North Texas Climate Warriors
by Sheila Julson
The environmental movement has seen many victories since the first Earth Day in 1970, from creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Water Act to today’s gains in renewable energy and awareness to reduce plastic bags, straws and packaging. But still, the climate crisis continues. Massive protests, activism and youth movements are meeting the challenge head-on. Meet some of the dedicated individuals combating climate change at the grassroots level in Dallas:
Aaryaman Singhal is a co-founder of the Dallas chapter of Sunrise Movement (SunriseDallas.org). The organization was founded nationally after the 2016 election by a group of college students that realized they needed to take aggressive, direct action to meet the urgency of the climate crisis. The Dallas hub officially launched in December 2019.
“The Sunrise Movement’s goal is to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process through a Green New Deal,” explains Singhal. “Knowing that we have a lot of income inequality and racial injustice, and the corrupting influence of fossil fuel interests in our politics, we need to elect leaders who will stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people while solving the climate crisis.”
Locally, the group has recruited members to engage the city council in regard to the Dallas Comprehensive Environmental & Climate Action Plan. “It wasn’t in line with the Paris Agreement, and we, along with a coalition of others, are calling for them to meet those goals. We were at city hall in mid-February and spoke directly to the city council and asked them to make the city plan stronger than it was,” he says.
Singhal encourages people to take action by following Sunrise Movement Dallas on Facebook and Instagram, where they can find online petitions, information about the climate crisis, and opportunities to take action. “There are some really important similarities between climate change and the current coronavirus pandemic, in that it’s really important that we listen to experts and scientists about what will happen and how it’s going to affect everyone,” he emphasizes
Environmental activist and digital marketer Jessica House has always had a passion for sustainability. With the birth of her first child nine months ago, this passion turned into a need to act. She began by connecting with local environmental groups around Dallas and learned they had been trying to pass a sustainability resolution with the Dallas school board. She volunteered her digital marketing expertise and created TurnDISDGreen.com, an initiative to create sustainable schools in Dallas. The website has information about the sustainability resolution passed on February 27, 2020, which will establish an Environmental and Climate Action Committee for DISD.
“Through that committee, we will work with the various departments within Dallas ISD—transportation, energy and waste management—and seek to make those areas more sustainable. Our goal is to have experts from different fields come to review current practices and establish goals to reach within the next decade,” she says.
Online visitors can sign up for a newsletter to stay informed on progress and goals and submit ideas. “We’re looking for ideas or solutions,” she says. “It’s not just us creating a plan and telling people what to do; it needs to be a resolution from the community.”
House worked with 350 Dallas, Sierra Club’s Dallas hub, and Sunrise Dallas to craft the resolution. The crux of the resolution declares a climate crisis and emphasizes why schools need to have an active role in mitigating it. The activists worked with students from Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center, who had been coincidentally organizing climate strikes at their school.
Chris and Dick Guldi have been involved with conservation efforts since the 1990s and have dedicated many volunteer hours to climate issues and serve on the Conservation Committee of Dallas Sierra Club, a local group in the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club. “Currently, we are concentrating on local issues within Dallas County. We pay attention to what our members are paying attention to. So, if we have volunteers in Dallas Sierra Club that want to focus on schools, then we look at how we can support that and publicize that,” Chris Guldi says. Their volunteers have succeeded in getting the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) Board of Trustees to adopt a list of climate change related actions to implement in the DISD.
Both are quick to credit the many other environmental organizations and volunteers with which they work, including the leadership of Rita Beving and Molly Rooke, mentors who have been with Dallas Sierra Club since the 1980s.
“Working with other organizations is critical,” Dick Guldi emphasizes. “We partner with Texas Campaign for the Environment, Public Citizen, Dallas and Downwinders at Risk, among others. We formed allies with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), United Methodist Church, the Texas Poor People’s Campaign and other community organizations in Joppa and Highland Hills. Everybody needs to work with the neighborhoods that are most affected. We don’t dictate solutions, but ask for what needs are and what help we might bring to a situation.”
The Sierra Club also fosters bus tours that take stakeholders to see sites of environmental devastation throughout Dallas. “It’s eye-opening to see the consequences of decisions made 100 years ago,” Chris relates. The Guldis have also bridged community groups to halt proposed fracking leases near a public water supply, and they’ve traveled to Oklahoma City to testify about the environmental impacts of fracking.
While social media is pivotal in networking with environmental groups and taking action, this sustainability power couple emphasizes that the most important way to take action is to vote for environmentally responsible candidates.