When Joe Montuori walked into the chambers of the Putnam County Legislature on June 4, 2019, he was unsure how the vote would go.
At question was whether the county, located in the lower Hudson River Valley in New York, would adopt a pledge to become a “climate-smart community” under state law. Municipalities that adopt the 10-point action plan are eligible for state grants that help advance climate change projects.
Montuori is not a legislator. He is not a state official. He is a social studies teacher at a Hudson Valley school district who, inspired by what he had experienced a few months earlier at the Omega Center for Sustainable Living’s 2018 Drawdown Learn Conference, created a social-media-driven letter-writing campaign in support of the pledge.
Montuori had watched as the measure had languished in committee for several months before advancing to a full vote. Many of the legislators had expressed reservations. “I wasn’t optimistic,” he said of the vote.
And then it happened. The Legislature voted unanimously to adopt the pledge. Each legislator read a prepared statement, many of which echoed the points that Montuori and the others had made in their letter-writing campaign.
“I felt euphoric,” Montuori said, “that my county, which historically has been very reticent about embracing any kind of environmental activism or improvement, wound up taking what I thought was a pretty dramatic step.”
Those emotions stood in stark contrast to how Montuori had felt prior to attending Drawdown Learn, which focused on a solutions-based approach to climate change. Though he had taken typical steps to reduce his environmental impact, such as recycling and energy conservation, Montuori said his efforts felt inadequate.
“I felt frustrated,” he said. “I felt anxious about the situation. I felt that I wasn’t doing enough and I couldn’t do enough unless I got involved in my community and got other people involved. The whole thing can be so overwhelming that it can lead to paralysis, to total inaction.”
At Drawdown Learn, Inspiration Comes via Collaboration
At Drawdown Learn, Montuori met other educators and Putnam County residents. The event introduced him to Project Drawdown, a nonprofit group that had measured and modeled the 100 most effective ways to reverse global warming and then published its findings in a New York Times best seller. A presentation by the Pachamama Alliance inspired him to offer his own introduction to Drawdown workshops. When he heard that Putnam legislators were considering the climate-smart community pledge, he created a sample letter of support and posted it to a number of Facebook groups. As many as 30 people wrote to the legislators.
Since then, he has accepted an invitation to join the board of his local library, where he has been advocating for the New York Library Association’s Sustainability Initiative. (Representatives of the NYLA also attended Drawdown Learn in 2018 and then launched a statewide Drawdown book club.)
All of this, Montuori says, has taught him the value of connecting with others who are creating meaningful change or want to do so.
"Socializing and meeting other people is much harder today than it was 50 years ago when I was kid because we are all tuned into our screens and we don’t get out enough and meet people face to face," he said. "Seeing what other people are doing helps accelerate and synergize developments."
Montuori said he enjoys teaching. But now, unexpectedly, he finds himself looking forward to retiring within the next year.
"I really want," he said, "to dedicate myself full time to climate change activism."
© 2019 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies