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POW Executive Director Mario Molina: Vote for the Climate This Midterm

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The Backyard Stories is a new podcast and written column, in partnership with Protect Our Winters (POW), following athletes and local food advocates who are deeply invested in their home ecosystems – their backyards. Read the introduction here.



As we head into the midterm elections tomorrow, there’s a lot at stake.

Through The Backyard Stories we have learned from athletes and farmers about how their home ecosystems, their backyards, are impacted by climate change: wildfire, diminished snowpack, compromised air quality, water access in farming communities, and what it’s like raising kids in our new climate reality.

The stories of Stephanie Howe, Kimo Laughlin, Dani Reyes-Acosta, Nick Brown, and Mike Foote are all deeply individual and specific to their regions, but the thread that runs through is that protecting wild and managed places takes action.

Last week, I had a conversation with Mario Molina, Executive Director of Protect Our Winters, about political action. We talked about creating rituals around civic engagement, how across political parties there is mostly agreement on climate issues, and the main ingredient in a representative democracy.

RELATED: Care About the Outdoors? You Need to Vote in the Midterms.

“Most Americans, whether they identify as Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, recognize that the climate is changing and that it is human-caused, agree that something should be done about it, and that there should be government intervention,” Molina told me from his home office near Boulder, Colorado. What we don’t agree, he shares, is where climate issues should be prioritized along with everything else.

“There’s a lot on the ballot. What’s important for those whose livelihoods and lifestyles rely on a healthy planet and healthy landscapes is to realize that this election will determine whether we continue on a path that has been laid to transition the country to a renewable energy future.”

 

“Whether it was coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, glacial recession in the Andes, or increased hurricane risk in the Caribbean, I realized that climate was affecting every single natural landscape that I enjoyed recreating in,” said Molina.

 

Molina has been working in the climate change arena for the past 12 years. Prior to leading Protect Our Winters, he was the International Director for the Climate Reality Project. He first became involved in energy and climate policy in 2010, when he started noticing a lot of changes in the outdoor places he loves.

“Whether it was coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, glacial recession in the Andes, or increased hurricane risk in the Caribbean, I realized that climate was affecting every single natural landscape that I enjoyed recreating in,” said Molina.

Running To Vote

I am one of those people who rely directly on a healthy planet and healthy landscapes, not only as a runner, but as a potato farmer (you can find my favorite recipe below.) I came into this sport from the rigor of motherhood and physical labor on our farm. Running was supposed to be a respite. It soon became a competition and, ultimately, a career path.

A baking rack with a dozen chocolate chip cookies on the a pan.

Click Here for Jonnah Perkins’s Potato Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe 

From my earliest days of ultra distance running, I made sense of the sheer volume of miles with this idea that, one day, the physical endurance would have a tangible purpose. Maybe it would require me to cover vast tracts of land on foot to help someone, or – my favorite daydream – to be a foot messenger, tasked with delivering a message in hostile territory.

Now I see that we are in hostile territory, and I do have a message to deliver.

I have been running to my rural town hall in Vermont, Wisconsin, on election day, ever since 2018. It’s about ten miles out-and-back on rolling country roads, up to the old school house on a windy ridgetop. The message I’m delivering here is for my political representatives, indicating what actions I support, while the hostile territory is today’s political polarization and climate catastrophe.

While running to cast my vote is more symbolic rather than necessary, it still makes me feel more for the event. It has nothing to do with not driving a vehicle. In fact, when I get to town hall, my husband and kids are often already there, pulling up to the building in a car. It has to do with the fact that I can run, and because it is a solitary ritual that adds more purpose to the practice.

Self-portrait of the author on her running route to the town hall. (Photo: Jonnah Perkins)

“Whenever possible, voting is a family activity,” Molina told me. “We go as a family and I let my four year-old cast the ballot. When she was two I put the ballot in her hands and let her slip it in. We will do the same for this election. My goal is to instill engagement from her because she will be casting ballots in every election when she is old enough to vote – then for the rest of her life.”

Building ritual around political action takes the experience from duty to ceremony.

“It’s important to create an atmosphere of celebration around voting. It’s a privilege and it’s a legacy,” Molina said about the environment he fosters, not only for his family, but as a leader in climate advocacy. “What we have seen over 200 years of the American experiment is that it can be improved, it can be changed, it can be attacked, it can come under a lot of pressure. Yet it continues to move forward mostly in the way that it was designed to, with its flaws and its challenges and its corruption. But a representative democracy continues to be the system of government we have seen work.”

The window of time to save ourselves from a bleak climate reality is narrowing. The largest lever we can pull is that of the political system. Molina believes deeply in the democratic process, but it needs to be fully utilized for it to work, “It was designed to withstand a lot of pressures, intentionally. But the one pressure [a representative democracy] can’t withstand, and will not withstand, is a lack of participation. The very cornerstone of democracy is participation.”

Tomorrow, I will run up to my town hall, ready to deliver my message. Along the way I will pass my rural neighbors who are also on their way to vote. While I have no influence on how they vote or what issues they prioritize, I will be witnessing a representative democracy in action, on foot, at ground level.

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