Monday, August 20, 2018

Day 20 - A Climate Impacts Tour

Denise and Steve are two retired professionals who are very involved in climate work. They were wonderful hosts. Over a delicious breakfast in their home, we got to talking about local climate-related impacts in their community. At the talk the night before, we heard mentions of increased flooding in the area. Well, this morning Steve and Denise elaborated. In the past 10 years, the area has experienced extreme rainfall which has led to 100-year flooding events.


Steve and Denise told us about the homes in their community that have been swept away as the river has flooded. Steve’s medical practice, which he built high above the flood plain, was ruined several times over just 10 years by flooding. As an MD, a lot of important equipment and paperwork was ruined. Over breakfast, Denise offered to take us on a tour of the town to show us the areas that have been hit by flooding. We saw one empty lot where a home was lost to erosion, and another home which has a river increasingly encroaching on the property. In one rain event, the home owners left the doors open as the the river flowed right through the living room! When you look at the river, it looks like a small creek. But it has become increasingly ferocious during rain events. Check out one of our film clips from the morning tour below!


We got a lot of great footage thanks to a tour by Denise. After this, we had a long drive as we approached our last few days of driving until the east coast. We drove for about 6 hours, and spent the night somewhere off the highway.  Last night in Lakewood, Ohio, marked our last scheduled climate talk before reaching the east coast. It was a celebration to have completed our northern leg of climate talks!

Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                            Athina Simolaris, M.A.
                                       

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Day 19 - To Ohio!

In this particular neighborhood, we received a lot of “thank you for what you are doing” comments. So that was nice! We had a bit of a drive to get to Lakewood, Ohio, where our next climate talk was being held. Excitingly, it was held at another brewery/restaurant, which you all know we love!




We met the organizers for a dinner before our 7:30PM talk. It is so great getting to meet different people who are doing important work in their communities across the country to further the climate conversation and work towards solutions! We met Denise and Steve, who were also at the dinner and who we would be staying with that night. This event was held by a collection of Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapters in the area. The talk went great, with a full room. Since this was held at a restaurant, the seating arrangement was around little tables. This setup easily invited discussion among groups, and also was a nice chance to get to know different attendees.


In this area people have been noticing more mild winter temperatures. We were told that Lake Erie doesn’t even freeze over any more. In the past, it was common for the lake to freeze in the winter so much that you could drive your car across it. Also, the area is seeing more and more algae blooms, and we heard mentions of increased flooding. We would see more of this first-hand the following day. Following the talk, and before heading to our hosts’ home, we stopped in a little restaurant to get a snack. The restaurant was focused on gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, but had an entire vegan menu! We ordered “chicken” nuggets that were actually tofu, which came with a vegan dipping sauce. They were delicious, and a testament that eating less meat can be easy and fun!
Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"



Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                      Athina Simolaris, M.A.
                                             


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Day 18 - Ann Arbor Day 2

We started our day off with a morning climate talk held in a community room in the city. There were about 40 people, which was a great turn out for a Saturday morning. We learned about the different changes that the community is experiencing with weather, including extreme precipitation events and temperatures. Following the event, we had lunch with the organizers at a cute spot nearby. Ann Arbor has some nice restaurants! We had a lot to do, so after lunch we found ourselves back at the AirBNB working on email, blogs, and phone calls related to our tour. We have found that free time is not something we have encountered a whole lot of on the road, so it was nice to have a few hours to focus on our to-do items. This didn’t last too long, as we had plans to interview Guy Williams, who we mentioned in the last blog. 


We met Guy the night before when he noticed the decals on our car. It turns out Guy has a non-profit called “Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.” He also helped write the Detroit Climate Action Plan! He was also one of the friendliest people we had ever met! He happened to be organizing a block party in his community on Saturday, which he invited us to. We were happy to accept! The work he is doing is incredible and necessary. We were fortunate to interview Guy about his work. We learned some history about the city of Detroit, and the issues that Guy is working to address. We learned that due to a combination of factories, including the largest municipal solid waste incinerator in the nation, the air quality in Detroit is some of the worst. We learned that 2-3 people a day die in the Detroit Metro Area alone due to poor air quality. With 80% of Detroiters being people of color, this is a huge environmental justice issue. We talked about climate change and how on top of being a being an environmental issue, it is also an ethical and political issue. Those least responsible for climate change are suffering the most. That concluded our day in Ann Arbor! Take a look at our interview with Guy Williams, featured below!



Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri



Friday, August 17, 2018

Day 17 - Ann Arbor, MI

Today, we got a late start as usual. Packing the car is the X factor that always slows us down. We have so many things stuffed in the tiny car, such that everything must be placed in the “right” spot to fit. Thus, things easily become disorganized each time we unpack overnight. Not long after hitting the road, we were greeted by an unfortunate situation. The car suddenly began clanking loud. I pulled over thinking the engine must have fallen out! As it turned out, the rear tire had a big bolt head protruding. Shoot, a flat tire! I thought it odd that a bolt head should be making such a large clanking sound, but what do I know? Fortunately, we broke down about 5 mins from a mechanic, who was able to patch the tire and get us on the road within minutes. What luck! The mechanic, Jose, retrieved the bolt from the tire and gave it to us. This was no ordinary bolt. It was a thick, 5-inch beast! No wonder the car was making such a loud noise. The clanking sound was from the tip of the bolt hitting the inside of the tire frame with every tire rotation. Crazy!



We didn’t pull into Ann Arbor until late at night. We hit the grocery store, since our AirBNB had a full kitchen where we could actually do a little cooking. As luck would have it, we ran into a man by the name of Guy Williams in the parking lot. Guy noticed the “On the Road for Climate Action” magnet on the side of our car and struck up conversation. As it turns out, he owns a non-profit called “Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.” He and his team played a key role in drafting Detroit’s Climate Action Plan. What serendipity!


After chatting for a bit, Guy invited us over to a community picnic in his neighborhood the next day, and agreed to be interviewed about the work he and his charity have been doing. Video coming shortly! Upon picking up groceries and checking into our AirBNB, Athina took a stroll into town. It was late at night, but we’d had a long day and wanted to get out and explore a bit. We’re so glad we did. Ann Arbor is a cute town!

Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                        Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                       


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Day 16 – Chicago

Today was scheduled to be a day meeting with a local Native American community to discuss climate change and environmental impacts. Unfortunately, this event was canceled, which we discovered the day prior. Thus, today would be a rest day. Perhaps this was for the better, given the extremely rushed schedule we’ve been subjecting ourselves to over the last 2 weeks. The morning started out with usual work and emails. We got a particularly exiting email this morning. Senator Barbara Boxer’s team reached out to us, and wants us as guests on her podcast “Fight Back.” How exciting! This will take place in early September. We’ll keep you all posted! Our AirBNB was located a few blocks from Lake Michigan, and about an hour walk from downtown. Instead of taking the car to downtown, we decided to take advantage of the lake view and enjoy a nice stroll by foot. This was also the carbon-free option! What a gorgeous day it was. Athina had never been to Chicago, so it was exciting to show her around.


We had planned to have a nice dinner in town, but unfortunately time sped by, and by the time we were done exploring, many restaurants had closed. We were starving and quickly grew tired of searching for restaurants. Thus, we ultimately found ourselves at Panda Express. Quite an anticlimactic dinner, but so it goes. We capped the night by taking an elevator 90+ flights up to the top of the Hancock building to catch the panoramic view.

Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                  Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                 


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Day 15 - Blue Fruits Farm, MN

The morning offered a little relaxation, particularly since we stayed at a hotel, which came with the luxury of a free breakfast! This hasn’t been the norm for us, so we took full advantage. This morning’s destination was Blue Fruits Farm, Minnesota, where we’d meet organic farmer Jim Riddle. Jim operates a truly remarkable farm. He plants native wild flowers all around his farm to nourish native pollinator insects. And boy did they work! The native plant patches were teaming with butterflies, wasps, bees, and other bugs. These wild flowers also turn out to be a cash crop. 


