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'A window is still open'

Clean-energy advocate Hannah Sohl is organizing on overdrive across the Rogue Valley
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Hannah Sohl, Rogue Climate coordinator, stands among solar panels on top of SOUís Stevenson Union Building on Wednesday in Ashland. Julia Moore / Daily Tidings
 Posted: 7:15 AM May 12, 2014

Hannah Sohl of Ashland got her passion for the environment growing up with her family, relaxing, fishing and picking blackberries on the Rogue River.

But the big change came when she got a college scholarship to study fish health in Bangladesh, grew to know and love the people there and realized that as climate change and rising oceans engulfed the planet, every one of their homes would go under water, and they would become starving refugees.

"That made it personal for me, that and the big wildfires and smoke here last spring," says Sohl, 24, a clean-energy activist and board member of Rogue Climate, the group that staged Clean Energy Day on Sunday at Medford Commons.

Hannah Sohl

Age: 24

City: Ashland

Hobbies: fishing, hunting, soccer, ultimate frisbee, gardening.

Parents: Obstetrician Bryan Sohl, Minister Paula Sohl of United Church of Christ, Ashland.

Education: Ashland High School, degree from Colorado College in sociology, biology.

Personal goals: Stay in Rogue Valley, have family, dog, cat. Garden. Catch a really big steelhead. Learn to hunt with a bow.

Latest achievement: A prime mover, uniting local groups for Clean Energy Day in downtown Medford, attended by almost 1,000. They created a giant sun, holding up cards.

The nitty-gritty: She does all this work without pay. She moved back in with her parents so she could do it all-volunteer.

A Quote From the Heart: "I don't know what to tell people who say 'what's the use.' Things are changing and it's important to lead the most beautiful life you can. But doing something about it also makes the community stronger and a better place to live. I encourage them to get involved and make a difference."

"I realized what the impact would be for me personally, too," says Sohl, who has worked as a river guide. "Climate change is impacting everything — tourism, jobs, agriculture. The smoke shut down Britt, Shakespeare and the river. Mount Ashland didn't open this past winter. It's not just a future impact on the environment, but real people and real families."

Sohl's comments came a day after the National Climate Assessment confirmed that climate change — especially flooding, wildfires and drought — has arrived and will only worsen.

"Young people, like the leaders in Rogue Climate, have no illusions about what's in that report and what they are going to be dealing with in coming years," she said. "The governor (John Kitzhaber) just declared a drought emergency in Jackson County. It made me want to work harder and faster. We can't sit. We shouldn't give up. Every generation has its problems and this is ours."

With the Rogue Valley Council of Government's 2011 report as a guide, Sohl's goals in the local movement are to create a coordinated clean-energy plan among all governments, businesses, utilities and other groups, making use of existing programs and incentives, focus first on conservation and next on solar power, engage the public to retrofit homes and get elected leaders on board.

The RVCOG report notes that only 30 percent of the region's energy is renewable — and it could easily be doubled to 60 percent, which is Sohl's goal.

"That report is really exciting," she says. "The economics of it made a lot of sense to me ... Clean energy leads to jobs, keeps money in the local economy, making the community stronger and doing it faster."

Global warming really stepped into the spotlight about when Sohl was born, 1989 and for a couple decades, she notes, "It remained confusing and controversial, something that happened to polar bears — but it's here now and it affects families. We're working on practical solutions and practical energy, like solar."

There's still plenty of climate change denial, but, says Sohl, "The science is very clear. There's no benefit in debating whether it exists or not. We focus on solutions, and that's going to make the community better, regardless."

Why is Rogue Climate comprised of young people with lots of energy and passion about clean energy?

"We have a better grasp of it. We're going to be around longer. We've been hearing about it all our lives," she notes. "What's crazy is even the elementary kids know something is going on with the climate and are asking what can we do about it. You ask high school people and they get it totally."

Working closely with Sohl is Shaun Franks, a business senior at Southern Oregon University and board member of Rogue Climate.

"Hannah's mission is spot on," he says. "Clean energy is what we all want. Her organizational and leadership skills are really impressive. She's able to get a lot of people in the community involved and to get the awareness out and think outside the box with the young people here."

Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way, observes, "Hannah is a phenomenal young leader in the climate change movement ... I'm a big fan of hers."

Sohl sums it up, "We're asking community leaders to come to the table and use their immense experience and knowledge to create a clean energy plan. We really have a huge opportunity now to do all we need to do. A window is still open."

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