Hitting home

Speaker series focuses on local effects of climate change

Marvey Mueller, active with both OLLI and the League of Women Voters, chairs the committee organizing the climate change speaker series.

Marvey Mueller, active with both OLLI and the League of Women Voters, chairs the committee organizing the climate change speaker series.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Series specifics:
Climate Change—Butte County Issues starts next Thursday (Sept. 19), 7 p.m., at the Gateway Science Museum; the speaker series continues Oct. 17, Nov. 14 and Dec. 5. Visit tinyurl.com/lwvbc-cc for more info and to access videos from each session.

For 30 years, guiding people through “urban wilderness” spots in Los Angeles and forested expanses in the High Sierra, Marvey Mueller taught Californians how to connect with the environment.

“I know about the water. I know about the geology. I know about the weather,” she said. “I know this state.”

She relocated from Independence in 2001, after marrying a Chicoan, and retired as an educational tour operator eight years later. Mueller didn’t stop educating, however: Through OLLI—the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, locally based at Chico State—she put together a string of speaker series, mostly on eco-oriented topics.

She’s at it again with a joint venture between OLLI and the League of Women Voters of Butte County, titled Climate Change–Butte County Issues. The groups are co-sponsoring a four-part lecture series starting next Thursday (Sept. 19) at the Gateway Science Museum (see infobox).

The monthly talks—which culminate on Dec. 5—feature Butte County experts addressing local circumstances. The first session, explaining climate change and its effect on the North State, includes presentations by Chico State professor Don Hankins, an expert in fire science, and Mechoopda Indian Tribe environmental educator Ali Meders-Knight. Just a few of the many speakers at future presentations: Chico City Councilwoman Ann Schwab; Susan Dobra, of the Camp Fire Long-Term Recovery Group; and Cynthia Daley, director of Chico State’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems.

For the breadth and depth of the speakers, Mueller is quick to credit her committee: local League of Women Voters President Debra Barger, Chico 350’s Mary Kay Benson, and retired Chico State ag professor Dick Baldy. But she clearly was the catalyst.

Mueller, who turns 75 next month, spoke to the CN&R about the series—the impetus, the aims, and the league’s involvement.

What was the kernel that yielded this series?

For 30 years, I have put together stories of history and geology to create a sense of place. When I moved here, I started to do that about Chico and the North State, and when I retired I still had that bug to educate, and I started some lecture series through OLLI.

I have been deeply involved with the Snow Goose Festival for 16 years, so I know many of the players in this field. I was really moved to do a series about agriculture and climate change at the end of the drought. [In 2017] there was a group of musicians who came here from North Africa, so I tied the two together—learned about the huge problem of drought in Africa and the Middle East, and compared it to what was happening here, especially in the southern San Joaquin Valley….

I have to be honest, learning about the effects of climate change around the world, and what it means in terms of refugees, was so overwhelmingly sad to me that I said, “I have to step back.” And, so, for two years, I did not pursue another speaker series on the environment.

What changed your mind?

My daughter gave me this book [holds up In Search of the Canary Tree, by ecologist Lauren E. Oakes, detailing climate change impacts on forests]. It happens to be the book in common [in Chico] this year. I read it, and in essence, once you know the truth, what do you do? I said, “I do what I always do: I bring it to life.”

How did the League of Women Voters get involved?

I was working with Debra Barger during the election last year doing voter registration, so Debra and I started talking about this…. We set a schedule for this fall. I was able to pull together an incredible team that’s perfect for what we’re doing.

We came together and thought, “What are the most important things we need to talk about in Butte County to educate our community? Especially after the [Camp] Fire.” There are so many distractions—the big issue is climate change. We felt all our speakers needed to be local, all our topics needed to be local, because it’s too easy for people to dismiss the problem when it’s too big….

We represent the league, so we have credibility that we must maintain. We are not partisan on any of this. I also happen to be on the League of Women Voters’ state task force on climate change—I can tell you, the league is doing so much work on this [topic]. They have supported us and encouraged us. It is amazing the resources we have available.

What is your goal for the series?

My daughter came home [from Portland] and was really worried. Her daughter is 9—is the world going to hell? … We need to have a hopeful approach, because there is a lot of hope. But unless you have the conversation, all kinds of fears will come.

We have very heartfelt speakers. This is a story that affects all of us—when we think about it. By the end of this, we hope that people will bring these conversations into their homes, into their lives, and make some changes. The local league and the state league believe that it’s not going to happen and come down quickly from the federal government; it’s going to happen right here, in our hometown.