Exploitation = Exploitation

Admit it: As climate activists, we know that when we look around the room (or now, look around on Zoom) we see mostly White faces. Why is that? Climate change affects all of us, but people of color are being affected by the climate crisis disproportionately. Is there something we White climate activists are missing?

Yup. Take it from climate expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: racism derails our efforts to save the planet. Now is the time for us to pause, reflect, learn, and work to transform the climate movement. The exploitation of our environment is closely tied to the exploitation of people — and no people have been exploited more shamefully by the US than Black and Indigenous people. That’s not just our history, it’s our present. Let’s act to change it so that it’s not our future. To imagine and build a green future, a safe climate future, we need to imagine a future that is just, equitable, and peaceful. We can’t achieve one without the other. 

Dismantling systemic racism is a moral imperative. What do we need to do to move this work forward? Here’s what I’ll be doing. Will you join me? Let’s…


We can read anti-racist literature, watch films, follow social media that can educate us about being better allies. I’ve started with: 

Next, I’ll be reading: 

Don’t know where to start? Maybe you’d prefer to take a course, listen to some podcasts, or watch films. Here’s a list of resources.  And check out this illuminating TED talk by Jay Smooth — the bit starting at 7:00 about tonsils vs. teeth is particularly funny!


Like me, I’m sure a lot of y’all have been out there, holding up signs, marching, holding vigils, and protesting. But it doesn’t stop there. White climate activists can examine where our unconscious biases exist, be willing to change, and be willing to challenge other White people on racist assumptions. Commit to this work as a lifetime project. Accept that it’s never done. We can never be completely nonracist — it’s the water we swim in. But we CAN be anti-racist. It’s up to us to keep learning and speak out when we witness racism in action — around our family table, in the workplace, with friends. The work is for right now, and for the rest of our lives. 


Bail fund for protestors in your community
Black Lives Matter Global
Color of Change
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
National Bail Out


  • Please write another comment to the US Forest Service to protect our millions of acres of Southern Appalachian forest. You can write as many comments as you want. The comment period is open until June 29. Comments must be personalized in order to count – in other words, ya gotta add your own words. Here is the Sierra Club WENOCA page for comments. We are short of the goal for getting these out — please send yours today! Support Alternative C with the following additional points:
    1. Designate a specific area as wilderness (I chose the Black Mountains).
    2. Ask for standards to define “old growth” and that it be as “unsuitable for logging” and managed as such
    3. Support wilderness, wilderness extensions, backcountry, NC Heritage areas, and Special Interest Areas as “unsuitable for logging” and managed as such
  • If you haven’t yet done so, please write to Duke Energy and protest this 14% rate hike AND demand that they make a serious investment in renewable energy. Comment by June 30. Here is the Sierra Club WENOCA page to help you out with that.

The silver lining of this pandemic is that most folks have used Zoom now, and it’s no biggie to ask folks to meet online. That solves a big problem for Drawdown WNC — I was struggling to figure out how we would convene all these folks from Pickens, SC to Boone, NC, from Elizabethton, TN to Highlands, NC…  Now we can all Zoom together, and bonus points — we won’t have to drive a single mile! My intention was to set up a Drawdown WNC Zoom meeting for June, but this month, we are going to build on the momentum of the current moment and focus our efforts on racial justice.

Drawdown WNC will begin our monthly Virtual Visions Zoom meetings later this summer.  For now, thanks for doing the work on moving things forward for a just, sustainable world.


Act from home: Save our forests

While we are staying at home protecting our health and the health of others, there are two important actions we can take for a healthier climate.

First, comment to Duke Energy to prevent a 14% rate hike and demand clean energy. Send your comments by May 4.

Secondly, in our region, one of the most effective ways we can help achieve drawdown is by protecting our magnificent southern Appalachian forests. Forests are the lungs of our planet, and ours are pretty special. During this strange time, while access to our precious forests is limited by precautions for the pandemic, it’s easy to imagine what our lives might be like without these wonderful forests. Let’s do what we can, while we can, to protect them.

Until May 14, we have a limited time to comment on the US Forest Service’s new forest plan for Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. The forest plans are generally revised about once every thirty years. This is the only time for public comment on the new plan, so this really is a rare opportunity. Make your voice heard! Let’s send them thousands of letters.

To comment:
Go to the Sierra Club WENOCA Forest Plan page, scroll to “Tell the USFS Now,” personalize the language of the letter, and send.

Write now! Tell all your friends, spread on social media, email your contacts, and let’s be the voice of the trees.

Bowlens Creek, Black Mountain Crest Trail, Pisgah National Forest

Speak Out: Asheville adopts Climate Emergency, Sierra Club WENOCA endorsements for primary

Your voice matters! After months of strikes, sit-ins, and speaking out, Sunrise Movement Asheville succeeded in pressuring the Asheville City Council to adopt a resolution declaring a climate emergency.

