‘It Felt Like I Wasn’t Doing Enough’: Interview with Climate Activist Ally Bubb

By Samantha Dietel, Editor in Chief

Ally Bubb had her children in mind when she began volunteering with the Climate Reality Project.

Bubb, who led the nonprofit’s “24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action” presentation Nov. 21 at the Democratic Party of Washington County office, joined the Climate Reality Project in August after she turned 40. As a member of the organization’s Milwaukee chapter, Bubb was trained to educate the community about environmental issues and initiate discussions about how to best combat climate change.

“Round-number birthdays are a time when we really step back and typically reflect on our lives,” Bubb said. “When I turned 40, I started to assess kind of where I was at, looking at the impacts that I was making. I have two kids, and they are 8 and 7 (years old) right now. It’s very much around: what kind of world are they inheriting, and what sort of action am I doing as part of that?”

Ever since growing up outdoors in the upper peninsula of Michigan, Bubb has had an interest in the natural world. This curiosity previously prompted her to avidly participate in river and roadside cleanups, but when she reflected on her efforts, she did not like what she saw.

“I didn’t like that it felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” Bubb said. “Many environmental problems seemed like they were getting worse and although I was participating in certain activities, I wanted it to be more.”

She explained that she wanted to serve as a model for her children and adequately show the importance of protecting the environment. This act of parenting drove her toward the Climate Reality Project, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization formed by former Vice President Al Gore in 2006 as an effort to take a stand against the changing climate.

The Nov. 21 local event was part of the Climate Reality Project’s worldwide effort to have as many climate presentations as possible within 24 hours. In West Bend, Bubb explained the various impacts of global warming and the actions people can take in response. 

The Current spoke with Bubb following the “Truth in Action” event to discuss the Climate Reality Project and the topic of climate change. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the training like for the Climate Reality Project?
It is an intensive, hands-on, three-day set of training around understanding the climate crisis at a deeper level, being able to be equipped to do presentations like the one that I did (in West Bend), but also hearing from experts from around the world on various different elements of the climate crisis. So it really is a very deep dive into the full topic of the climate crisis, the wide-reaching impacts that we’re seeing as a result of global warming. The other cool thing particularly about the training that I was at, is it was much more focused on the Midwest. So they host their trainings in different cities around the world every single year to give as many people as possible a chance to get to one that’s reasonably close to them. By good fortune, this one was in Minneapolis, so a lot of the discussion—a lot of the experts that we were hearing from—were focused on the climate crisis and its impacts here in the Midwest.

What global impacts of climate change have you noticed so far and why are they concerning for you?
The global impacts that we see from climate change are similar to the local impacts that we’re seeing from climate change. At its core, the big issue is really the fact that we are thickening the Earth’s atmosphere through the release of carbon dioxide, and that’s coming from pollution from human-caused action. Things like the thawing of the permafrost and mining and transportation, but by far the biggest contributor to that is the burning of fossil fuels. That is what is causing the dramatic rise in carbon dioxide levels within the atmosphere. The impacts that radiate out from that one simple fact is really at the crux of the issue. Air temperature is increasing at a dramatic rate. That air temperature increase is also causing issues for human health when it gets extremely hot. Nine million people die annually from extreme heat stress.

The other thing that we’re seeing with those increased air temperatures is melting of our polar ice caps. Now we’re seeing temperatures increase at the poles much more dramatically than they are in the rest of the world. As the ice melts, it goes into the ocean, and now sea level rise becomes a big concern that we are seeing globally. It especially impacts cities in Asia, but we’re not immune from that here in the United States.

Ocean temperature rising is also creating issues. That’s, of course, also a danger to marine life that need the ocean at certain temperatures in order to thrive. But it’s also creating issues for our humans because that warmer ocean water is intensifying storms. As a tropical storm moves over the ocean, that colder ocean water would help to slow it down before it makes landfall. What we’re seeing now is that warmer ocean water actually help intensify the storms, and so we’re seeing much more powerful storms. It affects our weather in the Midwest in the same way. Warmer ocean water changes the wind currents that bring weather into us, and so it’s changing the patterns of weather that we’re getting here in the Midwest.

The other thing that we’re seeing is, as our temperatures increase, that increases the incidence of fires worldwide. Those extra dry conditions create forests that are much more susceptible to fire, and then on top of that with the extreme weather that we’re seeing, we have more lightning strikes that again can cause wildfires. We’re seeing fires in places that we haven’t seen them before. Global warming is responsible for much more intense droughts in addition to extra rain. So some areas are getting wetter, but some areas are getting drier. And when it’s dry, crops don’t grow. What that’s creating is food insecurity. There are a lot of climate refugees who are escaping areas (where) there’s nothing to eat. People are having to leave their homes, their countries and try to find somewhere else. There’s a whole host of health impacts around air pollution. So that one small change where we’re thickening the Earth’s atmosphere sees wide-ranging impacts in a whole host of ways that scientists continue to work to understand to see how all of these things work together.

