The New American Road Trip is an 11 day, more than 2,900 mile journey with an electric vehicle from San Francisco to New York’s 10th Climate Week and the One Planet Summit to inform and discuss with the public the Call to Global Climate Action issued from the Global Climate Action Summit. By Nick Nuttall, Global Climate Action Summit.

Road Trip Update: Engaging the Public at Pubs and Breweries on Climate Change to Boulder, the Rocky Mountain City Facing Risks, Powering Up Community Solutions

20 September 2018. The New American Road Trip swept into Boulder Colorado yesterday, to meet some of the amazing people and unsung heroes making a difference in this Rocky Mountain state.

We also heard first hand some of the challenges a changing climate is posing for the people of this region, including increasing wild fires, declines in snowpack reducing river flows, floods, droughts and more frequent outbreaks of often devastating pine beetles.

First stop was the Diebolt Brewing Co in Denver, to meet Virginia and Dan Carreno who are using the threats from climate change to beer-making to engage the public on climate issues.

The couple, who moved to Colorado 10 years ago in part because of their love of the outdoors, had become increasingly alarmed at what they were witnessing in Colorado’s seemingly pristine environment.

“Warmer summers and winters are allowing the mountain pine beetles to breed more often—you only need to look at the Fraser River Valley where in some places it appears that 75 per cent of the forest has been decimated by beetle kill. It opened my eyes, we need to make changes right now,” said Virginia, a lawyer.

She and her husband Dan, a former Wall Street investment analyst, decided in October 2017 to attend a training in Pittsburgh at the nonprofit Climate Reality Project which teaches people how to communicate the complexity of climate change.

Being beer lovers, they chose one of Coloradans favorite past-times—sipping the fine, craft brews flourishing across the state and chatting as their strategy for public engagement.

Save the Beer

Under the banner Save the Beer, the couple have so far done around 8 talks presenting how declines in snow pack will lead to less river water forcing breweries to exploit less tasty underground supplies up to impacts of climate change on barley and hop growing locally, nationally and globally.

“People usually use churches or community centers. But we tended to hang out at a lot of breweries, and we consider that our sort of church. So, we decided a brewery would be a great venue for this,” said Dan.

The couple underline that their talks are more than just climate change and beer, expanding into wider challenges like sea level rise but also the growing abundance of opportunities and solutions that our Road Trip is in part about.

“People can become quite anxious and paralyzed about the impacts, but what really gets them excited is how to address climate change through renewable energy, electrification of transportation, and looking after our forests and lands,” said Dan, who is earning a master’s degree in environmental policy.

Boulder, around 30 minutes’ drive from the centre of the state capital Denver, sits in the foothills of the Rockies. A survey by National Geographic, published last year, ranked Boulder as the happiest city in the United States for its sense of community, access to nature and “sustainable urban development and preservation policies”.

Our third major event after San Francisco and Las Vegas we were joined as MC by the Brooklyn-based comedian and writer Jo Firestone as strong winds swirled her hair, blew and buffeted banners and leaflets around, rain clouds gathered above and a storm warning was issued for Boulder County.

But the Boulder people are made of sterner stuff, laughing at Jo’s jokes and clapping enthusiastically the line of speakers who took to the stage.

First up was Suzanne Jones, who has been Mayor of Boulder for almost three years and who comes to environmental advocacy through various environmental non-profits, currently as executive director of recycling nonprofit Eco-Cycle.

She said the city had been “thrilled” to be part of the Global Climate Action Summit and our transcontinental E-road trip which is sending “the message from California all the way to NY city that we are really serious about acting on climate change”.

Mayor Jones outlined the city’s long tradition and many ‘firsts’ on environmental action from being the first community in the USA in the 1960s to tax itself to fund the conservation of 45,000 acres of open space around the city up to being one of the first of 20 communities in America to adopt curbside recycling in the 1970s.

She said they now were pursuing their ambitious climate plan promoting rooftop solar and rapid bus transit on major highways up to increasing walking and cycling.

Vehicle electrification

In respect to electrification of vehicles, Boulder County is number 1 for EV registrations in Colorado which is five times higher than the state average. Its goal: 75 per cent adoption of EV and alternative-fueled vehicles by 2050.

Before taking the stage, Mayor Jones told me their biggest challenge to achieving their goals was freeing Boulder from its current utility company which provides power across eight Western and Midwestern states. “While improving, the power company still generates 50 per cent to 70 per cent from fossil fuels,” she added.

“Which is why we are seeking to establish our own municipal electric utility, so we can democratize and decarbonize our electricity generation—the city is in a protracted court battle to achieve this, so we can create a local, 100 per cent clean energy electricity supply,” said Mayor Jones.

“We cannot afford not to act. We have experienced four major wildfires and a flood in the last few years—it poured for five days, it never does that. We live on a creek, everything was flooding, blew out roads to the mountains and many millions of dollars were spent,” said Mayor.

As our MC Jo Firestone battled increasingly strong winds and the first drops of rain fell, Heidi VanGenderen, Colorado University Boulder’s first chief sustainability officer who also attended the Global Climate Action Summit, quipped to the New American Road Trip team: “Thanks for coming to break our drought”.

“The innovations on the horizon for transportation are miraculous, they are hopeful—the future is largely electric, autonomous, shared and renewable,” said Heidi.

She said Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief and Convenor of Mission 2020 who spoke in San Francisco, had termed this the transportation services economy.

“We need to move from an ownership model and in doing so taking on one of the great American rights-to have your own a car. I am trusting that the Millennials and Generation Z (roughly those born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s) are going to help lead us,” said Heidi.

“So that in my life time, I will live in a world where I step out with my smart phone, I call up the car service that is electric, powered by renewable energy and driverless which is going to zip me door to door,” she enthused.

Will Toor, Director of the Transportation Program, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said Colorado had a state-wide plan to have nearly one million EVs on the road by 2030.

Maria Eisemann, a Policy Analyst at Colorado’s Energy Office, said they were now rapidly taking forward a plan—based on an Executive Order signed last year by the state’s Governor John Hickenlooper-to build out key charging corridors for growing the numbers of EVs that will “facilitate economic growth and boost tourism while reducing air pollution”.

Magnolia Landa-Posas, Community Engagement Manager, Just Transition Collaborative in Boulder, underscored how the city and the community were now working together to help make sure workers and low-income families were part of the new, low carbon future unfolding in the Rockies.

Climate heroes

The event ended with prizes—one to Jennifer Shriver and Sue Prant of Community Cycles, which among its activities repairs and sells second hand bicycles while getting cycles to the children of low-income families.

The winners of the USD 7,000 cheque expressed ‘ total surprise’ and declared cyclists ‘ climate heroes’.

Second prize went to Lightning Systems, which builds electric vehicles and is currently constructing an E-bus for Boulder and was received by the company’s Bonnie Trowbridge.

Today, as we sped towards the state-line to pass into Kansas en route to out next main event in St Louis Missouri, we wondered what was in store next.

The omens looked good. Popping into a rest stop, a couple living in the ‘Sunflower State” driving a Prius stopped to admire our cute light blue EV and got excited about the more than 500 commitments that came out of GCAS. And were proud to tell their story about building a zero-emission home in Kansas!

See you in St Louis on Friday, where we will meet among others Mayor Lyda Krewson at our event starting at 5 PM at the Cortex Commons on Boyle Ave and Duncan Ave.

The New American Road Trip is being organized by Purpose with support from foundations including Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Hewlett Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the IKEA Foundation and Climate Works Foundation. Follow the progress of the road trip online here.