By Sarah Pope
Lets play the guessing game! If I were to tell you there was a state that had passed legislation establishing a carbon sequestration program granting statutory authority for a state agency to verify carbon sequestration practices over ten years ago, a state that then created an internationally recognized verification system, had over 50,000 acres of state land enrolled in this program that has, to date, sequestered over a million metric tons of carbon by working with producers in a way lauded by both the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. Where would you guess this exciting progress is being made? Surely it has to be a state with progressive leaders focused on the environment, right? California? Washington? Vermont? Maine?
Guess again. It’s Oklahoma, home of the waving wheat, red dirt, and climate change denial of epic proportions; and a state smack-dab in the middle of tornado alley, which will suffer greatly as wild swings in weather become more and more common.
So how does one go about flying under the radar and winning a battle against climate change “behind enemy lines?” By extending a hand of partnership, taking baby steps, and never letting perfect be the enemy of good.
The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts’ ECOpass program is now in its fifth year and we have seen success we never thought possible. In partnership with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Carbon Program, we have been able to provide buyers with verified carbon sequestration practices on over 50,000 acres and have 100 percent of our contracts verified each year. This verification is what allows our program to stand out. Our dedicated staff works to ensure everyone gets a fair shake—from buyers to sellers to the general public.
Oklahoma has a history of stepping up to some pretty big natural resource challenges, looking at them straight on, and getting down to business to correct the problem, while working to protect and enhance those natural resources for future generations. The Dust Bowl, which until recently was considered the worst man-made ecological disaster of all time, is part of Oklahomans’ collective identity; we should know what can happen when natural balance is disturbed.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the current climate crisis is one that few are willing to come to terms with, since the dust isn’t blowing like it did almost one hundred years ago. Whether we fall into outright denial because it’s too difficult to wrap one’s mind around how to change the tide, or fall prey to misinformation created by divisive interest groups, it seems any work to be done in a state like Oklahoma is a futile, uphill battle. But we believe a program like ECOpass is just what is needed to start changing hearts and minds and moving the conversation in the direction of action.
It’s all in the approach
We say this little phrase quite a bit: “You can lead me just about anywhere but I’ll be damned if I’ll be pushed.” Traditionally, Oklahomans are practical people with a love and respect for our land. That respect can be traced to our Native American roots and the cultural values of respecting nature and preserving future generations’ resources. So when we started ECOpass, we focused on stewardship, and avoided the current negative view of being associated with “climate change” action.
By speaking to those deeply rooted values, we have been able to convince landowners that their work now has a positive impact on many aspects of natural resource preservation. Now, there are those that still deny the danger of climate change. We hear constantly that the climate is merely running through a natural cycle and it will balance itself out. But when farmers see that someone is willing make a financial investment to address something they have been told is not really a problem, it makes those farmers and ranchers take a second look at what they thought was a “great hoax” and reexamine their beliefs.
It’s not an overnight fix, but we are building our case one person at a time. We come to the table with no expectation of drastic, immediate change but instead with the hope that we will change hearts and minds by leading, not pushing.
Sarah Pope is the Programs Director for the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. She has worked for the past five years to bring their carbon program from a few great ideas on paper to a fully functioning, statewide program. In her free time, Sarah likes to play farmer with her real life farm husband and their four children in Loyal, OK. She is a native Oklahoman and firmly believes that we all “…belong to the land and the land we belong to is grand!”