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We Must Continue to Work for Change

Standing on the doorstep to my retirement, announced in February, the last few months have included a lot of reminiscing, reflecting and taking stock.  

It’s been wonderful to hear from so many dear friends and former colleagues whom I’ve worked with across the country.  You’ve been so generous with well-wishes and advice about retirement.  Those working in our movement — the protection of our planet, its environment, and all that inhabit it —  are in pursuit of a “greater good” and come to our work and mission through a profession, an avocation, a passion, a personal imperative.  

Mission binds us, and for me, has been a nearly unmatched priority in my life. The opportunity to have done this work has been beyond satisfying, both a privilege and a challenge, and has given me an eco-family, in addition to my birth family.

There have been a small handful of people who have hired me along the way, mentored me, supervised me, just given me a chance, so thank you very, very much. And thank you to the folks that have worked “for” me and always so brilliantly.

As I step away, in this moment, we all have grave concerns. Our democracy, our climate, our freedoms, and future generations are grievously threatened. The environmental movement is realizing intersectionality with other movements. In my opinion, the commonalities that are bringing us together are somewhat tenuous. So what binds us needs to be elevated beyond the matters (racism, ageism, classism, political affiliations, city folk or country folk to name a few) that can pull us back into our separate corners. We need to seek out any and all like-minded entities with whom to work, to build power that can outlast the storms that have always been on the horizon, but that are here now and that cannot be under-estimated.  

Here at PennFuture, we’ve taken important steps to bridge divides. We created new programs around civic participation and democracy, in part to open our organization to issues of concern to communities of color. We’ve really ramped up our presence in Pennsylvania’s mid-sized towns and communities – such as Erie, the Lehigh Valley, and the Pocono northeast.  And we are working hard to raise funds to have more of a presence in the north-central heartland counties. These places are strategic to power building, to fight statewide threats that emanate from the underserved and forgotten communities in these locales, and to put us into closer contact with people who can help us figure out how PennFuture can be successful with our work in such a divided state. 

The organization I leave is healthy, and stable, and in the stewardship of very competent and committed individuals. 2022 will be an important one for our state, particularly as we approach the fall general elections. After that, we’ll know where things stand and this knowledge will enable PennFuture, and our strategic partner Conservation Voters of PA, to build their next strategic plan to address those realities, and threats. 

I take great pride in the work PennFuture has done since I came here in 2015. Our thought leadership has been elevated. Our work on greener economic development has made its way into state and federal policy.  We are positioned to offer expertise on emerging threats to our climate – the fossil fuel dimensions of bitcoin mining, new hydrogen hubs, refineries, plastics and petrochemical facilities.  

A space I have always been personally comfortable in has been in advocacy, and like me, PennFuture has been plain in using our voice and influence to fight against industry’s influence on our legislature and our communities. It’s not just in sports where “defense” is the headline. So it has been with PennFuture’s essential work to fight the onslaught of bad policies, bad proposals, and bad projects —  the vast majority to favor fracked gas and other fossil fuels —  that just keep coming. Our legal team has elevated its game in response to these threats, and in addition to just fighting hard, is always looking to test ideas and strategies that protect forgotten communities and places against environmental harms.

We’ve won in the courts. We are moving Pennsylvania forward in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), PennFuture’s climate priority since October 2019. And this summer, in the midst of the budget, we are seeing good possibilities for much-needed environmental funding to be realized because of bi-partisan work in the legislature. If this does happen, it will be a cause for celebration, not just for the green economy sectors (agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism), and land and waters that will benefit, but for the outcome of having all political parties’ support for our environment. 

Something I’ve reflected on in these past months, has been the coalition of groups that helped many years ago to “stop” the damming of Nescopeck Creek, sort of my conservation origin story.  Involved were people of all political persuasions; there were scientists, hunters, and anglers and Sierra Clubbers, and many more involved.  Pennsylvania has a rich natural heritage that for decades was embraced by all.  We must return to that place. 

That day in 1984 when I made a promise to myself to fight the damming of that free-flowing stream, I did what it took to put that promise into action, and organized, and fought, and won.  We must be willing to carry on the fight when necessary, to build bridges where we can and until we change hearts and minds, and our state.  

Lastly, for the many, many years that I had the privilege to be in this field, I came to work every day and tried to make something happen, tried to create change.  Between the fights, some losses, and wins, I never lost hope that change is possible. This work is a long-term proposition.  I feel blessed to help carry the green flame for four decades; and pass it onto others who I know will pursue it with fight, endurance, and hope.  

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