He sells the seeds to other farms. What a great farming business model! Jim introduced us to a variety of berries, including the aronia berry, elder berry, and honey berry, all of which Jim graciously let us sample as we walked the farmland. When we asked, “why organic?” Jim responded, “…because farming is about nurturing life. Pesticides do the opposite.” Jim’s farm made Athina and I want to become farmers.


The beautiful hilltop where his farm was located, complete with a solar powered home built halfway into the earth, did not hurt. We have some great interview footage with Jim, which will be coming soon to this website. After our meeting with Jim, we sped off for a 5+ hour drive to Chicago, where I needed to give a live online lecture (I’m currently teaching an online environmental health course). We made it just in time to our AirBNB! Our night ended with a relaxed beer and pizza in downtown Chicago. It was another busy day, but a very exciting and fulfilling one.

Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                                             


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Day 14 - Johnson Farms, SD

Today was both exciting and somber. The excitement came from our visit to Johnson Farms, where we met with farmer Charlie. The somber part was that it was my mother’s last day on the road with us. We’d be soon dropping her off at a small airport in South Dakota. The day started off nicely, waking up at an AirBNB located on the Missouri River. The building doubled as an “old folks’ home.” Before returning to the road, we flew the drone out back, capturing the gorgeous scenery around the river, while elder spectators circled around, many in wheel chairs, for the exciting launch. It was thrilling for all involved! After an hour on the road, we pulled up to Charlie’s farm, using dirt roads and hand-written directions (e.g. turn right at the church). 


Located in South Dakota, Charlie operates an organic farm, where he mostly grows corn and soy for cattle. He gave us a fantastic tour, explaining how he manages to ward off pest and maintain high productivity, all while avoiding pesticides. Charlie had a lot to say about fossil fuels, particularly given that his farm has part of the Dakota Access Pipeline running underneath. He has also noticed extreme weather in recent years that is unusual to the area. Without use of irrigation, his crops are especially vulnerable to dry spells. We have a lot of great footage and interviews that we can’t wait to share, so stay tuned! Sadly, our tour had to end sharply after an hour, since we needed to take my mom to the airport and then race over to Iowa for a climate talk in Emmitsburg. After a reluctant goodbye, we made haste. Iowa marked the longest stretch of corn field driving we had yet experienced. 


Emmitsburg would become our smallest event, with just 6 people in attendance. However, it was no less important. People were engaged, and inquisitive, and even donated to our cause! One guest bought a copy of my book, Beyond Debate, in order to donate to the library (where the event was hosted). 


After the event, Athina and I had still had to drive 3 hours to our overnight destination. It is truly amazing how incredibly long each day has been. Very little time relax and soak things up. We’re realizing that our pace has been too fast. We plan to slow things down a bit on the return trip.

Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                                       


Monday, August 13, 2018

Day 13 - Native American Outreach


We traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation while in South Dakota. Our first stop was the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, where we had two plans. The first was to invite the youth to contribute to our inter-tribal “Parachute for the Planet.” The second was to tour Thunder Valley’s sustainable living project. In terms of art, the kids created some wonderful designs to represent Oglala Sioux Nation. 


As for the tour, engagement director Andy Iron Shell gave us a spectacular tour of all they’re doing with sustainability at Thunder Valley. In short, the objective of their project is to improve health, culture and the environment on the reservation. The plans are factoring in climate change by constructing homes and structures that can sustain 120 mph winds. And they’re powered by solar panels! Economically, these homes will be affordable for single families and are helping to create jobs for future generations by employing local apprentices in the construction process. The project, which will house 900 people within a 1-mile perimeter, strives to foster community interaction within the reservation. They’re also building artisan shops, a community center, and a fitness center, along with a community garden. Currently, Pine Ridge Reservation gets much of its food and energy from offsite. 


