Monday, September 6, 2010
I have a little button on my backpack: “I Heart Mountains” it says, with a beautiful vista of my Appalachian home, blue and gray ridges fading into the horizon. I spent countless weeks of my childhood summers in the mountains of West Virginia, fishing, hiking, playing camp games with other summer campers. The soft rolling slopes of Appalachia with her ancient green forests 300 million years old, speak to me wherever I am. I believe I have a deep-rooted Appalachian Soul.
I believe in climbing mountains. The big ones on the horizon, the huge monsters of rock that pulled Americans westward with slogans such as “Pike’s Peak or Bust.” I myself have climbed a few of the really tall ones, planted my small mental flag on the peaks of maybe eight or nine, and have stood on ranges around the world, from the American Rockies to the Peruvian Andes, the foothills of the Himalaya in Central Asia, to the glaciers of the Southern Alps in New Zealand. Each has its own challenges, its own history, and its own paths to the top. But it is the Appalachian song that plays in my heart.
The view from the top can be breathtaking but I believe in the serenity to be found at the top of a mountain. Those few moments when you can swear you can see the ocean, so far below, so many thousands of miles away. But this is not why I climb.
I believe in climbing mountains. I think that the climb itself is worth much more that the respite you get at the summit. So often, you approach a peak only to have to give up the climb, due to rain or lightning, to circumstances beyond your control. So you head back down, and resolve that one day you will try again.
But it’s not only physical mountains that we climb. During my year in Iraq in the US Army, the men of my unit climbed up a steep slope of impossible missions every day and every night. I don’t know if we ever reached the top of that peak, but we got better, got closer, on most days. Looking back, I am not even sure that we had a peak to reach even if we could have. And I guess that is one of the keys to what I believe.
Back home in West Virginia, we have a different climb ahead of us, not up the mountains we have so effectively neutralized, but up out of the cycle of poverty and economic malaise that has engulfed us for the better part of a century. Out of a past mired in violence and misunderstanding. I believe not in a city on a hill, but a people on a mountainside, struggling ever upward, eyes to the sky, and hands reaching back down to help those below.
And I believe that being from West Virginia, our nation’s Mountain State, we know how to climb.
(this post has been published by This I Believe... here)
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I hope the heat in Washington hasn’t gotten to you yet. It is certainly a different climate than back in the cooler mountains of Appalachia. And of course, congratulations on being named the newest United States Senator from our great state, if only for a couple of months. Please don’t let that short timeline take away from the urgent responsibility that comes with the position. The next few months will be a quick, and tumultuous ride, not unlike braving the first ten miles of the Upper Gauley back home. Hard work, keeping your eye on the path ahead, and working as a team with those in the boat are the keys to surviving the hammering of the river’s class V rapids.
I am writing you because I am very concerned about the economic health of West Virginia. As you are well aware, there are many serious challenges facing our country today, and few of them are felt more acutely anywhere than back in the Mountain State. Job loss, continued poverty, debates on how to fight the climate crisis so we can remain a prosperous country, and our continued military commitment overseas in two large and complex theaters: these are just a few of the questions you will be asked to tackle over the coming months.
I myself have buried a fellow West Virginian, Captain Ben Tiffner, who lost his life fighting in Iraq, after serving there myself. I and many of his fellow officers and soldiers laid him to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in December of 2007. I urge you to go and visit that hallowed ground and walk among the endless graves of our fallen service members. Watch as the members of the Old Guard bury those who have given their last full measure of devotion to our Nation. It is a sobering experience, and one with which every representative should be familiar.
There is no doubt that you are well versed in the struggles of the many out-of-work West Virginians back home. I, and many others, commend you for helping the Senate realize our commitment to them on your first day in the Chamber. But remember there is more yet to be done. Large portions of our economy have been in a long slow decline for decades, providing fewer jobs and less wealth to our people. It will take a clear-eyed vision to see the way forward and bring others behind you.
