1-3pm on April 29 at the Salt Lake City Public Library (210 E 400 S).