This project will set the community up to be self-sufficient, producing its own energy and food. Importantly, we learned that the area has been battered with baseball-sized hail in recent years, which is unusual for the region. The new housing project offers safer living, compared to trailer homes, which are weaker and become destroyed in such storms. Click here to learn how you can help support the project! Our next stop was the Rosebud Sioux reservation, where more youth contributed artwork. The inter-tribal parachute is truly special and is looking more beautiful with each visit to a new community. 

Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Athina Simolaris, M.A.                                                                                                                 


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Day 12 - Nebraska & South Dakota

We departed from Denver just after 7AM. We had slept at my friend’s house, after reconvening with my mother. Our friend was one of those still hanging out in Breckenridge. He told us to help ourselves from his garden out back. So we hit the road with a giant yellow squash and a bell pepper. Thanks Dave! We arrived to Chadron, Nebraska, 5 hrs after departing, just in time for our 1PM speaking event. The event was organized by a wonderful Citizens’ Climate Lobby member named Cheryl. This was the "new" event that we had just added to our calendar a week prior. I’m so glad we did! Despite last minute organization, Cheryl managed to draw over 55 people to come hear us speak at the local high school, atop an elevated stage with a giant screen to project our PowerPoint slides. 


Learning from our great event at the Shambhala Center in Boulder, we decided to “present” only about half the time, leaving a substantial amount of time to hear from the audience about their experience with climate change. We learned that people in Chadron have been noticing erratic weather patterns and many more fires in recent years. In fact, most of our drive to the event was accompanied by a powerful smoke in the air, from fire burning in South Dakota. At this event, I was expecting to get some push back about the notion of human-caused climate change. To my surprise, the audience was very receptive and curious. In fact, I sold more copies of Beyond Debate in Chadron than at any event up to that point. After a quick interview with a local reporter, we hit the road to get to our next event in South Dakota. 


Cheryl kindly sent us away with fresh veggies from her garden, along with other goodies, which would end up keeping us fed for several rushed travel days ahead. Thanks Cheryl!! We were now bound for Rapid City, for a 5PM event. We pulled into the parking lot of Hay Camp Brewery, an exciting venue unlike any we’d previously spoken at. Our event organizers, again CCL volunteers, had put together an extravagant assortment of hors d’oeuvres, and even treated us to a beer, which the brewery owner, Sam, helped us select. As with Chadron, the talk took place up on a big stage; this time with a fancy green background and mood lighting. It felt like a Ted Talk! 


We again had an engaged and participatory audience. Guests spoke of erratic rain, snow, and wildfires. One woman noted that the warm days are getting warmer while the cold days are getting colder. Temperature extremes! One of our hosts let us pick up some Brew Co swag. Thanks Karla! Despite two amazing events in the same day, one of the highlights on this day was unquestionably the beautiful view, warm breeze, and welcomed glass of wine we shared with our host, Mary, and her friend and husband on the patio of their gorgeous home which sat on a nearby hilltop. A truly terrific day! 

Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                             


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Day 10 & 11 - A Break in Breckenridge

Although our last morning in Boulder was a busy one, we managed to squeeze in a jog. A mile high jog makes for some tired lungs! After departing from our AirBNB, Athina and I were excited to break away from our busy schedules to head up to Breckenridge. On the way, we had an interview with a reporter from Emmitsburg, Iowa, where we’d be heading in a few days. The conversation went well (if you ignore the several instances where we lost service due to tunnels and mountains, requiring us to embarrassingly keep calling back!). En route to our destination, Athina and I spotted heavy bark beetle damage among the trees. We decided to pull off the side of the highway and fly our drone, which was donated to us a month prior. This would be our first official reconnaissance mission using this amazing piece of video equipment (literally a flying camera!). We got some terrific, albeit sad, footage of the tree damage, which we’ll share with you soon. 


