Stephen (60) , USA
Interview conducted via phone from Castle Rock, Colorado
I first met Stephen about five years ago while working on his house near Boulder, Colorado. It was a beautiful property with fruit trees, garden beds and a large solar array. I would describe Stephen as driven. When not working his job in high tech he was staying busy at home, building things like a beautiful cherry bench for his kitchen. I also watched him flooring his house, fixing fences or upgrading the trim in his house. His skill level exceeds the average homeowner and I’ve always respected people who stay fit by working on their home instead of driving to the gym.
Despite his eco-friendly home, his facebook posts made me think Stephen was a climate change denier. Questioning of some of these posts would often spin out of control. Friends of Stephens would jump into an online debate that served little purpose. People (including myself) seem to loudly state their views but did little listening or thinking about what other were saying. One of the things I have learned from Stephen is to be more thoughtful about my posts on social media. I do a lot more thinking and researching people posts and a lot less replying with emotion. As a general rule there is some level of truth in all opinions. After years of following Stephen on Social media I’ve decided that Stephen likes to use social media to poke the bear. He enjoys presenting alternative opinions and sitting back and learning. I feel his goal is to encourage people to think. I reached out to Stephen to catch up with him and asked if he would be willing to provide a interview for the website. His words follow.
What is your favorite part of living in Texas?
I like almost everything about Texas which is why I moved here and feel that I should have done so long ago. Texas and Wyoming are two states where rural areas have few zoning laws and offer landowners the freedom to do what you want with your acreage. People are civil and it is quiet. The only real noise is nature.
What is your least favorite part of living inTexas.?
The relatively high property taxes and ticks. You can medicate the dogs but the ticks drop off, often in the house. All of the family have had ticks on them. The heat and humidity at the end of summer are a bit high and the county roads could be better maintained. I’ve also had encounters with fire ants and poison ivy.
Do you see the changes in the natural world where you live?
Yes, but all the changes I can see are for the better. I grew up in Warren, Ohio where there is a big bend in the Mahoning river. When I was a child there were steel and copper mills and you never saw birds or fish in the river. Now it is much better. Ducks and people swim and fish in the river. I travel a lot for work and the same positive trend is true of air quality in the United States. The environment in the US has cleaned up a lot in my lifetime. We do still have red air quality days in now and then but it is much better that in the past and nothing like I see when work takes me to China. In Shenzen you don’t see the sun for days because of pollution and this seems to be because of lax environmental laws and coal burning.
Recently the progress we have made in the United States may be reversing and this seems likely to be a political consequence of trying to jump start a dying economy that is struggling due to never ending wars.
Do you think these changes are from man’s activities?
It is hard to know. One of my first papers I can remember writing was on climate change in 1977. At the time they were arguing about if we were going into an ice age or a warming trend. Despite my best efforts to research the topic I couldn’t find really good data. The world has been much warmer and much colder in the past. For example, I can remember visiting the Badlands in South Dakota and reading that there used to be alligators there. The earth has also been much colder in the past. I think nature has more influence that we understand and it is difficult to understand the contributions of nature and man.
Carbon dioxide emissions have been blamed for the temperature rises but rapid increases in the carbon dioxide levels have been observed many times in the past, well before the industrial age. So many of our current weather monitoring stations are in urban areas where urban warming impact temperature measurements and local emissions may impact the efficacy of the data. I don’t like how alarmist the climate change literature is and whenever I hear this sort of fear based discussion I get skeptical, especially when political agendas are involved. My current understanding is that nature is driving the majority of the changes but it is too soon to tell.
Can you give me an example of something you are doing to reduce your impact on the planet?
Why would any human being want to minimize their impact? I think this question could be improved. All people should try to maximize their impact to do what they feel is right. On my farm I try to use energy in a way to maximize my efficiency. I have recently been investing in battery powered tools. I bought a battery powered auger and chainsaws to help build fences for my livestock. The auger is ideal for the sandy soil here and battery technology has finally gotten to a place where is it sufficient to power tools like these. I rarely use my gas chainsaw now since it is loud and less reliable. I like to stay busy and these tools allow me to make the best use of my time.
This weekend I cut down several trees in an area my wife hopes to make raised beds to grow food for the family. I added solar power to the small shelter I built for my goats because it was more cost effective than running power. I also installed a heat pump on the house because is was a the most economical long term solution for my family’s heating and cooling needs.
My goal here is to maximize the productivity of the land I live on and I have been watching a lot of homestead movies and videos. I seek to find the ideal balance between organic and modern techniques. I own a tractor and use it when warranted. Currently I am raising goats and pigs for meat and chickens for eggs. I recently purchased a pair of Kunekune piglets. They are not over-bred to get huge or produce large litters but they have many traits that are ideal for the type of farm I want to have. For example they have a short noses so they don’t tear up the earth too much by rooting and are capable of foraging for themselves. I want to rotate them on small 1/2 acres pastures and plant 30% of my land with walnuts and oak to provide them with winter forage. Fortunately, there are already a lot of oak trees on the property. I hope to make the fence posts for our pasture out of the cedar trees that grow on our land. Cedar last a long time in the earth and doesn’t impact the soil like pressure treated woods.
Is there anything you would like to ask or tell me?
I think one of the keys is for people to own the places they live. People in general don’t want to soil there own nest and I feel it is human nature to improve you home. If you own stuff you tend to take care of it. In countries where everybody owns everything people tend to abuse the land because if they don’t somebody else will. There are examples of this in the US as well. I was a member of the homeless council when I lived in Boulder. People in homeless camps often discard trash and human waste where they are living. It is my feeling they do this because do not feel ownership of where they are camped. Some people are homeless for economic reasons and homelessness is a growing issue. Many homeless people have mental issues and a disproportionate number are former vets struggling with PTSD which is another economic consequence of our endless wars.
Another thing I see is people confusing individual weather events with climate change. Each time there is a bad storm it is offered as proof of climate change. I do think the earth is in a warming trend but I have not made up my mind as to why. Some many people just seem to repeat what they have heard without looking into it for themselves. I want people think critically and if things don’t make sense they should be skeptical or ask more questions.
In the “Why” section of this website I attribute my desire to document how climate change is impacting peoples communities to the young activist Greta Thunberg. After interviewing Stephen I realize that my past interactions with Stephen have been equally influential on the development of this site. The goal is to document peoples thought and not judge their responses. Interviewing people without asking leading questions is surprisingly difficult and something where I know I need to improve. Stephen and I have different opinions on the what is the major driver of climate change, however we respect each other opinions. More importantly we think about each others perspective and are willing to be open to new data and realize that opinions, including our own, are likely to change over time.