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Green Giants Part II: David
Kowalski
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August 4, 2016

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# David Kowalski

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BY KELSEY SANDRA ABLES
After a rejuvenating retreat to the Adirondack Mountains,
environmentalist David Kowalski came back to reality: a severe
drought in Buffalo and a high-stakes election looming on the
horizon. We met in his Synder home on yet another unmercifully
hot July morning. Sitting before a wall covered in children’s
drawings of pastoral scenes and placid lakes, Kowalski spoke
fervently and gravely about the “intergenerational injustice” that
is climate change.
As a former biochemist and cancer research scientist, Kowalski
has a knack for citing precise statistics and can deftly navigate the
scientific arguments that verify climate change and support
renewable energy. As a nature-lover, Kowalski traces his
motivations to fight ardently for climate justice back to his
visceral love of the outdoors. And lastly, as a grandparent, he
feels a moral obligation to his children and grandchildren from
whom we borrow the Earth.
After a series of fortuitously timed events in the mid-2000s, the
thought of “passing on this polluted and overheated world to
[his] children and grandchildren” became unbearable. Kowalski’s
fierce fight for climate justice actually began with his son who,
upon returning from college in Vermont, told him it was time to
toss the gas-guzzling Jeep and asked to change all the light bulbs
in their house to LEDs. Shortly after, the United Nation’s 2006
Report on Climate Change stirred Kowalski to think more about
the implications of climate change. More politically aware than
before and with the 2008 primary election approaching, Kowalski
accompanied his son and his son’s classmates to New Hampshire
and watched as they educated the public about climate change.
Inspired by these young activists, he thought he should join the
fight, as well.
Now one of the most outspoken environmentalists in Buffalo,
Kowalski began engaging with politicians and writing to
representatives asking them to step up.   “For me that was a

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complete change in my behavior, “ says Kowalski of these first
interactions, “I never dealt with politicians or their offices or their
schedulers.” It became clear the political world with its
deliberately obfuscating rhetoric and layers of bureaucracy was
far removed from the idyllic world of nature Kowalski is so fond
of.
Connecting with Hillary Clinton’s office, Brian Higgin’s office, and
Chuck Schumer’s office to name a few, Kowalski, a newbie in the
green scene, planned a march/rally event about climate change.
The event focused on three ostensibly simple asks: cut carbon
pollution, no new coal plants, and grow green jobs.  Searching for
an “iconic place” for the event, Kowalski was inspired by Bill
McKibben’s writings about Roosevelt’s journey to Buffalo upon
the news of McKinley being shot. Roosevelt was one of America’s
greatest environmentalists. Accordingly, Kowalski planned a
march from Roosevelt’s inaugural site on Delaware Avenue to the
McKinley memorial in front of city hall, with rallies at both ends.
The 2007 event saw over 150 participants including democratic
politicians and speakers. Kowalski saw it as “pretty much
expected” that “even though they were invited, no Republican
politicians came.” Certainly, he did not let that bring down what
was “an uplifting community event of people [coming together]
with a common interest in the future of not just our planet but
the future of our children.
People like David Kowalski are working hard to undo the work of
fossil fuel industry’s top executives and public relations people.
To the fossil fuel industry, $28 trillion worth of underground oil
reserves are the economic future. To Kowalski, our future
depends on keeping that oil in the ground. “When we burn fossil
fuels” Kowalski laments, “we’re burning the future of our planet,
we’re burning our future generations.” Misconceptions about our
ability to adapt to climate change spread by the fossil fuel
industry have led people to believe otherwise (see graph). As a
result, “A lot of people have come to distrust the scientist,” says
Kowalski, “for me, that hurts. Without honesty and integrity
there’s no science, it’s a house of cards.” With maximizing profit
their highest priority, these monstrous corporations couldn’t care

