Evan Johnson joins returning Energy Corps member George Ball in Havre, MT at their host site Opportunity Link.
When I moved out to Havre from my hometown of Portland, Oregon, I knew it would be different. There would be no curbside recycling, no suburbs, no high-rise buildings, no light rail, no mild Portland winter, and a far greater number of casinos. I prepared for all that, packing blankets and jackets before books and movies. I was ready for a change, and I knew the energy and recycling projects I would be working on would not be as advanced as in Portland.
As it turned out, Havre is a lot more like home than I thought.
Paper, cardboard, aluminum, and some plastics are still recyclable, and the cardboard collection sites are actually more convenient for me here in Havre. Energy efficiency is still a major concern, and CFL bulbs are gaining popularity. The grocery store sells reusable shopping bags, and even gives a 10-cent discount for using them. My landlord showed me how to operate the programmable thermostat in my apartment when I moved in. As several of my new friends joked, “Havre has it!”
That may have been a joke aimed at the city’s small size and reputation for being a boring place, but it’s true. Havre has groceries, gas, hardware stores, roads, water, high-speed internet, Beaver Creek Park (billed as the largest county park in the contiguous 48 states!), two fitness centers, a university campus with an impressive biodiesel research program, bus service to nearby towns and cities, and a variety of energy efficiency and recycling programs. Everything I would use in a large city is right here in Havre, population 9,310. The differences, and the challenges, lie in the details.
Recycling and efficiency projects are not able to operate on the same scale here, in a city of just over 9000 people, as they do in large urban areas. The most convenient recycling options are not economically feasible until a certain threshold volume is reached, but convenience is a major barrier to increased participation in recycling programs. The same economies of scale apply to all “green” initiatives. And to top it all off, the high turn-over rate of Energy Corps members adds another challenge: passing on responsibilities. When the person, whether Energy Corps or otherwise, who was leading the charge on one project or another leaves, who takes over?
That question has left me in a state of constant fear. Fear of going into the break room at my host site and sorting the bottles and cans for recycling. Fear of saying “yes” if I’m asked to do it. Fear of taking responsibility for making sure someone else does it. Perhaps “fear” is an exaggeration, but I am concerned about the slippery slope that leads from sorting and recycling them once to complete reliance on my labor. My goal now is to make at least one long-lasting, sustainable contribution to recycling and energy efficiency in Havre, because Havre deserves it.
Evan Johnson will be assisting Opportunity Link with environmental education and outreach programs to promote sustainable practices in North-Central Montana. He recently graduated from Carleton College with a BA in Geology and thoroughly enjoys outdoor recreation, particularly running and rock climbing. He attended the Indiana University Geological Field Camp near Cardwell, MT and participated in several volunteer trips with Habitat for Humanity, helping build homes in places ranging from Hawaii to Kyrgyzstan.