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May 2015 • Online Edition

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McClelland Embraces Climate Project For The Earth’s Sake | Print |  E-mail

by Susan Dugan

Paddy McClelland’s passion for community activism is in the bones.

PADDY MCCLELLAND COMES BY HER ACTIVIST LEANINGS HONESTLY. The Platt Park resident has a photo of her grandmother riding a horse from Idaho Springs to Denver to hear William Jennings Bryan speak in 1906. McClelland's growing environmental focus sprang from a chance comment by her then seven-year-old sons asking what they were going to do to save the Arctic polar bear population from the growing threat of climate change.

A third generation Colorado native, her grandmother, daughter of a Colorado state senator, grew up in Idaho Springs. During the recent presidential election McClelland paid homage to the family matriarch by creating the Facebook page: Colorado Cowgirls for Obama.

“We have a picture of my grandmother riding a horse down to the first Democratic Convention in Colorado in 1906 to hear William Jennings Bryan speak. She was a powerful woman and we wanted to honor that historical voice of the cowgirls and suffragettes. I just saw so many parallels to today. Colorado was the first state to grant women the right to vote, and industry people tried to fight them by going into the saloons to get support to shut the suffragettes down. And who stood up and spoke out but the prostitutes and bar girls!”

Raised in Denver, where she attended St. Mary’s Academy, McClelland traveled abroad and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Ganzaga University in Spokane, Washington, before returning to Denver to complete a master’s in public affairs at the University of Colorado at Denver. “I had always been interested in public service, always involved with social justice causes. And I especially love to organize people.”

A Platt Park resident since 1993, McClelland has long galvanized neighbors to get involved in the community. “Although I was never on the (Platt Park People’s Association) board, I started going to meetings, at one point started the safety committee for Platt Park, and eventually founded the green team. I had twin boys (now 16) when I was 46, so I was also busy with babies.”

Watching a television program with her then seven-year-old sons spurred a kind of awakening to the urgency of environmental participation. “There was footage of a mother polar bear with her cubs. I never knew that polar bears only had twins but apparently they do. My twin boys and I were watching the ice starting to melt and the mother trying to get the babies up to safe ground so they wouldn’t drown. One of my boys said, ‘Mama, what are we going to do about this?’ And that was the beginning for me; it opened my heart.”

She started exploring to see if anyone else was interested in coming together to find ways to make the neighborhood more sustainable. “I approached the neighborhood association to see if I could start a green team (groups that meet to identify, share, and promote practices that enhance sustainability) and they said, ‘Have at it.’ And I called The Profile, put an ad in the paper, and got like 20 phone calls. We formed an amazing group of committed people who were really active for about 18 months before volunteerism started to drop off as it inevitably does.”

Platt Park’s green team connected with like-minded nonprofit Groundwork Denver (fostering sustainable environmental practices through community-based partnerships and action) and began sending volunteers door to door to encourage people to make simple changes. “Denver Energy Challenge is now trying to get homeowners to tighten their homes because a huge amount of carbon emissions comes from leaky energy in homes. So what are the things we can do to help reduce our carbon footprint? Everything from getting an energy audit to replacing porch lights, to sealing windows, to caulking and insulation. There are lists and lists of things individuals can do.”

In late 2008 the Rocky Mountain News named McClelland one of its “150 Unsung Heroes” for her work spearheading the Platt Park green team. A realtor who along with her husband owns Verde Denver, specializing in the green real estate market, McClelland most recently became a representative for the Climate Project, an organization run by former Vice President Al Gore.

“I wanted to be educated enough to tell people in our community what’s really going on with climate change so I applied to do the training to become a climate leader – which they don’t do very often. Last August, I had the privilege of attending a three-day training with Al Gore in San Francisco along with people from around the planet: something like 58 countries and 47 states. Some of them from nonprofits but most of them just like me, interested in doing something about the environment within their communities.”

Along with intensive work on presentation skills, the training provided a comprehensive review of the research and science behind the issue of climate change. “It was really amazing to sit in front of Al Gore,” McClelland says. “I didn’t realize he was such a scientist, a brainiac really. We had to thoroughly learn and practice the whole presentation. What really caught my attention as a cowgirl from Colorado is the devastating consequences for the planet and specifically Colorado’s forests if the temperature rises just one degree centigrade.”

Still a work in progress, McClelland’s climate change presentations being given to organizations around the city feature multiple slides depicting “places on earth that are getting hotter and places where floods are getting bigger. There are slides on events like Hurricane Sandy, a lot of slides about rising temperatures and droughts and how it all connects.”

McClelland admits it is difficult transcending people’s formidable denial. “And we are up against a powerful fossil fuels lobby. I think the important thing is to show people the truth. One reason people don’t want to hear about it is they think they can’t do anything. It can be overwhelming. But I firmly believe this is a moment in time in which our earth is giving us an opportunity to make her voice, our voice, heard. We can change a light bulb and stand up to the fossil fuels industry and demand our leaders take real action. We can talk partisan politics all day long but this is the one opportunity for people from all over planet to come together, because that’s what it’s going to take.”

But how to motivate people to step up to the challenge? “I’m looking for more amazing stories about what people are doing. People really need to see hope through examples of how they can make a difference. Something that said it to me was a picture of a 14-year-old Malawi boy standing on top of a windmill waving his hands and grinning ear to ear. He went to the library, researched how to build a windmill, and built the windmill that now powers his own village. That, to me, is where it’s going to be.”

McClelland believes people can begin challenging denial by speaking up when they confront it. “Last summer when forest fires were burning all over, you would turn on the news and hear stories about parts of Colorado Springs burning to the ground and not one word about climate change. That’s a huge message in my presentation. Call the TV stations. Get on the phone and don’t allow this. And when you hear people around you denying climate change, stand up for it. It’s about changing the conversation.”

If denial means believing a lie, the remedy, McClelland suggests, lies in telling the truth. “We need to be challenging the lie. It’s not a coincidence. It’s not some left wing, weird stuff, it’s clear science. I mean, what is it going to take to get people on the bandwagon with this? There’s a wonderful quote I use in my presentation, a Native American proverb that says, ‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.’ That’s what rings true in my heart.”

For steps on what you can do to make your home more sustainable, visit websites denverenergy.org and groundworkdenver.org, or contact Paddy McClelland directly at verdedenver.com. For more on the Climate Project, visit climaterealityproject.org.

(Editor’s note: 2012 saw Bill McKibben and 350.org launch a broad-based, nationwide effort encouraging schools, churches, governments and other institutions to divest their fossil fuel industry investments. Visit GoFossilFree.org to find details.)

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