Interview with 350 Oregon’s Lenny Dee

by Cherice Bock, Whole Terrain editor

I recently sat down with one of the founders of 350 Oregon and 350 PDX, Lenny Dee. 350 Oregon formed in April 2013 as a response to 350.org‘s founder, Bill McKibben, calling for the formation of local groups to work on environmental activism close to home. Lenny Dee shared with me some of the projects on which environmental activists in 350 Oregon are currently working, and some of his own story about how he got involved in environmental activism. His story resonates with our theme of trust and environmental practice, inviting us to trust the “others” in our communities, those about whom we have stereotypes or with whom we don’t often associate, and to be willing to trust others enough to work with them on shared goals.

Lenny Dee really jumped on board the environmental activism bandwagon when he read Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” where McKibben attempts to break down the political divisiveness of the climate change debate, and instead present numbers that show the precariousness of our situation. Dee went from being someone who cared about the environment to someone who was willing to jump in and do something. He says, “Climate is a hands-on issue because civilization as we know it is in jeopardy.”

He helped organize the state of Oregon’s 350.org chapter, as well as a subsidiary chapter in Portland. There are now 89 local groups in Oregon, with hubs of activity in Portland and in southern Oregon. Dee appreciates the decentralized nature of 350.org, which encourages local activism about issues occurring close to home, rather than a top-down agenda.

The projects these groups are facing are not small. Dee stated there are 16-18 proposed coal, oil, and natural gas transport and pipeline proposals attempting to gain access across the Pacific Northwest, and local groups are working against these export terminals and railways in their communities. 350 Oregon is also working at the state and city level to encourage divestment from fossil fuels. The city of Ashland recently pledged to divest.

Dee’s area of responsibility in 350 Oregon currently centers around the Oregon Climate Declaration, showing that Oregonians care about climate issues and that voters want their elected officials to reflect this through policies and divestment action, and want to instead invest in renewable energy and sustainable practices.

Passion is evident in Dee’s demeanor when he talks about the personal connections he has made through working on these issues. He sees himself working toward communities that actually know one another: “This is an opportunity to make our communities caring and loving.” His goal is to re-localize our economies by strengthening relational ties within and between our local communities.

One group Dee has reached out to particularly is Oregon’s faith communities. He has spent time getting to know leaders within faith communities who are interested in environmental matters, seeking to understand many people of faith’s hesitancy with environmental activism. Through these conversations, he has felt personally moved. He has built trust with individuals and, through them, whole groups of people with whom he didn’t normally connect. His spiritual connectivity with people and with the land has strengthened. He has learned to trust that he can find pockets of people from many walks of life who will share his concerns for the Earth, and to trust that conversations with them will be fruitful and lead toward a depth of environmental practice even beyond that in which he is already engaged.

I appreciated meeting with Lenny Dee and hearing his story, and also the opportunity to share parts of my own story with an individual interested in learning, growing, connecting, and genuinely caring for not only the planet, but also the people living on it.

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