2011 Bethesda Magazine Green Awards in partnership with Bethesda Green
Category: Individuals 19 and older who are actively promoting and living a green lifestyle
Within days this past August, Mike Tidwell was arrested outside the White House while protesting a planned oil pipeline, met with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s staff to discuss clean energy, and turned up on the local TV news to share his expertise on extreme weather just as Hurricane Irene barreled up the Eastern Seaboard and only days after the region was shaken by a magnitude-5.8 earthquake.
Chief of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and a longtime Takoma Park resident, Tidwell hasn’t always been a climate crusader. He spent the ’90s living “a charmed life” as a globetrotting, freelance journalist and author. He says he was in denial about climate change and the effect warmer temperatures and rising sea levels could have on Maryland’s 3,000 coastal miles.
What “tipped me over the edge,” he says, was a report in 2000 by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warning that the world was entering the greatest crisis in human history.
Alarm led to anger, then action. Years before greening one’s home became fashionable, Tidwell, 49, overhauled the pale blue bungalow he shares with his wife and 14-year-old son, installing rooftop solar panels, a stove that burns organic corn and a refrigerator so efficient that it only needs about as much electricity as a lightbulb. He became a vegetarian, bought a Prius and began walking to work.
Then he started CCAN, which claims to be the first organization in the state to focus on climate change. Since its founding in 2002, CCAN has helped pass several pieces of climate legislation,
including the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009, which calls for a 25 percent cut in 2006 emission levels by 2020.
Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal considers Tidwell one of the most influential social thinkers in the region. “He is a principled crusader. That’s what gives him credibility,” Leventhal says. “He’s one of my personal heroes.”
Tidwell sees climate change as not just an environmental fight, but a moral battle in the tradition of the civil rights movement.
“It’s a matter of right vs. wrong,” he says. “We are knowingly unleashing unthinkable climate changes on future generations by the energy we choose.”