By James Steindler
Valley local and environmental educator Sarah Johnson is heading to the United Nations in Glasgow, Scotland for the 26th annual Conference of the Parties (COP26). Johnson is giddy with excitement and anticipation to attend the international event regarding climate change.
For 26 years, leaders from most of the world’s countries have come together to discuss climate change and action. The Paris Climate Agreement, an accord between 196 countries, came to fruition out of COP21.
Johnson has been to Europe once before, when she visited Switzerland. She will travel humbly, and stay with a Scottish couple for $10 a night, under the condition she gets to know some other locals (perhaps at a pub over a pint).
While she can’t wait to meet the Scotts, most of her time, of course, will be spent at the two-week U.N. summit. She will attend as a Non-Governmental Organization Diplomatic Observer (her official title).
In Johnson’s eyes, to change the world, everyone should have a chance to be involved. She is quick to assert that she is not the only one who holds such sentiment.
In fact, the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), a directive which came out of the Paris Climate Agreement, asked that “each country involved go home and work on creating an ACE framework,” explained Johnson, “for how all people, through a big equity-inclusion lens, should be empowered, leveraged and inspired to participate to find climate solutions within their communities.” She continued, “It can’t just be science, it can’t just be funders and it can’t just be policy; it has to include the public.”
So, “in 2019, a group of volunteer experts got together, mostly online, and started drafting an ACE framework for the United States,” Johnson said. That text is now available to download for free at: https://aceframework.us/the-framework/
To Johnson’s knowledge, the U.S. was one of the only countries which drafted a framework, so it could end up as a model for others. Anyone can join the ACE Coalition by registering at: https://www.usacecoalition.org/cop26
Johnson has carved out a career for herself in environmental education. In 2015, she launched Wild Rose Education, based in Carbondale, and has reached roughly 2000 people through programming every year since.
The Youth Water Leadership Program — an arm of Wild Rose — gets young people to participate in “learning, dialogue and action” around water conservation. “You’re giving youth a chance to discuss issues in their community that affect them,” said Coal Ridge High School student Aidan Boyd in a promotional video on the Wild Rose website.
In 2006, Johnson came to the Valley to work at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) as a naturalist. Down the line, she met another ACES alumna, Jen Krester, who Johnson has continuously networked with to bring about educational and training opportunities.
In 2020, Krester reached out to Johnson and invited her to join Climate Generation — a North American collaborative and climate education program — for it’s Summer Institute for Climate Change Education virtual event. Johnson agreed to be the leader for the Colorado cohort and the online transition served to extend her scope of influence.
“Since the pandemic, my work has gone global because you can’t keep people away when you offer everything on Zoom,” she laughed. By way of virtual trainings and workshops, Johnson connects with environmental educators from “all over Colorado and beyond.”
In fact, Johnson’s connection with Climate Generation led to her opportunity to join COP26. Generally, a group of students from a public high school in Minneapolis get to attend the annual summit. But, according to Johnson, because of COVID and travel restrictions, the students were not able to go so those passes became available to a select group of adults, Johnson being among them.
Being a lifelong Girl Scout, and a current volunteer for World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Johnson plans to catch up with a group of Girl Scout representatives who will be at the conference. Johnson explained that climate change impacts women disproportionately. “More times than not, girls and young women live in poverty, have less access to basic human rights, face systemic violence that escalates during periods of instability — such as natural disasters — and across the 152 countries and 10 million girl guides and girl scouts, environmental issues are the top concern.”
She also plans to track down the Laudato si’ coalition created by Pope Francis to address climate change and environmental degradation.
Johnson will be updating a blog during her time at the summit, so for those who wish to follow along (www.wildroseeducation.com/uncop). She’s taking a few copies of this issue of The Sopris Sun to share with fellow environmentalists added to her ever-expanding network.