Climate emergency? This ER doc is coming to the rescue in Oklahoma

Climate emergency? This ER doc is coming to the rescue in Oklahoma

By Davia Rivka

It started four years ago with the dried out lake bed. Marianne Bacharach’s kids, Max and Audrey, were four and six at the time. They were playing in the sand, building sand castles in the place where the lake used to be. “Mom, why are there so many dried up fish everywhere?” Audrey asked. Lake Hefner is the main water supply for Oklahoma City. That was where the first seed was sown.

Just after that, Marianne discovered the Oklahoma City Citizens’ Climate Lobby group. But Saturdays were reserved for her kids — soccer games and violin lessons, which made going to meetings almost out of the question. Then the Oklahoma City group disbanded and merged with the group in Norman — about forty minutes away — making it nearly impossible to attend the meetings.

But the climate thing kept gnawing at her.

“I kept hovering around the periphery. But not really doing anything. Except walking around my house like a geek, wearing headphones while I listened to CCL podcasts.”

That wasn’t enough for Marianne.

“I have to do something,” she told herself. So in June 2015, she went to the conference in Washington DC. Her first meeting — Senator Inhofe’s office! In all, she had meetings with five of the seven members of Oklahoma’s delegation, including both senators and three congressmen. It was during these meetings that she made a surprising discovery. She already had effective lobbying skills from what she learned at work.

Her job? She’s an emergency room doctor!

Being an ER doc “trained the shy out” of her. She learned to walk into a room with authority, in situations where time is limited. It is necessary to assess things quickly. Don’t make assumptions — they can set you back — they could even be fatal, like mistaking a heart attack for heartburn. Keep asking questions to tease out what is underneath the words. Don’t jump to conclusions, like “It’s Oklahoma, he’ll never sign the Gibson resolution.” Repeat words back to make sure you understand them correctly. (This is what I heard you say, you’re “having severe pain in your chest”…or, “oil is the lifeblood of the state.”)

Who knew that an emergency room doctor and a citizen lobbyist had so much in common?

It was her time in DC that energized and inspired her, kicking her into high gear.

“I’ve never considered myself to be a leader. I’m not charismatic, but once I saw what was happening there was no going back. I couldn’t not do something. I just hope the strength of my commitment and passion will make up for what I lack in charisma.”

That’s when she got the idea to join forces with another mom and start a group that would meet on Sundays.

“Our group is new. We haven’t really done anything.” Marianne tells me. Three times she tried to talk me out of interviewing her.

I hear this over and over. “Why bother talking to me? I’m not a climate rock star.” But from where I sit, I see the big picture. How it takes all of us. Each doing what we do best — in our own inimitable style.

Their first meeting was in January. Three people showed up. In February there were seven. Marianne’s kids, Max and Audrey are eight and ten now. They are both itching to do something about climate change. My guess is they will be the newest members of the group.

Marianne Bacharach

CCL’s Oklahoma City Group Leader Marianne Bacharach with Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK)

Last week, Marianne went to a town hall meeting where her representative, Steve Russell, spoke.

“There were about twenty-five people there. He stayed on after the meeting and I got to talk to him for about five minutes. It was my first time. He is a good friend of Chris Gibson. But that door [to the Gibson Climate Resolution] isn’t ready to be opened yet.”

Before they can even think about getting him to sign the resolution, they’ll need to build, in Elli Sparks’ words, “political cover.” They’ll need to get buy-in from the oil and gas companies, get endorsements from the chambers of commerce and other people and organizations of influence.

The climate (so to speak) may not be right, just yet. Despite a huge spike in earthquakes and the fact that the governor acknowledges the earthquakes are the result of the wastewater injection wells, limited steps have been taken to shut them down. If people with property damage are not getting government protection from something acknowledged and as concrete as the wastewater injection wells, it is a tall order to think they will rally around something as vast and amorphous as climate change.

Tall order or not, I’m placing my money on Marianne and the incipient Oklahoma City group. I’m placing my money on Marianne’s listening and speaking skills and her “Marianne-style leadership.” I’m placing my money on Max and Audrey. I’m placing my money on all the seeds being sown in the most unlikely places.

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Davia Rivka is a Los Angeles-based climate change warrior who is hard at work on her second book: a collection of inspirational stories about the extraordinary work of Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers. Check out her blog at daviarivka.com.

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