Do you live in Buncombe County? The Sierra Club WENOCA group can use your help with choosing candidates in the Buncombe primary election who will make good decisions for our climate future They have prepared endorsement cards to hand out at early voting sites and at precincts on election day. The Sierra Club will give you instructions about how to do that — how far you can be from the door of the voting site, what to bring, what to expect. Sign up for a three-hour shift to hand out these endorsement cards — find out more.


Coal plant closing

Duke Energy has officially closed the coal plant at Lake Julian in Arden, NC. When operating at full capacity, the plant consumed the equivalent of 4,000 rail cars of coal every year. The plant closing is good news, but the plant will be replaced with a natural gas facility, a short-sighted solution that still adds greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change.

Coal plant at Lake Julian, now closed by Duke Energy. Photo: Will Thomas

Want to encourage Duke Energy to invest in renewable energy solutions, and the grid flexibility needed to support them? Now’s your chance. Duke is holding rate hike hearings all over the state, and the public is invited to speak out. The company is raising rates, partly to cover its coal ash cleanup, and partly to invest in natural gas and other outdated energy. Read more about Duke rate hikes in this Appalachian Voices article, and find out where and when you can speak out at Duke’s rate hike hearings on this informative page from Energy Justice.

The Duke Energy Progress hearing in Asheville is Thursday, February 20 at 7p.m. Buncombe County Courthouse, Courtroom 1A, 60 Court Plaza. Hope to see (and hear) you there!

Climate fear, and the cure for it

The bad news is coming at us faster and faster, it seems. Just today, the Carolina Public Press released this story about climate research going on right here in our region. The Asheville-based North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies warns that we can expect increasing threats from our changing climate.

The frightening predictions about our climate can be overwhelming. I admit it — for years, I have read or listened to these warnings then just kind of hoped they’d go away. Maybe it’s not as bad as the scientists predict, I thought. (It is.) And like with so many other challenges we have created, poor and marginalized communities will suffer the worst effects. It’s getting too hard to ignore.

I’ve been searching for a word in the English language to express this formidable mixture of fear and grief that we experience when we let the reality about climate change sink in. I think the reason we don’t have this word is that we’ve never had to grapple with a challenge this big.

I haven’t found a word for it, but I think I’ve found a cure for it: work. Getting to work on the solutions has been a way to channel all the negative feelings into something positive. And as it turns out, the guilt we feel about our own personal choices isn’t all that useful. To do this work, we have to work together. This cure is best summed up in this New York Times article.

The work behind the work

Project Drawdown presents a vision for a climate restored to balance. It seems daunting, but the research shows that if we implement Drawdown’s solutions at scale, we can restore our climate by 2050. But Drawdown just provides a blueprint. How do we do this work? I think what it will take is a shift in our sense of ourselves, how we each see our role in the world. We need to see ourselves as a collective, not as individuals.

When starlings flock, when fish school, when wildebeests stampede, they follow similar behavior patterns. Collective animal behavior like this boils down to three simple rules:

  1. If I am too far from my neighbor, I move closer.
  2. If I am too close, I move away.
  3. If I am at optimal distance, I mimic the movements… of my closest neighbor.

That third rule is what’s most interesting to me. There is no leader. Everyone is more or less working to be in step with the ones closeby. If they head in one direction, the birds/ fish/ wildebeests toward the (temporary) front of the flock/ school/ herd are the ones who more or less guide the group’s movement briefly, but as soon as the group turns, new individuals lead. I love thinking about that. Everyone can lead for a few moments. It’s not a hierarchy, it’s a dance. When we work as a swarm, we can be far more powerful than we are as individuals — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s what I like to think of as the work behind the work: remembering that when we work as a system, we have more power than we know.

A flock of starlings in autumn. Photo: Andreas Weith

This work behind the work, this idea of the power of collective action, is what inspired me to start Drawdown WNC. After learning about Drawdown and regaining a sense of optimism and determination, I wanted to join with others working on these efforts in the Southern Appalachians. With our beautiful temperate forests, so many small farmers practicing regenerative agriculture, and so many caring people in our region acting on climate solutions already, I figured surely there was a “Drawdown WNC” of some kind. There wasn’t. Because it seemed there should be, I took the first few steps toward forming this nascent group.

And just like the breathtaking flocks of starlings known as murmurations, I was suddenly surrounded by people moving with me, in harmony, each tilting in a slightly different direction, but more or less moving toward a common goal. So far it’s been a graceful, spontaneous ensemble, with different individuals leading at different moments. And our numbers! I can almost hear the wild rush of our wings.

– Nancy Lowe