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Powers of Evangelism 

by Pia K. Hansen


There's something strange about Julian Powers' garage: It's not full of junk. There are no piles of old toys, magazines or clothes, no stacks of gadgets and gizmos, no mountains of old paint and spray cans. A garage sale out of this place would feature two rakes and, perhaps, a couple of neatly folded cardboard boxes and a flowerpot. You'd make $5.


And Powers is just fine with that, because he is one of the few people who lives exactly the way he preaches: trying to conserve natural resources and protect the environment the best he can, as one of the area's most dedicated environmentalists.


"Some people say they are conservationists instead, but I resent not being able to use the E-word. I am an environmentalist," says Powers, whose business card also identifies him as a Transportation Junkie.


He grew up on a farm in North Idaho, just south of Orofino. After graduating form the University of Idaho's southern branch in Pocatello, he ended up getting a master's degree in engineering from the University of Illinois. His last job was as an engineer with Hughes Aircraft in California.


"Back in '80, I decided I was too old to work, so I retired. I was 53," says Powers, sitting in shorts and sandals in his shady living room. "Over the next decade or so, I went to more than 60 different countries."


The many travels gradually turned Julian Powers the engineer into the Julian Powers the environmentalist. One incident especially stands out: in 1982 on a crowded third class train in Sumatra, Indonesia, Powers saw a young mother feed her baby from a large bottle of Coke. Her slightly tipsy husband argued with her, then grabbed the Coke and threw it out the window, where it broke on the rocks.


"Both the human and the natural environments were abused," says Powers about that moment. "I think of that as a turning point in my value system."


About a dozen years ago, the globetrotter finally settled on the South Hill, when he came to Spokane to take care of his elderly mother. But settling hardly means standing still -- you can't do so and be obsessed by transportation issues at the same time.


Powers has become involved with countless environmental groups, like Friends of the Aquifer, and he served on the Spokane Regional Transportation Council and many other boards and committees. He is well-known for riding his bike almost everywhere he goes -- a bike that is currently outfitted with a patent-worthy wood contraption that carries three fall election campaign signs.


"I don't understand politics," he laughs. "But it does seem to me that unusual things get noticed."


For Powers, there's a clear link between transportation and the environmental issue that's closest to his heart: global warming.


"That is a biggie to me," says Powers, who's an authorized global warming speaker on the Green House Network. "The one thing we can do about global warming is to cut back on using gasoline and diesel. There are many things we can do instead of driving one at a time to work in our cars; we can van-share, there's telecommuting and there's the bicycle."


Yes, Powers does own a car, a 1990 Toyota pickup, but he doesn't drive much.


"I put gas in it about once a month," he says.


He doubts the Bush administration will be able to deal effectively with global warming.


"Abroad, the U.S. administration acts like a 900-pound gorilla," says Powers. "And nationally? There are people who say Bush won't react until the sea level reaches the steps of the White House."


There's a Danish word for people who, like Powers, burn for the message they are trying to get out. They are called ildsjaele or "fire souls." Everyone wants to know how they keep going without burning out.


"It's not easy. I've been very depressed the last year-and-a-half, but I'm coming out of it," says Powers, looking unusually somber. "It's easy to wallow in the negative, but you have to do something. I have five grandchildren. I don't want to have to tell them I'm responsible for what they have to deal with when the well-known hits the fan."

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