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less about honesty. Citizens United might treat corporations as
“people” but as Kowalski points out, “that’s a bunch of hoo-ey.
Unlike people, these industries have no conscience…they don’t
look at it like a person looks at it.” But an individual person can
find few ways to challenge the poisonous propaganda of global
corporations.
“We can put some solar panels on but that’s just not going to get
us there…”  says Kowalski. “It’s not just people, it’s government.
This has got to be a huge government project there’s no way
around it.. and not just our government but every government in
the world.” The good news as Kowalski points out is that “at the
recent Paris climate conference virtually every nation signed on
realizing that we need to cut global warming pollution, we need
to cut burning fossil fuels.” Kowalski also speaks excitedly of the
strides we are making, “one of the rally cries from 2007 was no
new coal plants and that’s happening, we’re really phasing out
coal and that’s really good news.” Such a success can only result
from the united efforts of the many, which is why Kowalski, who
as a scientist had never dealt with politicians before, has devoted
so much of his time and energy to rallies and marches.
On June 1st, Kwalski, again found himself in the middle of a
government change. He was amongst hundreds of people
flooding the New York State Capitol in proud support of the
Climate and Community Protection Act. “I ended up right outside
the assembly hall’s big glass wall,” Kowalski says, “I could see the
assembly in there… my assemblyman came walking out and I
said ‘…I really want to see this climate bill pass!’” No stranger to
rallies and protests, Kowalski had met his assemblyman Ray
Walter before, but this time it was in the midst of  a vote over a
vital climate bill.
“I’m standing there with a sign,” Kowalski recalls, “and he [Walter]
said ‘it’ll pass’ and I said ‘great thank you!’ and after the vote I
checked, he voted no!” The bill passed the assembly anyway, but
got held up in the republican controlled senate. It was a historic
moment for the personally-invested, rallying environmentalists
as well as the financially invested lobbyist who were also at the
scene.

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Amidst the chaos at the Capitol on that June day, a security guard
turned to Kowalski and said “this is the way democracy is
supposed to work.” Being a part of a democracy means that even
if we are ultimately subject to the forces of corporations and
government, we can join together in an effort to influence the
decisions and actions of those larger bodies
“It’s the reality of greed vs. people—it’s an old theme but that
theme is getting more and more entrenched,” says Kowalski,
“they [fossil fuel industry] do this for their own survival because
their ideology is based on the free market and profit and
continued economic growth and we only have one planet… we
can’t grow continuously forever.”
Environmentalists have no desire punish people who work in the
fossil fuel industry. In fact, they are very concerned that those
affected by the switch to renewables find meaningful work to
replace lost jobs. The goal is “Climate Justice” for all. Expanding
on the Climate Justice idea, Kowalski advocates for a “just
transition for workers. He cites “what’s going on in the west side
of buffalo [as] a good example. They are training people there to
weatherize.” In Buffalo, there’s certainly plenty of work for that.
“We had this done to our house years ago,” said Kowalski,
“insulation, double pane windows, steel doors that are insulated,
light bulbs that use less energy.” Kowalski even argues that the
transition to renewables will both replace lost jobs and create
more jobs.
Asked if the goal is to completely eliminate fossil fuels, Kowalski
said, “its hard right now from the point we’re at to say completely
eliminate [fossil fuels]… but certainly we can greatly reduce…”
People are calling for 100% by 2050. Kowalski calls this a “loser
goal because 2050 is far away.” The fight for climate justice could
always use more voices to speed up the change. Kowalski is on
the board at the Sierra Club Niagara Group and also is on the
planning committee for the Climate Justice Coalition of Western
New York, who he does communications for. He encourages
individuals interested in either group to get involved. The Sierra
Club has many different opportunities including a writers group
as well as an energy and climate group that focuses specifically

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on renewable energy. Joining the Climate Justice Coalition is a
great way to get more information and there are also more
specific groups—including religious and ethnic groups that are
affiliated with the Climate Justice Coalition.
Kowalski spends
much of his free
time enjoying the
nature he fights
so persistently
and passionately
to protect. “When
I take people on
hikes through the woods… I ask them to look around and I ask
who fertilized this place? Nobody? Yeah? Nature did.. nature can
do this! We humans have become so disconnected from nature
that we don’t think about it and I think that’s a big obstacle of
getting across the climate problem…the separation from nature…
we’re detached.”
This fight is not just for people who identify as environmentalists,
“this is for people who are getting impacted by climate change,
people who got hit by Hurricane Sandy, people who have asthma
as a result of living near coal fire power plants, people who are
living near nuclear plants” and the list goes on—including people
who will lose their jobs should we transition to renewables.
“We have to keep telling our politicians that climate change is
real, it’s happening now, and the way to fix it is to stop burning
fossil fuels, and transition to renewable energy.”
At the end of the day it is a government issue, so Kowalski says,
“VOTE! Vote for people and the planet!”

David Kowalski publishes Re-ENERGIZE Buffalo. His Twitter
handle is @ReEnergizeBflo, and he can be found on Facebook
at Climate Justice Coalition of Western New York. His email
address is ClimateJusticeBuffalo@gmail.com.

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← Mascia takes city to court to overturn Brown’s removal
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