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The Climate Connection: Thanking Napa County climate heroes
The Climate Connection

The Climate Connection: Thanking Napa County climate heroes

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Pandemics are connected in important ways to global warming. Both are invisible in themselves, but have destructive and deadly consequences. When they take hold, they are virtually unstoppable. And they are linked at the root.

Climate change helps to create the conditions for pandemics through deforestation, habitat destruction and food scarcity. Fortunately, though, just as in pandemics, informed and committed people — what Mr. Rogers would term the helpers — are stepping out of the crowd with the determination to find solutions to catastrophic global warming.

In 2020, Napa Climate NOW! honored some of these remarkable people with its Climate Champions award. Among the honorees were Katie Stilwell in the category of youth advocate, and Calistoga City Councilmember Gary Kraus, an exemplary elected representative.

Advocating for smart action

Napa native Katie Stilwell studies ecopsychology and environmental ethics at (or virtually at) the University of Redlands. Her internship with the Sierra Club and Napa Climate NOW! last summer tapped into her science background and leadership abilities as she worked to promote public programs and personal practices for mitigating climate change and to mentor student volunteers in environmental work.

Her research on carbon sequestration rates in newly planted versus established oak trees helped inform the City of Napa and the county’s climate action planning process, and added to the Napa Sierra Club’s carbon sequestration database. Research she conducted as part of the county’s Acorns to Oaks program underscored the wisdom of preserving Napa’s oaks – mature, established trees sequester hundreds of times more carbon than do newly planted trees.

Katie’s articles for the Napa Sierra Club newsletter gave readers practical information about recycling. Plastics made from fossil fuels, especially, are proving to be dramatically destructive when they end up in our oceans. While these plastics can be very useful and convenient, they are no good from a climate or environmental perspective, only varying degrees of bad. Katie explained what we can do to mitigate the problem, walking us through our “reduce, reuse, recycle” options.

In public comments at many city council and county supervisors’ meetings, Katie spoke knowledgeably for strong policies to reduce global warming. Through PowerPoint presentations to the Napa Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters, she promoted the Time Out for Trees resolution. In addition, through outreach to city staff, Katie promoted the Adopt-a-Park program. Overall, her actions were those of a true champion for the climate and the ethical treatment of the natural world.

Help from our elected representatives

Gary Kraus was the natural choice for this year’s award. The need to protect and preserve the environment has been a theme throughout Gary’s life. Growing up in southern California and riding his bicycle through smog so thick it hurt to breathe and hid the view across the street, he thought, “Something about the way we are living on the Earth must be wrong. Make that: deeply wrong.” He took that understanding to heart, committing himself to helping people and protecting life by becoming a firefighter – a job description most of us would call “being a hero.”

Throughout his years of service in local government, Gary has been more advocate than politician. With his leadership, Calistoga’s City Council became the first in the county to put Napa Climate NOW!’s budget-conscious climate actions on its agenda.

He understands the need to preserve Napa Valley’s established oak forests, a climate solution that costs little and delivers big results. Older trees have an astonishing ability to sequester carbon in a time when removing carbon and other pollutants from the atmosphere is the Holy Grail in the fight against global warming.

Reforesting is another strategy, but not nearly as effective as protecting older trees. These “senior citizens” of our woodlands should get the respect they deserve. When replacing trees, Gary supports the use of non-invasive species, especially redwoods and oaks with their fire-resistant ability, as essential for creating a more resilient Napa.

As a member of the countywide Climate Action Committee, Gary has urged its members to clearly define their mission and goals and to lead by being more active and less committee.

Gary has always been an outspoken youth advocate, someone who values the contributions and energy the younger generation brings to the environmental cause. High school groups know they can turn to him and that, when they do, their concerns will be respected and promoted.

Actions you can take

Anyone who has experienced the terrible fire seasons that are our “new normal,” anyone who has lost friends or family or their homes or jobs to this terrible pandemic, understands all too well that now is a moment for heroes. We urgently need the help of clever, courageous people. The good news? There are some around. Here are some things you can do:

— Check out Katie’s research on carbon sequestration by trees, and get involved in protecting and planting our trees:

— Vote in every election, local and national, for candidates who support urgent climate action legislation.

— Add your own voice and ideas at city and county meetings.

— Participate in 350 Bay Area’s 46 Days of Action to begin on Jan. 20, in honor of our 46th president.


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Susan Crosby holds an International Montessori credential and a Master’s in Spanish, and is a member of Napa Climate Now! After a career in teaching, she now volunteers as an editor and translator. She worries about the environment night and day.

Napa Climate NOW! is a local non-profit citizens’ group advocating for smart climate solutions based on the latest climate science, part of 350 Bay Area. Find us at Facebook or through

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