TRAVERSE CITY — Self-described skeptic, Don Thomas, 88, of Leelanau County, still remembers the shock he felt the last time he traveled to Washington State.
“The glacier, the way I had pictured it, well it was just so diminished,” Thomas said, during a recent conversation at the Senior Center on E. Front Street. “When you see things like that, with your own eyes, that’s climate change.”
A veteran of the U. S. Air Force, Thomas served during the Korean War and was a meteorologist stationed at a fighter base not far from Mt. Rainier.
He has a succinct way of explaining the difference between weather and climate: “Weather is what’s happening in our part of the world. Climate is what’s happening around the world over time.”
Changes observed by Tess Crowley, 17, a student at Traverse City West Senior High School, are a lot closer to home.
“Water levels rising, less beach to walk on,” she said. “Mostly I think it is a very pressing subject right now. My friends are talking about it, too.”
Crowley is a senior, planning on college, a vegetarian and a self-described environmentalist. She runs cross-country, is president of the Key Club and an officer in She’s the First.
Thomas is retired from “a multi-national corporation,” enjoys listening to jazz, was in college in 1952 on an education deferment, watched his friends get drafted and he enlisted in response.
Both say they believe climate change is caused by human activity.
“I’m 88 years old so I don’t have any selfish interests in saying that,” Thomas told the Ethics and Current Events discussion group that gathers every Thursday morning at the Senior Center. “I’m sorry to say this but I have a dim view of the future.”
In September, Thomas, who describes himself as a “non-joiner” attended his first climate-related protest at the Open Space. He didn’t carry a sign – his presence was his protest – and the crowd he expected wasn’t there.
“Not many people showed up in the way of young people,” Thomas said. “I was disappointed. We can’t turn our backs on such things.”
Crowley was there, too, agreed turnout was light, but expressed pride in the effort.
“Only about 20 people came but it was still nice,” she said. “We went to West Bay and just walked along the parkway and had signs and yelled alarming facts out to cars. It was cool.”
The facts that alarm Crowley come from a recent United Nations report, and “Planet of the Humans,” a documentary shown at the 2019 Traverse City Film Festival.
“We have 17 years to reduce the damage,” Crowley said. “I think by 2050 a lot is going to change. We need to do as much as we can now.”
Thomas agreed, and says he reads, watches science programs on PBS and shares his views with others.
Crowley became a vegetarian in response to her concerns about the release of methane gas on the atmosphere and said she plans to be active in environmental issues in college.
“I can’t vote in the primaries — my birthday is in March — but I can vote in the general election. I’ll be looking for a candidate with a strong stance on holding businesses accountable, using green energy and cutting down on CO2 emissions.”
Thomas said he has children and grandchildren, and worries about the planet they will live on in years to come. Crowley said she wishes older people would have done more to halt or at least slow down climate change.
“I feel like even the people I consider to be very conservative, say they believe in climate change,” Crowley said. “It’s just more transparent now and I don’t think as many people, common people, not just scientists and important people, were aware of the issue then as they are today.”