Gun-loving Iowa couple aim to save the planet

Gun-loving Iowa couple aim to save the planet
Jan and James Norris

Jan and James Norris don’t fit neatly into a political mold.

They’re gun enthusiasts living in a southwestern Iowa county that went nearly 70 percent Trump in the general election.

But while the president hasn’t embraced concerns about climate change, the Norrises are trying to raise local awareness of the issue.

Jan, 53, and James, 54, consider themselves independents. They think when you put that R or that D next to someone’s name, the conversation shuts down before it begins. And the conversation they want to have, they said, is too important to get mired in partisanship.

This Friday — the day before Earth Day — the Norrises are hosting a screening of the climate change documentary “The Age of Consequences” in their hometown of Red Oak, a village of about 5,600.

There are countless docs about climate change, but this one takes an usual tack that, the Norrises hope, will appeal to viewers’ sense of patriotism. It approaches the effects of climate change through their impact on U.S. national security. The doc’s thesis: climate change leads to resource scarcity, which leads to regional destabilization, radicalization and conflict, which leads to American military intervention.

“We’re bringing it here because we were just that inspired when we saw it,” James said. “It’s dirt-simple. The inspiration is that we have kids and one grandchild, and another on the way. I guess I look at it a little bit like I did with my boys, who were in Boy Scouts. When we went camping, the goal was always to leave no trace. And we’re not exactly leaving no trace.”

There’s some amusing irony in how the Norrises first encountered “The Age of Consequences.” They saw the climate change movie only because they love shooting guns.

The couple were in Phoenix earlier this year, where James (shooter name Captain Jim Midnight) was competing against 800 others in the Single Action Shooting Society’s national championship of cowboy action shooting. In the sport, shooters (dressed in cowboy getup) fire pistols, rifles and shotguns designed to post-Civil-War-to-1900 specifications. It’s a contest of speed and accuracy, and James — who’s been competing for two decades and collecting cowboy guns for twice as long — is pretty darn good. He placed sixth in his age group at the national championship, and he’s a five-time Iowa state champion.

“I always tell people that I wish I liked to golf or play tennis,” James said. “But I like to play cowboy and ride horses and shoot guns.”

While the Norrises were in Arizona, they traveled to the nearby Sedona Film Festival, where they saw “The Age of Consequences” and were moved to share it with their community.

James knows that a lot of his fellow cowboy shooters would scoff at him for advocating a climate change doc, or that he wants to eventually own an electric car and install solar panels on his house, that he’s trying to diminish his carbon footprint. “They’ll think I’m some raving liberal,” he said. “And that’s OK. I can live with that. It doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is people want to believe a narrative but won’t open their eyes.”

The point of showing the doc, Jan said, isn’t to change minds but to open the door for conversation. Not to argue about whether climate change exists but to ask: What can we do about it in our own lives?

Jan said she can’t remember why or when they first got interested in the issue.

“It just makes sense to us,” she said. “We see the changes happening. Weather’s not what it used to be when we were kids. It’s obvious to us.”

The issue has become a deeply personal one for the Norrises. Jan chokes up as she recalls recently visiting her son and 20-month-old granddaughter, Navy. While Navy sat there playing, Jan came to the realization of the environmental effects Navy would see in her lifetime. “You always hope that your kids and your grandkids have a better life than you had,” Jan said. “But I’m afraid that our children and grandchildren are not going to have the life that we enjoyed.”

Jan and James have lived in Red Oak all their lives (excluding a brief jaunt to Texas). They were farm kids who met in high school, eventually setting off to farm their own land and run their own financial consulting business. James was so good at managing their future, he and his wife each retired around age 50.

When he was a financial planner, James engaged in conversations with his clients about circling the wagons. At a certain age, when you’re closing in on retirement, it’s time to start making important decisions, he’d tell them. “And we need to be doing that with our environment,” he said. Jan and James live by this creed: When you’re making a decision, prepare for the worst-case scenario.

“If you prepare for that, and it’s better, then that’s great,” Jan said. “I look at climate change like that. If I’m wrong, no big deal. But if you’re wrong. …”

James: “It’s a big deal.”

Jan: “That’s a worst-case scenario that literally no one can live with.”

The Age of Consequences

What: Documentary on U.S. national security consequences of climate change.

When: 7 p.m. Friday with 8:30 reception

Where: Wilson Performing Arts Center, 300 Commerce Drive, Red Oak, Iowa

Admission: Free, but nonperishable items or donations will be accepted for the local food pantry

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