What do you believe members of our local community can do to take action against those climate changes?
The action that people can take is really in two areas. We can think of it as individual action and systemic action. Individual actions are some of those simple things, like switching out all of your light bulbs to LED light bulbs because that uses a lot less electricity. Getting a hybrid car or an electric car. Installing solar panels to use renewables instead of fossil fuels for your energy generation. There are a lot of ways that people can take those individual actions. Our individual action is much more powerful collectively, so maybe working with local municipalities to talk about moving towards renewable energy. It’s talking to elected officials, but we can also talk to friends and family, I mean that’s a really easy action for people to take. The education piece is so important. A lot of people don’t know all of the impacts. Some people don’t know the steps that they can take or the ways that they can have an impact or what the impacts are, so it’s sharing information with each other, talking with each other about that.

Another way that we can take action is around reassessing our consumer culture today, basically making sure that we’re reducing our own impacts with the things that we buy, buying things that have been created in a sustainable manner. Throwing away less food means that there’s less food in the landfills, and that means that you’re reducing methane in the atmosphere. (Methane) is actually more powerful than carbon in terms of its destructive effects. What we want to do is make sure we’re throwing away less food, we’re composting, we’re recycling, all of those individual actions. But then again, working as communities. Now there are a lot of ways, particularly for an area like Washington County, which has a lot of farmland, as does the state of Wisconsin, there are a lot of agricultural practices that people can start to incorporate that have a huge impact in reducing carbon in the atmosphere. It’s looking at regenerative agriculture and silvopasture, it’s about putting in more trees and managing our forests more sustainably and a whole host of things like that.

What was the turnout at Thursday’s event?
It was right around 15 to 20 people. 

Did you notice any students at all?
It was an interesting mix, actually. There were students from (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Washington County) there. There were a couple of younger kids and then also all the way up to people who had said, “I’m here because I have four grandchildren and I need to leave the world better for them, I can’t bear to think about what it will be like if I don’t do something.”

You also spoke briefly at the West Bend Climate Strike in September. How did you feel about the turnout in West Bend?
I was really excited to see so many people there. It was awesome and the energy was great. It was so great to see such a mix of people with diverse backgrounds, with interests and talents and all of those things that are so unique. I was really impressed with the group of people that were together there.

Considering the student turnout at the Climate Strike, the local youth also seem to be driven to combat climate change. What do you think young people can do to take action, even if they are not yet old enough to cast a ballot?
I think one of the many ways that we’re seeing young people take action is through their technological savvy. When you think about somebody like Greta (Thunberg), who’s become a worldwide sensation because she’s been able to share what she’s doing on social media. We’re seeing campaigns—it should be noted that there are a hundred companies worldwide that are responsible for around 70 percent of all of the emissions, so companies will take action when they see a difference in their profit margins. So a great way to do that is through boycotting. By taking action and saying, you know what, we’re not going to support something like this because of how destructive it is. As soon as people are taking more and more to social media, companies are responding to that. That becomes bad publicity really quickly for them and it’s another way for youths to leverage the technology that they’re using already every day to start to take action in that realm.

I think another great way is to work together within whatever school you’re in because there are definitely actions there, from setting up a campaign to try and move your school to 100 percent renewable energy, that’s one way. Providing ways for your school to not have so much single-use plastic, whether that’s moving back to standard silverware, or whether that’s reducing the packaging for the food that’s coming into the cafeteria. Setting up a campaign to do something like “Meatless Monday” because a plant-based diet is a much smaller impact for (carbon dioxide) emissions than eating meat. There are a lot of things that youths can do, and especially we’re seeing the power of that when you think about worldwide climate strikes. I mean, that is the power that you can harness to really take action.

Why do you think it is important for more of the local youth to take part in the global demand for action against climate change?
I think it’s a couple of things. Young people often feel like—so I’m thinking back to the time when I was a young person—you sometimes think, I don’t know if my voice matters, I don’t know if anyone cares what I have to say, or what I have to think. What we’re seeing is a single voice does matter. It does make a difference. Greta (Thunberg) spurred on school strikes and all sorts of things just as a result of what she was doing when she stood up and said, “This isn’t right, this isn’t fair, I don’t want to be a party to this, we need to do something else.” And so it’s important for youths to know their voice matters, and what they say and what they do does make a difference. The other thing is when we think about the world that young people are inheriting, right now it doesn’t look good. We’re in a crisis because we have not taken the right actions up to this point, and I think it’s perfectly normal for young people to feel angry about that. There’s a whole host of impacts that we talked about from global warming, and you didn’t really do anything to cause it. And so here you are, having to fight this battle.

(Top image: Ally Bubb discusses climate change Nov. 21 at the Democratic Party of Washington County office in West Bend. Photo by Olivia Langdon, Current Staff.)

1 Comment

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One response to “‘It Felt Like I Wasn’t Doing Enough’: Interview with Climate Activist Ally Bubb

  1. Jeff

    A good question to ask is why the Climate Reality Project, a “nonpartisan” organization, holds meetings at partisan organizations like the Democratic Party of Washington County and not, say, the public library?

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