In December I was able to sit down with one of our younger volunteers, Mason Sharp, to find out what interests him and why he decided to get involved in CCL. Mason graduated from Michigan State University this past spring, and became interested in CCL around the same time.
After you read the interview, be sure to listen to the song Mason wrote and recorded about climate change, Sound the Alarm (link below)!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Ann Arbor.
Did you go to school through all of the Ann Arbor Schools?
Yeah, I want to Bach Elementary School, Slauson Middle School and Skyline High School.
You recently graduated from college, right?
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to Michigan State for Sustainable and Organic Horticulture.
In any of your classes at Michigan State did they talk about climate change?
Well, they talked about sustainability. And I think people only really hinted at climate change a few times, but it was definitely mentioned, especially in my soil biology class. My teacher presented some shocking information that just took me off guard.
Do you have a favorite book or a favorite movie?
Favorite movie I’d say Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki. I can’t think of a book off the top of my head.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I like farming, working, I like being busy, I like music.
Listening to music or playing music?
Playing music, and listening to music, live music especially.
What are you most excited and passionate about?
I am passionate about a lower carbon lifestyle.
Do you have a favorite place?
Some of my favorite places are Mackinac Island, The Home Ranch in Colorado, and Frog Holler Farm.
Had you been to Frog Holler before you worked there?
Once, to visit – I was checking out a bunch of different farms to see which one I wanted to work on over the summer and I went to Frog Holler and there was something sort of cool about it… I don’t know, the guy that answered the door came out barefoot, and it was like wintertime, and I was like…
…this is the place for me?
Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
Billy King, The Accidentals, The Raisin Pickers… but I go through fads, so I’m sure they’ll change.
I know that you wrote a song about climate change. Was that inspired by anything in particular? [You can listen to Mason’s song, Sound the Alarm, here]
I don’t know, I think… part of the chorus is “Sound the alarm, we’re causing irreparable harm,” I think I got the phrase “irreparable harm” from James Hansen. Something about when he talks is just very convincing and he’s a really good communicator.
So, was it like, when you heard that phrase you thought that would be good in a song, or was it like you were trying to write a song and that phrase came to mind?
I think the second one, yeah.
What motivated you to act on climate change?
Well I read an article by Bill McKibben and it was like a slap in the face. Because I’d heard about climate change and global warming, and it just didn’t seem like something that was urgent but it was like something that was a reality. But you know it was almost exciting to me, like a changing environment, things are going to get warmer, that’ll make things interesting. But then it was like, oh, wait, this is horrible…
When you read the article?
Do you remember what the article was, or where it was?
It was actually in a book called The Post Carbon Reader, I think that’s what it was called. Because initially I was actually worried about the concept of peak oil, of like running out of oil, and then he had this article in there and I was like oh, wait a minute, this is our top issue, not peak oil.
Why did you end up choosing CCL as an organization to get involved with?
Well, because, once again, I think James Hansen had a huge influence on me, and when he talks about the Carbon Fee and Dividend, he says that this is the best solution because you take the money and give it directly back to the public, as opposed to using it make the government bigger, which is something that conservatives would accept, which is something you need because I think there have been a number of instances where people have tried to put a carbon tax or cap and trade in place, like in Australia, and it ended up having conservative backlash and they got rid of it. And also in Canada they’re trying to do that too and already Saskatchewan and one of the other provinces up there is suing the federal government over them trying to impose it. I think if they did things the right way…
It would be more effective?
Yeah, I’d definitely like to see this particular approach at least attempted, to see if it works the way he thinks it will, and I think it’s got the most promise.
I think you told me you had watched a video by James Hansen?
Yeah, he was being interview by Democracy Now at the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, and he mentioned the group Citizens’ Climate Lobby in that interview, and it was the only group I had heard of that was doing anything about it. I don’t even think I knew about 350.org at that time. And I realized that if you want to have an impact on something that you think is important or you’re passionate about, you should find people with like minds to work with. And they might already have something going, and so they might be ahead of you, so maybe you should just join that and add on to what they’re doing.
