Interview: Karen Feridun Wants Governor Shapiro to Do More on Climate Change

The co-founder of the PA BetterPath Coalition discusses the climate crisis, Gov. Shapiro’s response (or lack thereof), and plans going forward.

On July 20, Governor Josh Shapiro Tweeted a video in which he declared, “Oppenheimer is going to be a hell of a film…But I must say, I’m a Barbie guy.” This would mark the first of two times he would post about the movie, which is more than he had tweeted about climate change by that point.

Shortly before Shapiro posted the video, Karen Feridun of the PA BetterPath Coalition decided to search for his most recent tweets about climate change. 

“The only tweet that I could find–the most recent one, anyway–where he used the word ‘climate’ was from October 26, 2022, which means he was not governor yet,” she told Raging Chicken’s Out d’Coup podcast. “At that time, it had been 252 days since the general election that he had not talked about climate change.”

After quote retweeting Shapiro’s post from last October and calling him out for not addressing the issue since, he seemingly tweeted in response without acknowledging her directly. “It [Shapiro’s tweet] was about abandoned wells, which is a huge issue in the state,” she said. “He was saying that the DEP, our Department of Environmental Protection, is there to be on the job to deal with these wells and combat climate change. That’s the only reference. That’s how it was brought up. And within a few hours, he tweeted for the first time about the Barbie movie.”

To Feridun, Shapiro’s enthusiasm about the film seemed tone deaf compared to the ongoing climate crisis. This summer, Pennsylvania has faced numerous climate-related disasters–severe storms, massive floods, and smoke from Canadian wildfires chief among them. And yet, despite the governor’s tweets about these disasters, he has never mentioned their relation to climate change.

“He goes up to all these places and says, ‘We have your backs,’” Feridun said, “but until you’re taking time and action, no, you really don’t.”

Feridun explained that an April report from AP News’s Marc Levy revealed that the governor was working on a “secret climate committee.” Feridun, along with other members of BetterPath Coalition, decided to investigate. “Some of us did Right-to-Know requests,” she said. “I’ve received a bunch of documents about this committee. They won’t tell you who’s on the committee except that there’s somebody from labor and somebody from one of the environmental organizations, NRDC–National Resources Defense Council. But otherwise, they’re really not sharing much.”

According to Levy’s report, the committee had been debating the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which Feridun said is “nothing” in the fight against climate change. “We’re out of time for things like RGGI. It’s not a climate plan, it’s not even a teeny part of the climate plan,” she said. “I think it’s been convenient, though, for both sides. They have this drama about something over there so that we’re all looking over there. It’s the thing they’re dangling so that we’re not actually looking at what’s really happening.”

The committee is representative of a bigger problem with Shapiro’s attitude toward climate change–prioritizing small pieces of the problem and ignoring the larger ones. On his Twitter account, Feridun noted, Shapiro was posting about “the same three or four issues over and over again, and not one of them was climate change.”

“One of the things he loves to tweet about is I-95, fixing I-95 in 12 days,” Feridun said. “What’s gonna happen when it melts? It’s only good until climate change dictates what happens to I-95. But if he fixed it in 12 days, imagine what he could do if he actually wanted to do something about climate change.”

To prove their point, BetterPath organized a protest in Harrisburg on Aug. 3, in which they dressed as a “coalition of Barbies.” 11 women in Barbie costumes did a “fashion photo shoot” and delivered a copy of the most recent IPHCC report to Shapiro’s office, with the statement, “Thanks, Governor, but we don’t need a Barbie guy, we need a climate guy.”

BetterPath Coalition’s actions and events will culminate in their 2023 climate convergence starting on Oct. 1, with a preview on Sept. 30 featuring writer and climate activist Bill McKibben. Feridun encouraged listeners to go and share their stories about how climate change has impacted them, because, as she put it, “When you start thinking about all the different groups or fighting aspects of this already, if we could talk collectively and say, ‘We need climate action now,’ it would be a massive, massive movement. That’s the goal. Help to bring all of this together, help build the movement that we are too loud to ignore.”

The convergence will feature guests such as Alan Gratz (author of young adult fiction novels like Two Degrees), PEN America (a nonprofit organization defending freedom of speech within literature), and members of local “nurdle patrols,” Pittsburgh citizens who search rivers for plastic pellets from the Shell cracker plant. “These are normal, everyday people who had nothing to do,” Feridun said. “They weren’t lifelong activists. These are just people who found themselves in this predicament because of the fact that our government isn’t doing any of it.”

Other events include a “Festival for the Planet,” featuring activities like arts and crafts, information booths, and panel discussions; climate-themed plays and musical performances; and a “People’s Hearing on Climate Change,” where people can submit their own testimonies about how the climate crisis has impacted their lives.

BetterPath is a grassroots coalition that aims to create a “better path to a clean, renewable-energy future in Pennsylvania,” as well as a more responsive, accountable government. Feridun described them as the “Gretas of Harrisburg” (referring to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg), and they are determined not to be ignored.

“We talked about things being terrifying, and they are,” Feridun concluded, “but if we stopped it, we would stop warming so quickly. I mean, it’s not automatic; there’s a lot of things that are already broken to the point that we can’t fix them even now. But we can create a much better future…The antidote to despair is action. The best thing we can do is act now, get this country on-board with doing the things it needs to do, getting this state on-board with things that it absolutely needs to do as the second-biggest natural gas producer in the country, and start building that new future.”

Feridun is also founder of Berks Gas Truth, an anti-gas drilling organization based in Berks County.

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Ava Lobach

Ava Lobach is a Community Media Intern at Raging Chicken Media. Ava is especially passionate about LGBTQ rights and environmental justice.

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