November 24, 2017
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3 generations of Maine family fighting to counteract climate change

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff
Updated:
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN | BDN
Three generations of women from one Bangor family have become active in environmental advocacy. From left are Connie Potvin, Beth Martin, Lyn Rohman and Amelia Potvin.

Bangor-area sisters Lyn Rohman, 57, and Connie Potvin, 58, never thought of themselves as political activists.

Until recently, the two — Rohman is a fundraising officer at Husson University and Potvin is an employee wellness coach — confined their volunteer efforts to local organizations and projects such as Junior League, Girl Scouts of America, the American Folk Festival, the Bangor Area Chamber of Commerce, and other local civic and social causes.

But at midlife, they have rolled up their sleeves to take on what may well be the most logistically daunting and politically divisive issue of all — global climate change. With leadership from Potvin’s 29-year-old daughter, Amelia Potvin, and the active support of their 76-year-old mother, Beth Martin, the sisters last year founded the Bangor chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan international organization aimed at empowering voters and building the political will to counteract climate change.

The two sisters co-lead the Bangor group, which now has an active membership of about 30 and growing. In June, they travelled to Washington, D.C., with other environmental activists from across the country, where they met with members of Maine’s congressional delegation and lobbied in support of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s across-the-aisle initiatives.

It’s an entirely new experience for them. Connie Potvin, who lives in Hampden, credits her headstrong, independent daughter with getting the family active with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

While some families struggle to reconcile generational differences of opinion, it was her daughter’s commitment to environmental causes that tweaked this family’s social conscience and kindled its idealism.

“It really all started with Amelia,” she said.

A role for ‘people like us’

“The whole advocacy world is foreign to us,” said Rohman of Bangor in a recent interview, “but we know there are many more people like us, from our backgrounds, who believe that climate change is real and needs to be addressed.”

People “like her” — she is trim, professional, conservative in dress and manner and married to former Bangor mayor John Rohman — bring a measure of balance to an issue that tends to be co-opted, on both sides of the debate, by more flamboyant, impassioned representatives.

Potvin, married to physician Paul Potvin, has much the same demeanor and a similar perspective on the roll she can play.

“I appreciate the clarity of the [Citizens’ Climate Lobby] mission, the way the organization tries to raise awareness and talk about climate change to members of Congress regardless of where they are on the political spectrum,” said Connie Potvin, who is registered as an unenrolled voter.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby, she said, aims to “turn down the heat” under the fractious political and economic debate surrounding climate change, develop broad agreement that a problem exists and move forward with effective, politically acceptable and scientifically sound solutions.

The problem, and a step toward solution

When Amelia Potvin explained the Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s targeted goals to her mother and her aunt, they were taken by the practical, nonpartisan focus of the organization’s strategy.

Scientists agree that significantly elevated amounts of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere are driving a global warming trend that eclipses any natural patterns of change.

Since the greatest source of these greenhouse gasses is the burning of fossil fuels, the climate change lobby supports a revenue-neutral proposal known as Carbon Fee and Dividend. The measure would impose a fee on fossil fuel producers, creating a fund that returns an annual dividend to American households and providing a financial incentive for energy companies to develop sustainable energy alternatives.

The organization also supports a nonbinding House resolution, introduced in September by Rep. Chris Gibson, R-New York, that acknowledges the broad negative effects of climate change, addresses its human roots and urges House members to work together toward a constructive solution.

“The goal is really to gain more Republican support, because many Democrats are already on board,” said Lyn Rohman. She is registered in the Green Party, she said, “but fiscally, I’m an old-school Republican.”

“I consider myself a behind-the-scenes person,” she added. “I’m not an expert, and I don’t have scientific credentials. My strongest motivation is the responsibility I feel to the next generation. We have an opportunity to stop this, and we have to take advantage of it.”

Taking a cue from the next generation

Amelia Potvin, who teaches third grade in Colorado, said her engagement with the natural world started at a young age and grew stronger over time. When she graduated from Hampden Academy, she received a copy of Bill McKibben’s 2006 book, “The End of Nature,” a treatise on environmental degradation in response to human behaviors.

“So all of a sudden I was really alarmed about climate change,” she said.

At Dartmouth College, she majored in environmental studies, then took a job as an educator on a ranch in Colorado. From there, she went to work with a nonprofit organization focused on energy efficiency and renewability.

“I quickly got really into it,” she said. “I saw it was where people could make choices that had a huge impact on the environment.”

Despite the divisiveness of the climate change debate, she believes, “most people share fundamental values of using energy resources well and living in a healthy environment.”

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby takes an approach of “listening versus evangelizing,” she said, and aims to build support for change by capitalizing on shared values and encouraging Americans to participate in the political process.

In her efforts to seed new Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapters, her thoughts turned to her hometown and her civic-minded family.

“I started pestering my parents,” she said, and the Bangor chapter came into existence.

“People feel the forces of the world are so great, there is no way to prevail against a problem as big as climate change,” Potvin said. “But I see this as an opportunity to take back a government I had lost faith in.”

Everybody’s responsibility

For Martin, whose Catholic faith is strong, the motivation to address climate change comes from an even higher authority than that of her beloved granddaughter.

“I firmly believe what Pope Francis says, that it is everybody’s responsibility to address climate change,” she said. “The people who will be most adversely affected, like the farmers in Vietnam and Thailand, really had nothing to do with creating it.”

Like her daughters and her granddaughter, Martin is an active member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. She’s had two letters published in the Bangor Daily News encouraging citizens to become involved in the issue.

“I think most people agree that climate change is a problem, but they don’t want to take any responsibility for it,” she said. “I am concerned for my grandchildren and their children; they’re getting left with this problem, somehow.”

Potvin agrees that older generations should share responsibility for correcting what may be the greatest environmental disaster of all time.

“You’ll see a lot of the effects of global warming in your own time,” she predicted. “Even if we turn off the fossil fuel tap today, you’ll still see the effects. Your generation will be trying to grow old gracefully, to age peacefully, in the middle of a very chaotic world.”

The Bangor chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby meets from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month in Meeting House Room 109 at Husson University. The next meeting is on Saturday, Dec 12. For more information, email Connie Potvin at connieapotvin@gmail.com or visit the Citizens’ Climate Lobby — Maine page on Facebook.


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