On March 1, nearly 1,000 people gathered at the Port of Los Angeles to kick off the first ever Great March for Climate Action. Near the petrol refineries of East L.A., over 200 participants took their first steps in a journey that will end in Washington, D.C. by Nov. 1, 2014.
Miriam Kashia, a resident of North Liberty who, at 71, is one of the older marchers, plans to walk the entire way. Her motivation she says, “[is] to inspire and motivate and educate people” in order to battle the dangers of climate change.
Though scientists have been researching climate change since the 1930s, there was little public awareness of this phenomenon until the 1960s. Climate research mushroomed in the 1970s with the creation of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. During that time, environmental activists celebrated the first Earth Day, and knowledge of humans’ impact on the environment has grown ever since.
Kashia has been a social justice activist for over 40 years. “When I was a freshman in college I wrote a paper for some class about over-population. That’s when Paul Ehrlich’s book, The Population Bomb, came out. It absolutely woke me up to the [fact that the] direction we were heading wasn’t good.”
Kashia has been working for environmental justice ever since. After retiring from a career in psychotherapy in 2005, she went to Namibia with the Peace Corps for two years and then returned to work part-time for The Arc, an organization that advocates for families of adults and children with disabilities. Kashia is also an active volunteer and belongs to several environmental groups like the Citizens Climate Lobby and 100 Grannies, whose website invites “all the grandmothers of the world to join in promoting solutions to end activities destructive to Mother Earth.”
Lifestyle choices underscore Kashia’s commitment to ending climate change. She uses Second Nature, an alternative-energy program by Alliant that provides electricity from sustainable sources, and also turns her thermostat down in winter and up in the summer, explaining that she would “rather be somewhat uncomfortable than be destroying the planet.” The long-time climate activist also gave up using plastic bags long ago and recycles everything she can.
“But you can’t recycle and think you’ve done everything you can do,” she explains. “[Climate change] is a catastrophe on our doorstep; in fact it’s got two feet inside the door. It’s already happening all over the globe.”
A few years ago, Kashia volunteered at a state park in Alaska where she saw the effects of climate change on permafrost.
“What many people aren’t aware of is that as the permafrost melts, it releases methane gas. So the more it melts up there, the more we approach the tipping point where there won’t be anything we can do.”
First-hand experiences like this made joining the Climate March an easy decision. “I looked at the [event’s] website,” she says, “and within one minute I had decided to go.”
Kashia spent months preparing for the march. During the winter she listened to audiobooks and walked the indoor track near her home in North Liberty.
“It takes a long time to walk 15 miles, which is what [participants] will average in a day,” she says. “It takes about five hours, and I’m a busy person. I walk six or eight miles several times a week.”
In spite of these challenges, Kashia’s commitment seems to be paying off; as she and a cadre of marchers made their way through the Mojave Desert last month, the avid blogger posted that the effort was “not as exhausting as it used to be.”
By the time the Great March for Climate Action reaches Washington, D.C., participants will have covered nearly 3,000 miles. Kashia estimates that the distance equals about 7 million steps. Along the way, marchers will stop in many towns and spend the night in private homes or churches. The march plans to stop in Iowa City on August 20.
Those taking part in the march plan to host events in each town along the way in order to promote sustainable living practices like using compost toilets and bio-diesel. In January, Kashia led a workshop named “Awakening the Dreamer” that called attention to current environmental problems while exploring possibilities for a better future.
“It’s an extremely powerful program,” she says. “I would like to see that happen all the way across the country.”
Marchers hope their efforts will make working for better environmental policies a top priority in the minds of legislators and the general public. According to Kashia, many of the problems surrounding climate change are political. “A lot of it has to do with the deadlock in Washington,” she states, “and a lot of it has to do with the incredible power that the carbon industry has because they keep spinning lies and mistruths and the public would rather believe that because it’s easier.”
But Kashia’s determination to educate far outweighs her frustration about the obstacles impeding activists’ efforts to end climate change.
“You can’t know what’s going on unless you’re paying attention,” said Kashia, “If people would pay as close attention to what’s happening to our planet as they do to sports, we could solve this in a few years. We just need to pay attention and become informed and then take personal and political action.”
Heidi McKinley is a student of journalism and psychology at the University of Iowa. She spends most of her time reading self-help books, eating popcorn, and not comprehending the wave-particle duality of matter.