Local grassroots organization 350 Madison has hired a veteran climate educator and advocate to marshal a more active role in promoting a clean energy future.
John Greenler, who most recently served as director of environmental initiatives for the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, will take over Oct. 1 as the volunteer group’s first executive director.
Board president Gail Nordheim said the group’s mission and campaigns — including calls for fossil fuel divestment and stopping the import of Canadian tar sands oil — have grown broader and more complex with the increasing gravity of the climate crisis.
That urgency was highlighted earlier this summer when an international panel of scientists warned the Earth’s climate is already changing in ways not seen for hundreds of thousands of years, changes that will only get worse if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t slashed in the next decade.
“Even when I got involved four and a half years ago — even then there was rarely mention of climate change in the press,” Nordheim said. “Now it’s headlines every day.”
Nordheim said Greenler’s leadership will allow 350 Madison to expand its advocacy from the local level to focus on state policy.
Trained as a biologist, Greenler has taught at Beloit College and served as director of outreach for the Wisconsin Energy Institute. More recently he led the Climate and Clean Energy Initiative at the Wisconsin Academy, where he focused on climate science, outreach, education and advocacy.
“We’re science-driven. He has a Ph.D. He’s taught. He knows how to convey ideas,” Nordheim said. “He’s done advocacy and activism, all the things we do.”
The name is a reference to 350 parts per million, or what scientists consider a sustainable level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This summer the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measured the concentration at 419 ppm, a level not seen in nearly 4.5 million years.
Nordheim said the local chapter now has about 2,000 members and hopes the addition of a professional director will fuel additional growth as well as a bigger policy impact.
“There are good things happening, but not enough,” Nordheim said. “We’re not coalesced around coherent responses.”