Sun Valley Resilience Heroes: Elizabeth Jeffrey

Elizabeth Jeffrey is the co-founder and on the leadership team for the Hailey Climate Action Coalition (HCAC). With over 200 members and a North Valley branch, HCAC is tackling big global problems locally. From initiatives to focus local jurisdictions on reaching 100% renewable energy to partnering with local high school students on a mural addressing Intersectional Environmentalism, they are engaging our entire community. We caught up with Elizabeth to hear more about her work with HCAC and how addressing climate change builds resilience here at home.

To start, tell us a little about yourself. Can you describe your background? How long have you lived in the WRV? What brought you here? Have you always been an environmental advocate?

Although I worked as a teacher and principal in my professional career, I’ve been an environmentalist since I fell in love with the outdoors during Girl Scouts and summer camping trips with my family.  We moved to the WRV 20 years ago to be near my sister and enjoy the mountains, rivers, and lakes and discover what else we wanted to do with our lives.

You helped start the Hailey Climate Action Coalition, whose mission is to “Encourage community-wide action on climate change”. Can you describe what motivated you to start this grassroots group?

I started reading more about the UN’s latest climate assessment and was knocked sideways when I read the newest specifics of climate damage already done globally and what was rushing at us.  The assessment found that we still had 10-20 years to slow the crisis down enough to adapt to the changes that were/are happening. That woke me up.

 I think I had buried my head in the sand since the 80s (when our atmosphere went beyond the previous danger point of 350 ppm) feeling fatalistic, thinking that there was nothing more we could do, and thinking that “At least I’ll be gone by then.”  All of a sudden, I realized I wouldn’t be gone.  There was time to make a difference and my husband and I committed to working on it for the rest of our lives and hold onto the hope that we could make a difference if we focused on local actions.  

Who is involved with HCAC? How has it grown since its founding?

We began HCAC with a friend who felt the same way we did about the crisis.  After meeting and talking about it a couple of times we realized that we felt some relief in sharing our concerns and thought maybe others would be able to join us and we could find ways together to make changes. We had our first public meeting a few weeks later and 30 people showed up.  A couple of Hailey City Council members attended the meeting and talked with the mayor the next day about adding a part-time Sustainability Coordinator.  With that, we decided to begin monthly meetings and see if we could help tackle the big problems locally.  Seventeen months later, we now have more than 200 members, several community projects going, a new North Valley branch, and a better idea of how we can join with other valley groups to address climate issues.

How is the group working to address climate change? What are the programs you’re working on?

Our government group is working to present a clean energy resolution to all of our local jurisdictions. This resolution states that the town or county will focus efforts to reach 100% clean electricity by 2035, Strive for ‘35. This group has been working with Idaho Power and local businesses to develop a resolution that all parties feel is workable.  The jurisdictions will be pledging to work together to develop the strategies and complete the necessary changes to transition to clean electricity by this necessary date.  Idaho Power has previously committed to 100% clean electricity by 2045 but our Climate Action Coalition feels we have the capability and the dire need to reach this goal earlier.

We also have a group working on identifying Local Climate Action Leaders in the valley and sharing tips they have found to reduce their use of energy and natural resources to address climate and emissions issues personally and publicly.

Our outreach and education group has just finished a summer project partnering with the WRHS environmental WATER club in creating a mural addressing Intersectional Environmentalism on the south-facing wall of Jane’s Artifacts and we hope to continue that conversation and build more membership within our racially diverse community.  

With more new members each month, we will be looking to address new goals this winter.

How does addressing climate change build a more resilient Wood River Valley? 

Resilience is an interesting word with a lot of potential interpretations (and misinterpretation).  I believe that addressing climate change directly and aggressively is the only way that we will be able to maintain the necessary foundation and stability in our government, economy and cultures to be able to develop the innovations and social expectations to maintain life as we know it into our children’s futures.  The “natural” catastrophes that have happened just this year; pandemic, floods, double force hurricanes and devastatingly long, hot fires are challenges that we need to learn how to slow down and how to survive.  Successful survival through these catastrophes is a part of the necessary resiliency we hope to have in our quickly changing environments that will only be possible if we can slow climate change by cutting our burning of fossil fuel by 50% in the coming decade.

What can we do as individuals to minimize our impact on the climate?

We all have a necessary part to play in minimizing our impact.  We will all need to determine how we can use our resources more wisely and cut our personal dependence on fossil fuels – whether by eating less meat, using our own energy instead of fossil fuel vehicles, or inventing the next clean refrigerant.  

More importantly, people who have the ability to join or support groups – CAC being one of them – that are addressing climate action need to contribute their skills and resources to the effort and spread the conversation throughout our community.  To make the changes in the “way we do business” in our country we will need to have a strong understanding, pressure and determination from citizens, voters, customers, business owners, and community leaders.  Joining an active group that works on the issues that are most important to you is the single best way each of us can address climate issues.

What changes do you hope to see in the WRV by 2030?

We are absolutely hoping our valley will be using 100% clean electricity by 2030 and to have reduced each of our community’s individual demands on electricity through better appliances, tighter homes, and more awareness of the need to conserve.   

We also hope that we will be well on our way to developing a 100% clean energy community.  This means that we will be looking at ways to switch our buildings’ energy needs to 100% electric, switching our vehicles to 100% electric or hydrogen (or ?).  

We also hope that we will be a voice in reducing the very fossil fuel intense production of unnecessary plastics.

Anything else that we should know about HCAC?

Hailey Climate Action Coalition has grown to over 200 concerned members in its first 17 months and, under the umbrella name of Climate Action Coalition of the Wood River Valley,  is developing the North Valley Climate Action Coalition based in Ketchum and Sun Valley.  During this year when we are all practicing safe physical distancing, the larger CAC is meeting together in monthly Zoom meetings and working on our projects in smaller groups independently.  We are a grassroots organization that works on issues important to the members who join and participate.  Membership has no dues and there is no board of directors as we work to develop a new kind of organization to welcome all climate activists in all areas of local concern.  The multi-member leadership group works to coordinate meetings and communications but it is the local members who determine and create the Action in our Climate Work.  

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