What are some of the things that you’ve done as a CCL volunteer?
I’ve written letters to Debbie Stabenow, Gary Peters and Debbie Dingell and Mike Bishop. And I have met with Debbie Dingell and one of her staffers with some other members of CCL. And I think I’ve done other things.
Didn’t you give some presentations at Frog Holler?
Oh yeah, I did some outreach, I tried to get more people to join the group, and I got a few of my coworkers at Frog Holler to come to one of the meetings.
It seems like you’ve talked to quite a few people about CCL.
Yeah, the bottom line is that CCL has this framework, and its approach, and its really well organized. They have a goal and a series of steps they’ve made to achieve that goal, and they just need people.
What is the most challenging aspect of working with CCL?
That it’s hard to see instant results.
What do you like best about being involved with CCL?
I like the calm, slow but steady approach. It’s not radical, I definitely wouldn’t describe it as some radical organization, its just people taking a common sense approach to the issue, and trying to work with both sides of the isle.
Through your volunteering and activism on climate change, what has surprised you the most?
You’d be surprised at how many people realize how serious the issue is.
What has been the most rewarding?
I think meeting people that legitimately care and people that have probably seen this develop over time, because this issue has been known about since the 1980s. I didn’t really fully grasp this until last year, but people that have seen this develop over time, that probably have all the wisdom that I don’t have. They lived through the Bush Senior era, Clinton, George Bush… it’s crazy how much time has passed.
Has being involved in CCL changed you in any way? How?
Yeah, I wish more people came to these meetings, because I think if they did, they would have more hope. I think if people would have been coming to these meetings for the past 10 years, it kind of breaks that cynicism that nobody cares.
So it has given you some hope?
Yeah, and it’s also educational. You realize… it helps you identify what the problems are. It helps you understand it more, the political side of it.
You participated in a lobby meeting with Representative Debbie Dingell. What was that experience like for you?
It was a little intimidating. But it was impressive to see all the members of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby engaging her in conversation right off the bat, like they felt really comfortable, and I remember David Gurk nodded at me when he wanted me to speak, which was cool, we were like a team there working together. And I think it showed… I feel like Debbie Dingell is a little bit frustrated that she feels like there’s no Republican counterparts… we invited her to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and she felt like there was no chance that any of the Republican members in Michigan would even consider joining the caucus. So it’s like she knows that, she agrees we need to do something but she probably meets with these guys every day and is like, “I’ve tried, believe me.”
Some people in that meeting commented that they were really impressed with the way you were able to talk to her from the point of view of being a young person whose future is the most at risk. Did you feel that you were able to connect with her, or make an impression on her?
I think I understand the science of climate change and I can communicate it effectively, but I think I wasn’t any more articulate that anyone else at the meeting, it’s just that my age… I think its good for members of Congress to see that there are people in their 20’s or younger that are paying attention to what’s going on in Washington.
Yeah, I think that was really valuable.
What’s one thing you hope to save by stopping climate change?
Well, humanity. Or at least some life, so that there’s something that’s still alive on the planet even if we go extinct, it would be nice to see, even if there was some bacteria left that could evolve and eventually we could have a complex ecosystem again.
What is something that gives you hope?
I think that there was a huge backlash after the election. I can see on social media that people who weren’t talking about this issue before the election are now bringing it up all the time, so it’s really bringing the liberals out of the woodwork in some cases, or maybe not liberals but just environmentalists. Maybe this makes it clear that it’s a crisis.
What advice do you have for people who are worried about climate change but don’t feel they can make a difference?
I would say, you need to join a group. Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a good one, and they can point you to other groups…
…that might fit for the kinds of things that you’re interested in?
Yeah. Just being around people that care and share the same ideas that you share is infinitely helpful.