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OXON HILL — The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) held its 14th annual Polar Plunge on Saturday, Jan. 26, where over 200 activists jumped into the Potomac River to bring awareness to climate change at National Harbor.
“Impacts of climate change are everywhere. We know it,” said CCAN Director Mike Tidwell. “The scientists tell us that Antarctica is melting six times faster than previously believed, that sea level rise alone could force up to a million people in coastal Virginia alone to have to relocate. Right here in the D.C. area last year in 2018 unrecognizable rainfall, unrecognizable, 66 inches of rain at National Airport just up the river and our normal is about 42 inches, so we’re seeing it. It’s not a kinda, sorta, maybe in the future. It’s already here.”
Participants came dressed in a variety of fun outfits holding signs with messages like “Burning Trash Is Not Clean Energy” and “Maryland Is All In For Clean Energy.”
The event opened with brief speeches by Tidwell, U.S. Representative Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10), President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus podcast Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. Maryland State Delegate Lorig Charkoudian (D-20), Environmental Partnership Manager of MOM’s Organic Market Alexandra DySard and Senior Members of Fossil Free AU Miranda Dotson and Hannah Klaus. Then, the participants lined up on the National Harbor beach to jump into the water.
Based in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., CCAN works toward clean energy and fights dirty energy projects. The Polar Plunge is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year and this year topped its $125,000 goal by raising $130,000.
“We’re here to raise awareness about the face that climate change is happening, it’s happening now, and there are things you can do and solve it right here in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.,” said CCAN General Counsel and Foundation Grants Manager Anne Havemann who plunged for the 14th time this year.
This year, between 260 and 300 people plunged into the ice cold Potomac River for the first time, the fifth time and even the 10th time.
“We’re taking the plunge for our climate, making sure that we keep winter cold,” said Taylor Smith Hams who participated in the plunge for the third time. “We’ve got, according to the most recent IPCC report, we know that we don’t have much time left to fix this crisis and it’s really important that we draw attention to the urgency of the climate crisis. So sometimes crazy things like this can help draw attention to that.”
Tidwell and the other speakers emphasized the importance of people being active not only in the plunge but keeping up the momentum afterward with efforts to change environmental laws.
The DMV area has already made a lot of progress recently, Tidwell said. Maryland passed a law banning fracking last year and CCAN hopes to get laws passed on wind and solar power and pass Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act which will put the state on the way to 100 percent clean energy. In December, D.C. passed a new clean energy bill, the strongest climate bill in America, which will get the city into 100 percent clean electricity by 2032.
He encouraged Virginians to vote for similar laws this year that will stop pipelines from being built and get a new green deal passed to get to 100 percent clean electricity.
“The message is that climate change is happening, that people are engaged and geared up and ready to fight it locally and there are things that people can do if they live in Maryland, there are things you can do, there are bills in the general assembly to usher in 100 percent clean energy,” Havemann said.
“If you live in D.C., we just passed a bill that gets us on the path to clean energy, and if you live in Virginia, there are ways you can fight pipelines and promote clean energy as well. So climate change is happening, all these people care about it, and there are things you can do locally to fight it.”
Unlike previous years, this years’ plunge holds a new sense of urgency, Yearwood pointed out. This year marks the first Polar Plunge since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their latest report that time is quickly running out to reverse climate change. Because of this, he urged everyone to plunge “with a kind of mentality where we must say that this madness must stop and it must stop right now.”
“So if we’re not out here trying to actively change policy and ban fracking and do what needs to be done in Maryland and walk the halls of Annapolis or be in the hallways of Richmond or have the continued effort of what happened in D.C. with the most radical, progressive, exciting climate legislation in the county, if we’re not willing to create the policy and change the laws, then nothing can happen.”