Arriving to Breckenridge was a breath of fresh air, figuratively and literally. We timed this part of our journey to rejoice with my brother and several friends, who were vacationing in a lovely timeshare. There’s nothing like friends and family when you’re away from home! The night was filled with fun and catching up. The following day would be more of the same. We took a dip in the pool, strolled through town, and took a walk in the woods. Excitingly, we encountered “Music in the Trees!” Literally, people playing music IN THE TREES! A 3 piece string quartet, tied to make-shift ledges and a stool strapped 12 feet up the trunks of 3 trees. What an exciting thing! 


Athina and I were sad to depart on the second day. We had initially planned to stay 2 nights with our friends. But we recently got a request to squeeze in a second climate talk on Sunday, which meant we would need to do a very early departure in the morning. Leaving Breckenridge at night was the wise choice. It would allow us to wake up at 6AM the next morning, rather than 4:30AM, as we hit the road for 2 events in Nebraska and South Dakota. It was a fun break a Breckenridge, but a short one. Duty called! 


Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri
                                               


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Day 9 - Shambhala Center, Boulder

Today was our first relaxed day of the journey thus far. Nowhere to drive or hike to. The morning kicked off nicely with the airing of my radio interview with Nevada NPR as well as the featuring of our project in a article written up by the Huffington Post. How exciting! After a couple hours of work and email catchup, we took to the street. We decided to spend some time canvasing the public, asking them about climate change, and distributing our climate change survey. Given the progressive nature of Boulder, I was expecting to be met with quite some interest, brandishing our 3 by 4 foot banner “On the Road for Climate Action.” 


To my surprise, virtually nobody paid a visit to hear about our tour or efforts. We passed out a number of flyers to passerbys, but were overall feeling a bit discouraged by the end of the hour. It was nonetheless an interesting experiment, if nothing else came of it. After a quick falefal sandwich lunch, we made our way home to prepare for our evening event at the Shamala center. It could not have asked for a better pick-me-up after our discouraging canvasing efforts than the enthusiasm we were met with at the event. This marked our first truly interactive event, in which a large part of the 2+ hours was focused on Q/A and team discussions. People had a lot to say about climate change. One activity asked people to trade ideas about how to reduce their carbon footprints. I was excited to hear that a couple people made commitments such as only eating meat twice per week, etc. The event was filled with positive energy! The event concluded around 9:30PM, and by 10 we were on our way to meet a Native American community leader, to whom we passed our “parachute for the planet.” His community would leave their artistic mark. Fortunately, we found a sub sandwich restaurant that was still open at 11PM, which offered a variety of tasty veggie subs. I had the tofu bbq sub! It was a great conclusion to one of our longest days of climate action! 


Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                                     


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Day 8 - Rocky Mountain National Park

This was a long awaited day! Today we were met with two rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park, Chelsea and Christie, who generously set aside their afternoon to take us on a private tour of the bark beetle afflicted regions of the forest. This tour was truly spectacular. We witnessed firsthand the destruction that the bark beetle has caused. 


Lodgepole pines and spruce were particularly affected. In many areas, entire hillsides were brown with dead trees, scattered with lucky green survivors in between. The bark beetle is native to the area. However, the rangers explained that winters have been getting warmer in the Rockies, which has meant that more bark beetles have been surviving to emerge in spring. When bark beetles emerge, they target new trees, boring into the bark, eating the underlying “cambium” layer, and introducing a harmful “blue fungus” that ultimately suffocates and kills the tree. Increased bark beetle epidemics and increased tree death have been a signature of global warming. Following our tour, we had a speaking event in which rangers and park volunteers attended. We had lively discussion and learned a great deal from one another. I gifted a couple copies of Beyond Debate to our ranger hosts as a thank you! What a magical day! Thanks to our ranger friends at Rocky Mountain! We captured interesting video footage and interviews. Check out Part I of our Rocky Mountain footage below! 


Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                                              


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Day 7 - To Boulder We Go!

​​Our morning kicked off bright and early. We’ve been trying to maintain healthy diets while on the road, but Athina found a famous donut shop that our traveling hearts just couldn’t resist. Thus, an apple fritter and glazed donut accompanied our departure. 


