“This is not gloom and doom”: La Crosse Sustainability Institute Program Director Casey Meehan discusses future outlook on climate change and sustainability


Inspiring Sustainability Award Ceremony at La Crosse Distilling Co. Photo taken by Jenasea Hameister.

Jenasea Hameister, General Assignment Reporter

“The future is not framed yet. So, what gives me a lot of hope is imagining what a world that’s cleaner, and safer, and healthier looks like. And that’s really exciting. And that’s what sustainability is all about,” said Casey Meehan, program director at La Crosse Sustainability Institute.

On Oct. 25, 2022, the La Crosse Sustainability Institute hosted its annual Inspiring Sustainability Awards at the La Crosse Distilling Co. Program Director Casey Meehan said that the event started 12 years ago under the Coulee Partners for Sustainability and was originally called the Harvest Dinner. Organizations and individuals in the region are nominated by the public for their work in sustainability.

The Sustainability Institute is a nonprofit organization in La Crosse. Meehan said, “Our mission at the Sustainability Institute is all about celebrating sustainability actions and efforts in the area.” Meehan said that the winners are chosen by the Sustainability Institute’s executive board for their ongoing work in sustainability and for their impact on the community. Only two nominees receive the award–one organization and one individual.

According to Meehan, sustainability is important because, “We’re entering sort of a new time in humanity and in the history of the world, where we need to start behaving a little bit differently. Not just climate change is a pressing issue, but environmental degradation, and human rights abuses, and sustainability thinks about all of these things.” He said that people need to start acting better because we know better.

Meehan said that others in the community can be more sustainable by “being more aware of [their] actions and what [they’re] doing.” He said that people can keep learning about sustainability and talking about it because “polls indicate that lots of people are concerned with climate change, but we don’t hear people talking about it…Talk will breed action.”

At the award ceremony, topics such as individual action in combating climate change, in addition to, being sustainable were discussed. Meehan said the easiest way for Americans to be more sustainable is to eat less meat. He continued, “If we look at Americans in general, the number one thing we can do to respond to climate change, or reduce our individual risk, would be to reconsider our diet and eat less meat.” He said that decreasing our food waste is significant in living sustainable lives.

With midterm elections approaching on Nov. 8, 2022, Meehan said, “What we really need to be doing is talking to our elected officials and voting.” He said if people are going to make a significant impact, it’s going to be with collective action.

“Even if [students] feel overwhelmed and anxious or in despair about climate change and the future, that the future is not written,” said Meehan, “Those feelings are valid, and I completely understand them, and they’re real, and that’s ok to have those feelings, but don’t stop there.” Meehan said that sustainability work is supposed to be joyful and about creating a future to run towards; “This is not gloom and doom,” he said. For more information regarding the La Crosse Sustainability Institute, contact: [email protected].

The organization that won this year’s Inspiring Sustainability Award was the La Crosse Public Library. La Crosse Public Library Programming and Outreach Assistant Libi Hackbarth said that sustainability is important because it’s working towards a collective goal where everyone can work together. She said the easiest way students can be sustainable is by sharing resources with others and “by being intentional about all of the decisions we make.”

The La Crosse Public Library hosts an event called the Driftless Regional Read each year. According to the Driftless Regional Read website, “The goal of the regional read is to bring the Driftless communities together through reading, interactive programs, book chats, lectures, and activities.” This year’s regional read focused on climate change and sustainability. The next event will be hosted on Oct. 27, 2022. All events can be found on their official website here.

The individual that won this year’s Inspiring Sustainability Award was Cathy Van Maren. Van Maren is most notable for her work in the Coulee Region Sierra Club on the Board of Directors. She said that the organization has helped locally in passing legislation regarding climate change. In 2019, the Coulee Region Sierra Club helped pass a climate resolution. Van Maren said that the 2019 resolution is now the forerunner of the La Crosse Climate Action Plan.

Van Maren said, “[Sustainability] is important so we can have a livable future,” and students can be more sustainable by walking or taking public transportation. Van Maren ended by saying, “we are not in nature, we are nature.”

Both Van Maren and the La Crosse Public Library were two of 13 public nominations.