Two components of nature, coal and mountains – one villainous, the other virtuous – shaped my youth in south-central Montana. Fourteen years before my birth, a coal-mining accident took my paternal grandfather’s life. Three months prior to my birth, in 1943, disaster struck my hometown of Red Lodge when an underground explosion, followed by the release of carbon monoxide and methane gases, took the lives of 74 coal miners. Everyone in town lost a father, brother, son, neighbor, or friend. Following World War II, local mines closed and a deep economic collapse followed, motivating many abled-bodied, better-educated, employable people to emigrate. In recent years, I have learned coal is not only a personal villain but also, when burned, contributes to global warming, and – because of climate changes such as coastal flooding, collapse of food systems, heat stroke, vector diseases, and wildfires – coal combustion is a growing risk to the health and well-being of humans.
Red Lodge is home to a District Ranger Station on the Custer National Forest, a sprawling, checkerboard collection of public lands totaling more than a million acres, containing much of the Beartooth Mountain Range, and forming an integral part of the Greater Yellowstone Bioregion. In the early 1960s, the Kennedy Administration initiated major public-works projects, including road construction and, in 1963, the U.S. Forest Service hired me for summer work building a new road in the Custer National Forest. Subsequently, for an additional six summers, I did trail construction, campground maintenance, research about uses people made of wilderness resources, and wildfire suppression. Now, fifty years later, I see significant threats to the precious flora and fauna of the Beartooths and to humans living nearby. Climate changes – including melting glaciers, insect-infested forests, severe drought, and massive wildfires – are threatening life and property in mountain ranges across the Western U.S. and worldwide.
Now living in Annapolis, I see Mid-Atlantic climate changes: growing hurricane intensity, more tidal flooding events, and increasing risk of storm surge flooding. Annapolis is a community on the front line of climate change, and the Climate Stewards of Greater Annapolis, which I helped co-found, has become a source of education and a springboard for advocacy actions about global warming.
I care about climate change because it endangers the well-being of nature and people. The scientific literature gives me a growing sense of urgency to do all I can personally, and as a citizen, to reduce the use of coal, oil, and natural gas, and to remove carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere. My family is at risk. Humanity is at risk. I cannot sit idly by.