This Memorial Day, I attended a service for Chris Dennis, a young man I recently met through the anti-fracking movement. A native of Ithaca, the 22-year-old had a close-knit family, many friends in the community and was preparing to move to Chicago after graduating from Cornell. On May 22, Chris disappeared while on a daybreak canoeing excursion. When I first heard, I was certain he would be okay, that he had managed to make his way to shore and would somehow reappear to everyone’s great relief. It seemed inconceivable that someone so young, talented and full of life could be taken from the world. But after an exhaustive search it became clear that he would not be found alive.
As Americans held events across the country honoring those who died in service, we gathered by the shores of Cayuga Lake and honored Chris, a soldier in his own way. Instead of a rifle, Chris’s weapon was his camera, which he wielded to shine light on injustice and give a voice to those fighting for change. Like many young people, Chris saw rising global temperatures and extreme weather changes and knew that unless we shift from fossil fuel-based energy to renewables the future sustainability of the planet will be imperiled. He believed that transformation was possible and committed himself to the movement to prevent climate change, including the campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing in New York.
Some might say Chris was a dreamer. He had the audacity to believe that we could battle the largest corporations in the history of the world and stop the oil and gas industry from implementing a poisonous practice in New York guaranteed to contribute to climate change, damage air and water quality, and endanger public health. By creating videos of the anti-fracking movement he inspired people to get involved and made them feel like a part of a fight that we can win.
Admittedly, it seems like a long shot to think that we’ll be able to stop the enormous “natural” gas infrastructure build out that’s already underway. There are very powerful forces that stand to gain a lot of money from our continued reliance on fossil fuels and they are convinced that gas pipelines, compressor stations, power plants, and, yes, fracking are all an inevitable part of the next phase of our energy future.
But there is another way. We could choose to subscribe to a different school of thought, one promulgated by people like Mark Z. Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford who has created a proposal for how to run New York entirely on renewable energy—water, wind and solar—by 2030. Jacobson’s plan would create millions of short-term and 58,000 permanent jobs in the state without polluting the air, water and land or increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
In order for this proposal to become a reality, it will require an enormous amount of organizing to put pressure on our elected officials and shift the policy agenda of our most prominent leaders—including President Obama—away from fossil fuels and toward a sustainable future. Right now, Governor Cuomo is the ultimate decider of the future of New York, and the direction we take will have enormous implications for the rest of the country and the world. Last week the governor indicated that the state’s health review of fracking would be done within a few weeks and that the decision whether to issue drilling permits wouldn’t be far off.
On June 17, thousands will rally in Albany to demand that New York commit to renewable energy instead of continuing down the dead end road of fossil fuels. Tragically, our favorite videographer will not be there and no one can take his place. There could never be another Chris Dennis—not with his adorable smile, irrepressible love of life, or quirky sense of humor. But we do need more people like Chris in the world and at that rally. We need people who will use their talents and energy as Chris did to spread the word and build a bigger movement. More than anything, we need people who can look at the world through Chris’ lens and have the courage to believe that change is possible so together we can build a better future.
To see more of Chris Dennis's videos, click here.