Slatington resident Jeffrey Franklin traveled to the nation’s capital as part of the World Wildlife Fund’s Panda Ambassador program on March 13 and 14 to receive advocacy training and meet with local legislators about priorities important to the international environmental organization.
The Panda Ambassadors present in Washington, D.C. for the WWF’s Lobby Day activities received training on March 13 in preparation for meetings with members of Congress and their respective staffs on March 14.
Franklin said the experience provided valuable tools to continue pursuing environmental issues, and he noted that many of the Panda Ambassadors came informed of the WWF’s platform.
“We heard some speakers and presentations,” Franklin said. “But most people came prepared.”
Franklin said he had the opportunity to talk with staffers from Rep. Charlie Dent’s office, as well from the offices of Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey. Among the issues he discussed were illegal wildlife trade, renewable energy and climate change.
Franklin said he took full advantage of the opportunity to express his views to his Congressional representatives on the importance of environmental issues.
“I really wanted to express my views and how important WWF’s views are to me,” Franklin said. “I felt that everyone we spoke to was very receptive about what we had to say.”
Franklin said he was pleasantly surprised to learn from a member of Toomey’s staff that the Pennsylvania junior senator believed that climate change is happening and influenced by human activity. He said he also hopes to build a lasting relationship with Dent to further explore environmental issues.
He stressed the importance of switching to renewable energy in an interview with the Town and Country Gazette, particularly citing solar energy as a feasible option that should appeal to blue collar workers.
“Right now the solar industry employs twice as many Americans as coal. That industry is booming; they’re blue collar jobs.” Franklin said. “It can be done. We can make the switch.”
Franklin said his passion for environmental issues emanated from his Philadelphia upbringing where he frequently visited Fairmount Park and Pennypack Park. His appreciation for the outdoors led to his move to Slatington, where he lives in close proximity to the Appalachian Mountains.
He said he felt as if he wasn’t doing enough to advocate for environmental issues, leading him to get involved with the WWF and their Panda Ambassador program.
Will Gartshore, WWF’s senior policy officer for U.S. government relations, said the Panda Ambassador program helps to reinforce the WWF’s focus on local action that spreads out to a global level. He said that the program helps to show that ambassador’s voices “really do matter in Washington D.C.”
Gartshore said that the WWF has been very vocal about the detriment of cuts to the foreign assistance budget, as well as illegal wildlife trade. He said that the U.S. government has been very reactive to WWF efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade which he hopes will continue into the future.
“There’s been a lot of effort from the United States government to address that,” Gartshore said.
Franklin was extremely positive about his experience in Washington, D.C. as part of the WWF’s Panda Ambassador program. He believes that a love for the environment is “inherent in everybody” and that the WWF offers a strong platform to advocate for issues that they care about.
“I think it was very empowering,” Franklin said. “I would encourage people to get involved in any way they can.”