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Tulsa goes green

Experts, activists, and artists celebrate Earth Day in T-Town

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, will speak at Tulsa’s Earth Day event on April 20 at Guthrie Green

Courtesy Sierra Club

As a kid growing up in a polluted Jersey Shore neighborhood, Michael Brune saw firsthand the devastating effects of a chemical plant and ocean water-dumping that went on to ruin his dad’s construction business.

He also witnessed the collective reaction from groups of impacted neighbors who fought together, successfully limiting the pollution and placing a ban on ocean water dumping in the Shore.

Today, as executive director of the country’s oldest and largest environmental organization, Sierra Club’s Michael Brune will take the fight to Oklahoma as keynote speaker for Tulsa’s Earth Day Celebration on April 20 at Guthrie Green.

Most importantly, Brune plans to stress the importance of addressing the reality of climate change through a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

“I think people in Oklahoma are like people in Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Florida, or California,” Brune said. “We all care about clean air and clean water.”

The annual environmental celebration comes weeks after Congress held its first vote on a bold Green New Deal resolution that calls for phasing out fossil fuels and offers assistance for impacted industry workers and vulnerable communities to enjoy revitalized infrastructures, jobs, housing, and a higher quality of life.

Democrats accused Republicans in the Senate of rushing a vote on a resolution that hadn’t been debated in any committee—which the Senate’s Republican majority was sure to block. Meanwhile, Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has led some Republicans in ridiculing Senate Democrats, who voted “present” rather than “yes” for the resolution.

“There’s a lot of things that Congress does that has an impact on my life and my kid’s life,” Brune said. “The vote that took place [on March 26] was theatre. Nothing more.”

Celebrating Earth Day in Tulsa

With reports from both the United Nations and President Trump’s own administration citing the dangers of surpassing thresholds of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius of warming in global temperatures, organizers for Tulsa’s Earth Day Celebration hope to balance the seriousness of the situation with a warm, welcoming and fun vibe for all ages.

The “pre-game” festivities begin at 1 p.m. with a talk and gallery tour at Philbrook Downtown, focusing on the stunning works of environmental artists Peggy Weil, Joel Daniel Phillips, and Rich Barlow. This will be followed by a “climate reality slideshow” by students from Booker T. Washington High School.

The main events kick off at 3 p.m. at Guthrie Green, including circus performers for kids and adult speakers from diverse backgrounds, such as Ponca tribe elder Casey Camp-Horinek, Sierra Club Oklahoma director Johnson Bridgewater, Ready for 100 member and preacher Gerald Davis, and Ashley Nicole McCray, an Absentee Shawnee scholar and activist who ran for Oklahoma Corporation Commission in 2018. After a keynote speech by Brune, the night will be capped off by a performance from Jamaican roots reggae musician Prezident Brown.

Despite the fun-forward atmosphere, these Earth Day speakers don’t plan to hold back in how dire the situation has already become for our planet.

“We’ve had water polluted, fish killed, and earthquakes that disrupted our entire water system,” Casey Camp-Horinek said.

As an Oklahoma Ponca Tribe elder, elected member to the Ponca Business Committee, and hereditary drumkeeper for Ponca Pathata (women’s society), Camp-Horinek said she focuses on her four children, 18 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren when addressing environmental issues.

“I see [the Green New Deal] as a step in the right direction,” Camp-Horinek said. But she doesn’t support cap-and-trade provisions that essentially maintain fossil fuels in the short-run.

When asked what drove her into activism, Camp-Horinek said it was the courage she draws from her family’s past struggles. From her brothers organizing more than 30 Oklahoma chapters of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s to her grandpa who survived the forced removal of the Ponca Tribe from Nebraska to Oklahoma. Her great-grandfather was the Ponca Tribe’s last war chief.

“They survived a 650-mile forced removal with no food no water, driven at gun point. It became imperative to continue to have a sense of surviving for generations that came before me and generations that come after me,” Camp-Horinek said.

Oklahomans of all backgrounds should be aware of droughts, stronger flooding and more powerful storms that are already happening across the country and our state, according to Brune.

“Climate change is here. We are already paying billions of dollars in damages from these extreme events,” he said.

Brune stressed the goal of the transition to renewables is not to punish fossil fuel workers. “Just like communities that have produced oil, gas and coal have taken care of our country, our country can return the favor and take care of them and make sure they thrive in this transition.”

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