It was 5+ hours to Boulder. This was a particularly special day, because it would mark the day that my mother Teri would join our journey for a week. Neither her nor Athina had ever been to Boulder. I new they’d love it, and surely they did. Boulder is a cute town with gorgeous mountains surrounding. We convened at a darling AirBNB off the famous Pearl Street. We would call this home for the next 3 nights. We didn’t reunite in Boulder with more than an hour to spare before having getting to an event we had scheduled. A book reading & signing! This would become my first “book signing” ever, for Beyond Debate. The book signing aspect was straight forward of course, but the “book reading” was a bit nerve wracking. Fortunately, it all went very well. I read select chapters of Beyond Debate to a small group, one of whom bought a book, and even asked for flyers to pass to friends! The night concluded with a relaxed dinner on Pearl Street. Cheers to reuniting with family! 


Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                                   



Monday, August 6, 2018

Day 6 - Provo, Utah

We were reluctant to leave our comfortable campsite under a shady tree. But Provo was calling! We had an exciting event scheduled. As we made our way 4 hours north to Provo, we took the opportunity to administer our climate survey along the say. Without the luxury of time to dive into neighboring towns, we surveyed a number of gas station and convenient store employees. We’re pooling this info together, and look forward to sharing our findings with you soon! As we edged closer to Provo, we seemed to be entering a wall of reduced visibility. From a distance I told Athina, “we’re about to enter a rain storm!” As we got closer, it became apparent that rain was not ahead. Fog? In Utah? The haze that we ultimately entered ended up accompanying us all the way to town. We took notice of what seemed to be gorgeous mountains all around, but we couldn't fully appreciate them in the strange haze.  I have no doubt that Provo is gorgeous on a clear day. After freshening up at the scenic home of one of our lovely event organizers, we made our way to an Indian restaurant, where our event hosts treated us to a lovely dinner. At dinner, we learned that the town haze was smoke from the wildfires burning in California. I was shocked! This far away!? As it turns out, summertime haze in Provo is somewhat common as meteorological conditions favor the accumulation of air pollution. But things are getting worse, particularly as fires become more frequent. Our Provo event took place at the public library. It was a beautiful building. We had probably 25 or 30 attendees who came to hear us speak about climate change. We had a lively Q/A to follow. As the event concluded, Athina and I packed ourselves back into the car for another 3 hours of night driving, pulling into our roadside AirBNB around 1AM. Going "On the Road for Climate Action" has no doubt come with a tight and tiring schedule, but it's work worth doing!


Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri
                                                                    



Sunday, August 5, 2018

Day 5 - Bryce Canyon National Park

Our visit to Bryce Canyon started of with a solid morning of work. Athina and I hunkered down at the campsite cafe where we had access to wi-fi in order to catch up on emails, which have really been stacking up ever since we hit the road! By 1PM we entered the park, hoping to get a hike in and perhaps interview some rangers about local climate change impacts. Unfortunately the resident climate expert was not in the building. Thus, we couldn't get the lively video interview we had hoped for. We're learning quickly that we've got to contact the National Parks ahead of time if we want to catch a willing ranger for an interview. Fortunately, we've got that arranged for Rocky Mountain National Park coming this week! In terms of Bryce, though we didn't get any formal ranger interviews on video, we nonetheless had some great discussion. We learned that the "hoodoo" rock formations, which Bryce is known for, may be coming under threat with warming winters. To learn more, check out the video below! 


After such discussion with park employees, Athina and I took a short hike down into the canyon area. Bryce is absolutely gorgeous. We wish we could have spent the whole day there. However, duty called! By 5PM we were back at camp on our laptops, where we would remain until nearly midnight; Athina preparing Sunday's newsletter, and myself replying to emails and trying to keep up on our daily blogs. Life on the road for climate action has its fun, but it also comes with a great deal of work. But it's work well worth it! 

Click here to learn more about "On the Road for Climate Action!"

                                                                              Dr. Shahir Masri