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Citizens' Climate Lobby advocates for climate solutions, reaches out to students

Students, faculty and Mount Pleasant community members plan and discuss the logistics of a climate change solutions summit for the spring semester Oct. 25 in Ponder Coffee Company. Their next meeting will be at 9 a.m. on Nov. 8 in the Copeland Suites Charles V. Park Library.

Ed Helwig’s mother did not want her son to become a farmer. 

His father had been one, and that had been enough.

“You spend half your time praying for rain and the other half praying for it to stop raining,” she said to him and encouraged Helwig to pursue a degree.

Helwig was the first of his family to go to college, and he did so in hopes of exploring opportunities and establishing a better life for himself.   

“Right now, it seems like there’s people who don’t care about the future,” he said. “They only care about what is right now, money right now, lining my pockets right now. What are they doing for the future?”

Helwig considers “wanting a better future for your children” to be a simple but guiding principle of life and history, and he’s not the only one.

Although the former social worker and veteran is retired, Helwig is a member of the Mount Pleasant Citizens’ Climate Lobby, where most of the members - also mainly retirees - learn and advocate for effective strategies against climate change with the goal of creating a better future.  

“We need to make the world better and have a better place for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren rather than destroy what they have,” Helwig said. “We can see (what we’re doing now to the planet).”

CCL is an international environmental group that focuses on empowering everyday people to work together on climate change solutions. The organization has over 400 chapters across the country, including Mount Pleasant’s six-year old one.

“This is one big family,” said Group Leader Marie Koper, chuckling before quickly adding, “and we’re bipartisan.”

The group mainly advocates for legislation based on a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend, with a focus on the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019. In addition to working toward national action, MP-CCL functions locally to encourage cleaner energy within the Mount Pleasant community.

Although the issues MP-CCL addresses are challenging and often disheartening, the members remain positive and optimistic, with their eyes set on solutions and collaboration rather than apathy and inaction.

“I’m an optimistic person, and so, in order to make a change to a problem, you have to work at it,” said retired counselor Ann Kowaleski. “You don’t just give it over to somebody else.” 

Climate change and other environmental issues are often pegged as political, but the group emphasizes their bipartisan approach and welcomes all who can provide different ideas and insights.

“CCL is something that's hopeful, specific, reasonable as a solution and bipartisan - because that's what it's going to take," Koper said.

With the university nearby and a growing concern for climate change, especially among younger generations, Koper is working alongside community members, CMU staff/faculty and students to create a climate solutions summit in the spring. 

The small team is currently made up of Mount Pleasant locals, concerned students, representatives from environmental registered student organizations and professors from sociology, marketing and history, among other fields. 

The team’s goal is to set up a large-scale event that offers attendees a space to learn and create solutions that can combat climate change. The planning committee is open to anyone interested in joining, and their next meeting will be at 9 a.m. on Nov. 8 in the Copeland Suites at the Charles V. Park Library. 

According to a Pew Research Center survey, more Americans view climate change as a top priority, including younger Republicans. For members of the climate summit planning committee and the MP-CCL, their involvement comes out of concern for the future.

Former CMU creative writing professor and MP-CCL member Eric Torgersen doesn’t have grandchildren yet (“fingers crossed”),  but he emphasized his desire for a world that welcomes his future grandchildren (“fingers crossed”).

“It just seems so obvious that (climate change) is the major crisis of the time,” Torgersen said. “You realize this and have kids, and you’re worried about what they face. I would hate to leave it totally up to them to deal with it.”

The next monthly MP-CCL meeting will be at 7-8:30 p.m. on Nov. 14 in the Isabella County Commission on Aging, and it is open to anyone interested in attending.