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Tuesday, December 18 News

Get to know...Dawn Henry, environmental activist tackling climate change

WESTPORT — If you asked Dawn Henry about climate change two years ago, she would have said it’s something 200 years out and primarily about polar bears in the North Pole.

“I wasn’t paying attention at all. I didn’t think it had any impact on my life, or anyone nearby,” said Henry, a resident of Bayberry Lane in Westport’s Coleytown neighborhood. “I also wasn’t paying attention to politics.”

Then, several things happened that transformed Henry, 45, from a place of apathy around climate change into a full-on environmental activist.

First, Henry and her husband, both “car people,” bought a Tesla two years ago.

“We heard about this car that could go zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds and could drive itself if you hit a lever, and it had this giant iPad screen,” said Henry, who now owns three of them. “The first Tesla I got I didn’t buy because it was electric, I didn’t buy it because it was zero emissions, I bought it because it was the hot sexy car.”

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Dawn Henry’s tips for environmental activism

Volunteer to help out on one of Westport’s “Net Zero by 2050” projects. Attend the monthly Westport Green Task Force meeting to learn more.

Help influence environmental policy for the state of Connecticut. Become a member of Connecticut Fund for the Environment or Save the Sound.

Spread the word on climate change and inspire others to take action. Ask Dawn about scheduling a Climate Reality slideshow presentation for an audience you know.

Support initiatives to put a price on carbon. Join the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Look for ways to reduce your own use of fossil fuels. Sign up for a home energy solutions assessment. Get an estimate to put solar panels on your home. Don’t idle your car when parked for more than a few minutes. Consider an electric vehicle for your next car purchase.

Henry and her husband flew out to Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif., and spent three weeks making their way back to Connecticut, talking with sustainable energy advocates at Tesla charging stations across the country, who convinced her of the need to move away from fossil fuels.

“The EV (electric vehicle) is a way to get people to make sustainable choices without sacrificing anything. That’s the key. You get a great car that’s responsive and fun to drive and full of tech and all this stuff and, by the way, it doesn’t have tailpipe emissions,” Henry said.

Back in Westport, Henry sat down with her husband and son, now 13, to watch Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 documentary, “Before the Flood.” That choice of film, she said, convinced her climate change is not something far away that only affects animals.

“This is actually about human survival. It’s impacting our food supply and whether our homes are going to be under water, about human health and people getting sick,” Henry said. “It really shocked me. I was sitting on the couch at the end of the movie actually crying.”

After watching the film, Henry said she became a sponge for climate knowledge.

Then came the 2016 election.

“I realized not only is this climate change thing important and urgent, but the government doesn’t have this under control and they aren’t bringing things in the right direction and, if anything, they’re reversing it,” Henry said.

After the trifecta of catalysts spurring Henry toward environmental activism, she vowed to get involved and believed she had the advertising and marketing skills to raise public awareness about climate change.

Born and raised in Hamden, Henry graduated from Connecticut College and entered the advertising and marketing business. She spent time at the New York City advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi, had stints in Boston and Atlanta, and worked for 12 years in the marketing department at Diageo North America, the beverage distributor in Stamford. Five years ago she started her own brand strategy and positioning business.

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“The way I looked at it is I’ve spent my whole life doing marketing and advertising. This is what I’ve been trained to do. This is the biggest marketing challenge of our time — to try and shake people from their inertia because they’re not paying attention,” Henry said.

After taking part in the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., and New York City’s March for Science last April, Henry volunteered with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby in D.C., lobbying legislators to pass carbon pricing legislation. In June, she attended Al Gore’s three-day Climate Reality Project training, which equipped her to give his climate slide show presentation, made famous in the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“Initially I was trying to do national and global stuff. In marketing you have to have reach and scale and I was wanting to go to big nonprofits and companies,” Henry said.

Frustrated by the conversation around climate change at the national level, the Westport resident decided instead to look locally. Henry joined the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, an environmental advocacy group in Hartford, and is now on the organization’s board of directors. She’s also now a member of Westport’s Green Task Force.

With her commitment to environmental activism and many nighttime “saving-the-world meetings,” as her son calls them, Henry said she’s busy, but fulfilled, by the work.

“I’m working just as hard and as many hours as I always have, but I have more energy because I really enjoy the stuff I’m doing and it’s really satisfying to do,” Henry said.

svaughan@hearstmediact.com; @SophieCVaughan1