There is a strong connection between those soldiers who have given their lives, and those who have lost their livelihoods during the Great Recession. Our national security is intimately tied to our economic security, and a forward looking progressive energy and climate policy will provide the means to solve them both. We in the mountains send more than our share of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines off to defend our way of life. We also have a unique and storied history of providing the energy our nation has needed to fuel its unprecedented growth over the past 150 years. But it is no secret that our coal reserves cannot and will not continue to be a source of economic prosperity for our state much longer. The man who sat in your seat before you knew it well. As he wrote in one of his last pieces, “West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear. The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.” We need to take a leadership position in creating the new clean energy economy and harness the best of our past as we prepare to thrive in a dynamic global economy. West Virginia, both today and tomorrow, needs you to support comprehensive energy and climate legislation.
It will certainly be an unpopular vote back home; the coal-dominated media will make sure of that. But it will ensure that the people of the state will have a future. The entrepreneurs who will build the businesses of tomorrow will thank you. Plenty of coal miners will thank you for offering their children a better option than they had. And a generation of soldiers will not have to fight terrorists funded directly by our addiction to oil. This will save American lives overseas, and provide the best defense we have to combat violent extremism around the world: by helping restore a prosperous and opportunity-laden economy.
While attending West Point I learned one fact very well above all else. Life is full of choices, and we are often asked to choose between an easy path and a difficult path. I urge you to choose the harder right over the easier wrong. In ten or fifteen years, you will be able to look back and say to yourself, “I helped create a new thriving clean energy economy in my state.” The other option will be to allow the status quo to continue its slow cancer, eating away at our health, our environment, and our pride.
We need you to lead. Paddle hard, and good luck,
Sunday, May 30, 2010
A new article in the NRDC's magazine highlights the work I have been involved with alongside other recent veterans and Operation Free. We won't stop until all recognize the immense threat that climate change and our status quo energy policy pose to our national security. We need to secure America's future with clean energy, now! Call your senators and tell them you support passage of the American Power Act.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Yesterday, January 27th, 2010, was an inspiring day for me: as a veteran and member of Operation Free, as an aspiring clean energy entrepreneur and businessman, as an environmental advocate, and as a proud American. On the morning before President Obama’s first State of the Union address, national leaders in the business community, the labor community, veterans and national security experts, faith leaders, farming leaders, and more came together at the Clean Energy, Jobs, and Security Forum in the Capitol building to discuss the importance of comprehensive climate and energy legislation, how quickly we as a nation need to respond to truly act in time, and showing a first step in the bipartisan direction that the President called us to take.
There are so many highlights of the day, it would be impossible for me to recount them all, but imagine a conference with opening remarks by Senators John Warner (R-VA, retired) and John Kerry (D-MA), two retired general officers discussing the national security threat posed by climate change, and a keynote lunch address by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy. We discussed the destabilizing force that climate change has in already weak states, how to engage and benefit from the work of the large US agricultural sector (and not merely with promises of corn ethanol!), and how by addressing the risks that a changing climate brings to all facets of our lives, we can seize the reins of the global clean energy economy — one in which China is already outspending us by laying out $9 billion a month to develop their own clean energy sector. Sen. Graham described the costs of doing nothing very well:
"A word of caution and warning: Doing nothing, in my view, does put the planet at risk. Doing nothing continues an irresponsible practice of sending $440 billion year overseas to buy oil from people who don’t like us very much. Doing nothing allows China to own what I think will be the most exciting economic opportunity of the 21st century: the green economy. As we talk, as we argue, as we try to find 60 votes in America, China is doing."
Certainly, the President’s first State of the Union address was a worthy cherry on top, eloquent as always, and full of what I thought to be a heartfelt and serious message. He doesn’t claim to have all of the answers, but claims we need to come together as a nation and try to find them. That seems to me to be the right approach, especially for such difficult problems as the financial, economic, and climate crises that we are facing. We are all going to need to make changes, to adapt the way we have lived and worked in the past to the new realities of the future, and thus it is us as a people who need to shoulder much of the burden of that work.
At the end of the day, feeling good after the President spoke — though waiting for my friends in the environmental community to be up in arms about the calls for offshore oil drilling, nuclear power plants and clean coal — I am perhaps still most inspired by the words of Senator Graham presaging the call the President would make later that evening: “We are trying to find a way forward… but there is no substitute for citizen involvement.” And Secretary Chu: “Policy changes happen when the American people give courage to their representatives.”
Wayne Gretzky, perhaps the greatest hockey player of all time, once said about his abilities in the rink, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been.” We know where the puck is going to be. Step up, America, and get there.