Collier and Lee Counties Edition
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Citizen-Style Climate Action

“Listen to the ground. There is movement all around. There is something goin' down. And I can feel it,” are the lead-in lyrics to the Bee Gee’s 70s hit, Night Fever. Perhaps on Earth Day 2018, grassroots environmental activists that are feelin’ the eco-movement might want to dust off their disco shoes and dance in the streets to celebrate all that’s goin’ down in Collier and Lee County around the impacts of climate change. There is plenty of citizen-led movement to dance about, from water resource protection, sea level rise, growth management and solar energy to regenerative agriculture, and projects that are the result of Diving into Drawdown, a local Pachamama Alliance (PA) Community pilot program in collaboration with author Paul Hawken, editor of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.

The five-week Diving into Drawdown course curriculum, facilitated by Fort Myers residents Holley Rauen and Gary Robbins, provided a learning opportunity for 30 Southwest Floridians that explored via videos, presentations, individual research and group interactions, the global warming science, net costs and solutions to draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere back to the earth. The book’s solutions, provided by Hawken’s team of 62 researchers, 130 advisors and 49 outside experts, inspired participants to do personal research between sessions and go deeper into solutions with which they resonated.

“An important aspect of the course, which was piloted in four other U.S. cities, is how it builds a sense of community among participants. Sharing experiences and collaborating on ideas and opportunities for action left all of us feeling connected to a new community of people dedicated to reversing global warming,” says Robbins, who co-facilitates with Rauen a monthly Game Changers event at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers.

“I sensed that people left feeling equipped with knowledge and tools for initiating action, as well as a sense of being committed to a clearer path forward. Everyone expressed their enthusiasm for being part of an exciting movement to change the conversation around global warming to one of grounded possibility and engagement,” says Rauen, a former board member at the Happehatchee Center, in Estero, who also facilitates monthly water blessing ceremonies.

Vive la différence

Impressed with Drawdown’s concept of small group-driven activism and participant diversity, Professor Emeritus of FGCU Ecology and Marine Sciences Bill Hammond offered a storied presentation and his intention to network the group with other local organizations that began lending their support, beginning with the screening of Catching the Sun, a film about solar energy.

Hammond is adding to the momentum with a proposed educational speaker series at the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium, in Fort Myers, where he serves as board of directors chair. He says, “We will incorporate fun programs for kids, as well as seminars and workshops for adults.”

Describing what he believes is different about these grassroots efforts to inform and mentor new leaders, Hammond says, “The national connection to other PA Drawdown groups, also in the piloting stage, and social inclusiveness are as unusual as the combination of FGCU students and alumni, corporate leaders, retired corporate leaders and experienced activists that are on fire to do something now.” He notes that successful concerned citizens activities in Lee County, such as Conservation 20/20 and the Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association, Inc. (Riverwatch), which is now Calusa Waterkeeper, dovetail with Drawdown solutions.  

Game On in Lee County

Conservation 20/20 is the vision for balance between necessary growth and development and protected conservation land. Nearly 30,000 acre, including Six Mile Cypress Slough, are protected through Conservation 20/20. These lands protect drinking water, reduce flood risk, protect native wildlife and plant communities, and provide spaces to enjoy nature-based recreation.

Calusa Waterkeeper

Protecting mangroves that are important to fisheries falls under the auspices of John Cassani, a Calusa waterkeeper who Hammond contacted when he learned about the Drawdown group.

Cassani’s area of jurisdiction, which he patrols and works to protect and improve, includes the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, Lake Okeechobee, Nicodemus Slough, Charlotte Harbor, Estero Bay and the near-shore waters of Lee County.

Cassani and his 12 volunteer Calusa Waterkeeper Rangers are “eyes on the water”, monitoring area waterways for algae blooms, fish kills, illicit discharges and potential health risk problems. “We are a fairly aggressive environmental advocacy organization focused on clean fishable, drinkable and swimmable water. The rangers provide me with their collected water samples, which I examine for enteric bacteria. Presently, we are seeing a lot of bad contamination,” advises Cassani.

Local residents can become water rangers by contacting Cassani and applying to participate in an upcoming three-class training academy starting on April 14. There is no cost and no experience is required. “We encourage folks who live on the water or who can get out in some sort of paddle craft or boat,” says Cassani.


Formerly in corporate finance and planning for Fortune 500 companies and presently a discretionary investment manager, Ensign Cowell’s passion for climate change stirred when he heard David Suzuki’s acceptance speech for the Inamori Ethics Prize at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. His enthusiasm, which was sparked again by Drawdown, went beyond Saturday gathering times and overflowed into online research and new community connections.

