Editor’s Note: This profile was written by Boise State University students Alyssa Marino, Emily Davis, Sheena Canon, and Pia Goodell as a project for an Environmental Studies course taught by Dr. Sophia Borgias. Through the Conversations on Conservation project, students interviewed Idaho’s conservation professionals to learn more about their career paths, work, and the future of Idaho’s environment.

Dr. Aly Bean’s Journey to Climate Action

Climate change has become a growing issue in today’s world. The effects of it are already being seen, so it is important that governments and citizens take action to stop it. Dr. Aly Bean is a climate campaign coordinator at the Idaho Conservation League (ICL). She is originally from Denver, Colorado where she earned her undergraduate degree and later moved to Idaho to attend the University of Idaho for law school. When she arrived in Idaho, she worked for ten years at the Planning and Conservation League where she decided to stick with that type of work, and later joined the ICL to work on climate change mitigation. In the past she has worked with NASA to calculate the impacts that climate change would have on NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia.

Dr. Bean currently focuses her research on strategies for managing water rights during climate change in the western U.S., working with the USDA. One project she did with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) looked at the human dimensions of climate change by identifying ordinary citizens who were willing to make changes in their lives that benefit the environment. They then showed the statistics they found to prove that these ideas aren’t going to cost them in the future and will actually help them, especially in farming. The Rural Development program of the USDA has provided grants to farmers to help with these types of projects that will help to combat climate change.

Our group had the amazing opportunity to interview Aly and ask questions about her work within ICL as well as projects she has done across the country, her accomplishments, and future goals for climate action in the state of Idaho.

Challenges working in conservation in Idaho 

When asked what has been the biggest challenge she has faced, Dr. Bean responded, “I  think probably the biggest challenge in Idaho, which is unique to Idaho and a couple of other red states, if you will, is just the lack of recognition that climate change is even occurring.” She noted that the state legislature does not use the terms climate change or global warming, but rather “variability” when discussing these issues. The term ‘climate change’ has also been removed from state learning standards. This creates the issue of explaining and communicating climate change to those who do not believe that it exists. 

ICL and Dr. Bean are working to build relationships with coalitions that have pre-existing relationships with local farmers, in order to educate  them about climate change and how they can adopt more sustainable practices. ICL works to build unlikely alliances in order to slow and prevent the impacts of climate change from altering agriculture for future generations. These alliances are often with other communities and counties that are less environmentally friendly and have not begun to implement more sustainable practices, such as renewable energy sources or clean transportation. The variety of groups that work together to find these solutions includes Indigenous Tribes, politicians, conservationists, and farmers. These alliances work with local conservation districts, which are located in each county, to provide monetary  incentives and classes hosted at local universities, in order to foster change and protect the environment.

“I think maybe that’s kind of the realization that moving forward, trying to bridge the gap of mitigating climate change isn’t just educating people… And it’s not telling them what they need to do. It’s maybe finding those inroads in relationships.”

Combating Climate Change in Idaho 

Dr. Bean highlighted the importance of paying attention to what is going on internationally, nationally, and statewide in regards to climate change as well as advocating for the right policies. She made a big point of understanding that in order to successfully take big steps in the right direction, the Idaho government needs to be involved and help fund these sustainable projects. This can look like supporting big projects that create new ways for clean and renewable energy such as investing in solar panels.

Within urban communities, public and mass transportation and electric vehicles are a sustainable way for all citizens to make even a small difference. Another way an individual can take another step toward being more sustainable is paying a little extra to make sure your power comes from renewable sources.

“The only thing that you and I can do for renewable or clean energy is to just try and use it as we can. If you can put up solar  panels, that’s great. I don’t know how as an individual we can really start to use that unless we have that as a resource. So, it  makes me think of paying attention to some of these big projects and supporting them.”

The City of Boise has created a plan to become carbon neutral by the year 2050, which is a step in the right direction, but it will still be many years until all of Idaho could be carbon neutral because of the pushback from rural communities and the complexities of carbon neutral policy. In taking Dr. Bean’s advice, we should celebrate this fact about Boise, while also planning ahead for the future.

“Embrace the small successes, right? My goal at ICL is to make Idaho carbon neutral. That probably is not gonna happen in my  lifetime. I hope it does… so I have to keep taking these steps to work in this direction.”

Final Thoughts 

Throughout this interview, Dr. Bean provided valuable insights into working in climate action and with organizations across Idaho. Hearing about her work allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of Idaho Conservation League, and the challenges that ICL faces while trying to protect Idaho’s land and natural resources. We were reminded that a major part of climate action is forming alliances and educating people. Dr. Bean advised us on what we can do to help combat climate change, along with some advice and lessons she has learned in her career. As Idaho residents, we are glad to have been able to get a personal perspective from one of many people directly involved in the future of  climate action in Idaho. We were also reminded of our personal responsibility to take action to combat climate change and bring awareness to the government decisions that will impact the future of Idaho.