The Loma Prietan - January/February 2009

Member Close-Up

What is The Power of One Individual?

story and photo by Cheryl Hylton

Kurt sports his favorite shirt—with Sierra Club logo, of course.
Kurt sports his favorite shirt—with Sierra Club logo, of course.

"How successful will I be if I don't work on this?" Pondering this question, a suggestion from a respected friend, has spurred Kurt Newick on in good and challenging times during his two decades of volunteer effort in our Chapter. Kurt wisely realized that what matters is how he would feel remaining on the sidelines in a world that so needs our stewardship. He couldn't abide that powerless feeling and his achievements as a result of revisiting this question regularly are remarkable.

Kurt was the Chapter's Clean Air Committee founding chair in 1987 and went to work addressing ozone depletion. The committee, together with other environmental groups, was very influential in eliminating chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), which damage the earth's protective ozone layer. Kurt helped enact CFC recycling regulations for air conditioners in cars, homes, and commercial buildings, and helped to pass the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1990 that phased out CFCs.

A favorite memory for Kurt was a meeting of the Bureau of Auto Repair in 1989, where a PhD scientist presenter proclaimed that the earth heals itself and hence there was no urgent need for CFC regulation. Kurt spoke up against this assertion during the public comment period. His clear message changed the spirit and tone of the meeting completely, demonstrating to Kurt his power as a single, truth-telling individual.

In 2001 Kurt formed the Chapter's Global Warming and Energy Committee and he continues as a key volunteer in its work. The group has seen significant success in decreasing solar power installation fees following its 2005-2007 Bay Area solar permit fee study. Seventy-two newspaper articles were published to report on the Chapter's solar permit fee campaign. Currently Kurt is working on removing barriers to solar power use; for example, standardizing solar permit applications.

So how does Kurt summarize in retrospect and going forward? Focus on areas that have solutions - like solar power. Stay mainstream and work cooperatively with folks of all stripes. Make friends with and use the media wisely. And what's his life's goal? "Be a part of the process to solve global warming once and for all." You know, it seems possible when Kurt says it!

Cheryl Hylton is a Sierra Club life member and a pro bono fundraising consultant for the Chapter.