“I am a newbie to the movement. While I didn’t learn anything about climate change or the environment from my career in finance, I’ve been making up for lost time by kibitzing with climate change experts such as Dr. Harold Wanless, chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami, in Coral Gables, and John Capece, Ph.D., a member of the Calusa Water Keepers River Watch, as well as Mark Trexler, Ph.D., co-founder of The Climate Web (, the first effort to curate and organize the work of hundreds of individuals and organizations producing insightful and actionable information and knowledge on climate change,” says the Fort Myers resident.

“I prefer to be a shrewd climate change activist who is discerning about how to be a presence for change and where to place my efforts. For instance, as a member of the “climate change choir”, I have a tag line in my email which declares my personal stance, belief and commitment. This way, my friends and others know where I stand,” enthuses Cowell.  

Rippling Effect

Citizens taking chargeFred Moon’s involvement with Drawdown and his research led him to discover the Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities (CLEO) Institute, a Miami-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization exclusively dedicated to climate change education, engagement and advocacy. “Their mission to empower communities across all levels of society with climate science education and their demanding of climate policies from elected leaders impressed me. I could easily see their work dovetailing with that of the Pachamama Alliance, the Southwest Florida Drawdown Initiative and Paul Hawken’s work, because while they highlight the urgency of climate action, they also champion solutions for a resilient future,” says the Fort Myers resident, who is also a newbie to the grassroots movement.  

As a board member and donor of the SWFL Community Foundation (SWFLCF), Moon is interested in exploring ways in which the Southwest Florida Drawdown initiative might bring the various programs CLEO has developed to the southwestern part of Florida. “The southwest part of the state shares virtually all of the same impacts from climate change as the southeastern part,” explains Moon.

Coming to a Backyard Nearby

Mandalynn Freeman, a resident of San Carlos Park, is among the FGCU alumni who became interested in implementing several forms of three Drawdown solutions—reduced food waste, plant-rich diet and regenerative agriculture—to expand her Gaia’s Gardeners food forest project, which she initiated in October 2017.

“Through practicing permaculture on two Hawaiian farms last summer, I realized the value of having a local food supply, regenerating our soil and doing things sustainably, rather than using toxic pesticides,” notes Freeman, who advises that nature is the guide for her Gaia’s Gardeners of Southwest Florida, a group dedicated to creating a sustainable community based on regenerative gardens. “We are working with homeowners in Lee and Collier counties to create backyard food forests. The homeowner decides what they want to focus on,” says Freeman, who recently led a worm compost workshop. “Workshops on zero waste, soil composition and other subjects are based on what I’ve learned via my FGCU permaculture certification classes.”

Representing the Naples chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), Amy Clifton’s participation led her to realize how well Drawdown solutions aligned with CCL’s nonpartisan approach to climate education. “I believe that they go hand in hand. In August 2017 I was introduced to Paul Hawken’s Drawdown by a video segment at the CCL monthly meeting. Paul explained that Drawdown focused on solutions, and when we asked where CCL’s advocacy for putting a price on carbon fit in, he replied that CCL’s carbon fee and dividend policy would speed up the pace of all the solutions proposed in Drawdown,” advises Clifton, who notes that CCL meets monthly at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples ( and will help the congregation celebrate Earth Day based on the theme of Justice for Each Generation.

Colin Hart

Relatively new to Naples, Colin Hart was engaged in climate change activities in his home state of Indiana. As a concerned citizen who was unaware of the Drawdown or Game Changer events, he worked with several local churches and non-profit organizations to attract a wide array of local residents to the Water is Life workshops that he and the Naples United Church of Christ Green Justice Team organized.

“I reached out for presenters from local community groups such as Audubon Society, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, ECHO Farms, and the Blue Zones Project, among others,” explains Hart.

League of Women Voters Collier County

The League of Women Voters Environmental Affairs Committee (LWVCollier deals with issues such as water resource protection, growth management, and the impacts of climate change on the environment. To stay abreast of complex issues, monthly committee meetings are held in Naples at the Community Foundation of Collier County, 1110 Pine Ridge Road, Suite 200, on the second Thursday of the month.  Meetings feature strategies for issues, knowledgeable speakers or a field trip.

The League of Women Voters of Lee County’s Environmental Committee meets on the second Monday of each month at 10 a.m., at the Lakes Regional Library, 15290 Bass Road in Fort Myers.    

It appears that Southwest Florida’s sustainability movement has morphed into a climate change movement, and what was once slow progress is now benefitting from an active base of grassroots citizen involvement. “We can’t wait for the federal, state or local government to take action on climate change. Action needs to happen from the grassroots up,” says Hammond.

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