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Community Spotlight: Napa Climate Now! looks to the future

Gazing at a full moon eclipse, listening to a lecture by a climate scientist at the Napa Library and reflecting on a 9-year-old son may seem to be random, unrelated incidents, but each of these events...

The volunteers who make up Napa Climate Now! | Photo by Richard Bruns

Gazing at a full moon eclipse, listening to a lecture by a climate scientist at the Napa Library and reflecting on a 9-year-old son may seem to be random, unrelated incidents, but each of these events brought some individuals to the realization that they wanted to do something positive to look at ways Napa County residents could help stop climate change and protect the environment.  

What they did was form Napa Climate NOW!, an organization of like-minded residents interested in connecting with other knowledgeable, dedicated and collaborative people around the county.  

In September, I attended my first meeting of Napa Climate NOW! Since I had very limited knowledge of climate science, I was apprehensive, but soon discovered that a willingness to learn was all I needed. To find out more about the organization, I interviewed several volunteers with Napa Climate NOW!, including co-founders and steering committee members. What I learned was encouraging and energizing.

Linda Brown, senior vice president at SCS Global Services, has dedicated her career to environmental and sustainability transformation. Her longtime business partner and company founder and CEO, Dr. Stan Rhodes, an atmospheric chemist, gave a riveting talk about the state of our climate at the Napa Library in 2014.  

“That talk lit people on fire,” said Brown. “It introduced important climate change concepts that most people had never heard of, based on the latest climate science, and suggested a new way of thinking about solutions.”  

Chris Benz and Lynne Baker agreed. Benz had a long career as a winemaker in the valley and has a deep understanding of the impacts of climate on the region’s central industry, while Baker is a retired RN and is especially concerned about health effects of climate change. 

“Stan taught us about short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane, black carbon, tropospheric ozone and hydrofluorocarbons, that currently contribute nearly half of the warming in the world each year,” Benz said. “He also taught us about ‘radiative forcing,’ the underlying measure of the heat influence of every climate pollutant, as well as other factors, like the changes in reflectivity of the earth’s surface as snow and ice melt.”  

Following Rhodes’ talk, a group of people gathered again at the library in 2015 to dig in deeper, educate themselves further on climate issues and discuss what they could do. They decided to launch a local climate initiative. 

From this brainstorming session, the name of the initiative was born, distilled down to three words: “Napa” for the group’s intended geographic scope, “Climate” for the group’s singular focus and “NOW!” to recognize the emergency. Napa Climate NOW! was born. A few years later, NCN joined forces with 350 Bay Area, a nonprofit with volunteers in counties across the entire region. 

Jim Wilson was part of the brainstorming session and has been a member of Napa Climate NOW! since its inception. As a scientist who built a career in quality control and assurance, Wilson has a strong interest in atmospheric chemistry and a deep empathy for the natural world. Like others who were present, he realized that nature cannot survive unless we can stabilize and ultimately restore the climate. 

“I first became interested in the problem of climate change when my wife introduced me to a book called The End of Nature by Bill McKibben,” said Wilson. “That book convinced me about the urgency of managing this emerging crisis to protect nature.”

Two of the people I interviewed emphasized their deeply felt spiritual and humanitarian reasons for joining the initiative. Lori Stelling, a meditation instructor, told me that when her son was 9, she began reflecting on life and the importance of protecting the beauty of our world for her children and grandchildren. A friend told her about Napa Climate NOW! in 2016.  

Marilyn Knight-Mendelson, a yoga instructor and longtime teacher at the Napa Adult School, said she decided to make a commitment to stop climate change after gazing at a full eclipse of the moon, which gave her a strong sense of the oneness of all creation and how this planet is home to everyone born on earth. 

When I asked the people I interviewed what they felt was the group’s greatest contribution to Napa, the unanimous opinion was raising the awareness of elected officials and policymakers to encourage them to make the necessary adjustments needed to effect change. Benz and Stelling emphasized the importance of collaboration and building relationships to help change climate policy.  

“Building relationships with the Board of Supervisors, the City Council and the countywide Climate Action Committee, and showing up as they discuss key issues affecting climate, has been key,” said Baker.  

Over the past several years, all five municipalities in the county, as well as Napa County itself, have passed resolutions declaring a climate emergency, putting climate change squarely on their policy radar screen and recognizing the importance of achieving net zero climate pollution by or before 2030. 

Since its founding, Napa Climate NOW! has been spearheading community efforts to increase awareness of the climate emergency and inspire practical solutions. Benz cited the leaf blower rebate program, which Napa Climate NOW! initiated by writing and winning an $85,000 grant to help landscaping businesses transition away from gas-powered leaf blowers.  

All of the steering committee members believe that working with youth is crucial and agreed that the youth group Schools for Climate Action had been particularly effective.

“The relevancy and inspiration of young people’s voices have moved public officials,” said Knight-Mendelson.  

Baker also pointed out the importance of partnering with local groups such as the Napa County Bicycle Coalition, the Napa Resource Conservation District, the Vine Trail, the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters and other organizations.

Brown believes sharing information is critical to keeping the issue of climate change current in the public’s perception. "There are so many things we can do to make our community more climate resilient,” she said. 

Napa Climate NOW! is a future-oriented organization, so I was interested in learning what these members want to see the group accomplish in the years ahead. 

Wilson hopes the organization will drive the conversation around energy countermeasures to reliance on fossil fuels, which are leading to climate breakdown. 

Benz wants to see more outreach to Napa residents to provide information on rebates and tax cuts for home improvement to reduce climate pollutants. Stelling spoke about the roadmap to 2030 and reaching “Net Zero” climate pollutants in every jurisdiction. 

Both Brown and Baker hope to see Napa County become a leader in California and U.S. climate action, while Knight-Mendelson sees greater education of the public and legislators as a priority.

Finally I asked members to share thoughts on why others might want to join Napa Climate NOW!

“Getting involved is a way of giving young people what they deserve for their future,” said Wilson. 

“Individuals are encouraged to take on projects based on their own interests, abilities and available time, said Knight-Mendelson. “There are many avenues of action, both large and small.” 

Brown pointed out that getting involved channels concerns into constructive action, rather than sitting on the sidelines and worrying. “Working with others who share their concerns helps people to constructively and collaboratively engage, which is very empowering,” she said.  

Since I joined Napa Climate NOW! in September, my understanding of climate science is growing. As a grandmother, I am concerned about what life on our planet will be like for future generations and I hope to help create a healthy environment for my grandchildren and all the children on earth. 

Napa Climate NOW! is a group of extremely positive, friendly, knowledgeable and action-oriented individuals who believe in collaboration, communication and community. If you are interested in learning more, please check out our website,, come to a meeting or event and find out for yourself how welcoming Napa Climate NOW! is. 

Kathleen McElroy is a retired educator and a member of Napa Climate NOW!”