This coming Sunday, May 4, Showtime will air the fourth episode in its Years of Living Dangerously climate series, which includes me and features the Beyond Coal Campaign. As the airing of the “Preacher’s Daughter” episode approaches, I keep thinking back on a particular, beautiful Blue Ridge summer day that I’ll never forget.
As the Showtime cameras rolled, I shared the stage with actor Ian Somerhalder, activist Anna Jane Joyner, and leaders from Asheville, North Carolina, at a rally calling on Duke Energy to retire the nearby coal-fired power plant and replace it with clean energy. All three of us are included the “Preacher’s Daughter” episode, and to get more of the scoop from behind the scenes, I hope you’ll join me and Anna Jane for a live Twitter Q&A on Friday, May 2 at 3:00pm Eastern Time using the hashtag #YearsProject.
Back to that sunny day in Asheville. Hundreds of community members and happy Somerholics cheered on our speeches as we made it clear that Asheville was eager to retire the coal plant, which is the region’s largest source of carbon pollution, and join the growing ranks of communities being powered by clean energy.
Ian, star of the TV show The Vampire Diaries, was the final speaker. When he walked onto the stage, shrieks and a dense thicket of iPhone cameras shot up from the crowd. He was supposed to interview me on the site of the rally after his speech, but his fans were so excited to meet him – understandably – that we clearly needed a plan B. So after he visited with his admirers, we jumped in our cars and instead held the interview in the shadow of the coal plant itself. Here’s a sneak peak video clip of my interview with Ian, hot off the presses.
I told Ian about the success of the Beyond Coal Campaign, a partnership between the Sierra Club and over 100 organizations nationwide, that has so far stopped 182 new coal plants from being built, won the retirement of one out of every three existing coal plants in the US. (164 plants, to be precise), and replaced much of that coal power with record amounts of clean energy. Coal plants are the nation’s biggest source of climate disrupting carbon pollution, and all those coal retirements, wind turbines, and solar panels have added up to significantly move the needle on U.S. carbon emissions, dropping them to their lowest level in two decades.
I told Ian that these victories were even more inspiring because they had been won by regular people – moms and dads, teachers and students, doctors and ministers and local elected officials. One of those real-life heroes leaders was Anna Jane Joyner, who works on faith and the environment as a staffer for the Western North Carolina Alliance.
Anna Jane is the star of the “Preacher’s Daughter” episode, which focuses on her journey to bring her father, an evangelical pastor who took over the empire of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, into the climate fight. When we meet him he is a climate skeptic, and if you want to find out where he lands on the issue, you’ll have to watch the episode.
Anna Jane is also working on our ongoing campaign to retire the Asheville coal plant, which is where I came into the story. I told Ian that the work of Anna Jane and thousands of others in the Beyond Coal Campaign offers an antidote to the despair that many feel about climate disruption. In spite of dysfunction in Washington, D.C. and the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industry, we’re winning. We’re blazing a trail to a world powered by clean, carbon-free energy. And we’re just getting started.
Being included in the Years of Living Dangerously series has been an honor and a wonderful experience. Having some of the best storytellers on the planet turn their lenses on climate change has resulted in great television that’s already proving to be a game changer. I’ve been moved by the deep commitment of the people I’ve met behind the cameras, like Joel Bach, Jesse Sweet, David Gelber, Dan Abassi, Cathy Olian, and so many more.
Working with Ian and Anna Jane has been a delight, and we’ve formed a friendship centered in our shared optimism that we can solve the climate crisis. I’ve been impressed by Anna Jane’s grace, warmth, and courage. Ian is a true visionary who is deeply committed to building a better world, and I’m grateful that he’s lending his voice and compassion to help move beyond coal. I’ve been inspired by the many supporters of his Ian Somerhalder Foundation, who are doing great work around the globe in the climate struggle. Be sure to join me and Anna Jane on Friday for the Twitter Q&A at 3:00pm ET, to chat about the episode and where we’re headed next – use the hashtag #YearsProject.
Since that summer day at the rally, a lot has happened in Asheville, too. In February, toxic coal ash spilled from another Duke Energy coal plant in North Carolina, devastating over 70 miles of the Dan River and creating a scandal that sent shockwaves all the way to the governor’s mansion. Now, there is a fresh spotlight shining on the Asheville coal plant, citizens are demanding action on coal ash, and for the first time, Duke has stated they are considering retiring the plant.
The campaign in Asheville is at a pivotal moment, and I’ll tell you more about what’s ahead in my blog next week. For now, I hope you’ll watch and enjoy the upcoming episode of Years of Living Dangerously. If you are one of the thousands of people out there helping us to move beyond coal, then it’s your story too, up there on the big screen. We couldn’t have done it without you.
— Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director