University of New Mexico alumnus Laurence Cotter hopes to provide the means for younger generations to find creative, new solutions to address the impending climate crisis. An avid cyclist with no email address, a hybrid vehicle and no home internet access, Cotter is a conservationist through and through.
Cotter established the $2 million Rosalind O. Womack Fund last month, an endowment for the UNM Sustainability Studies program. With it, he hopes to see the University take real, tangible action towards lessening their environmental impact.
“Let’s do something good here. Let’s do something right,” Cotter said. “Let’s do something that’s going to empower us instead of just helplessly flailing around without getting our hands and minds involved in a solution.”
Cotter first met his late wife Rosalind Womack, the fund’s namesake, while living as a hermit in the mountains of New Mexico. The two were married in 1996 until her passing in 2013.
Curiously, she was a climate change skeptic, leading to what Cotter refers to as “an interesting dialectical experience” between the two. Despite this, Cotter said that his wife was sensible, intelligent and trusting of science, and would above all want to leave a safe, clean world for her nieces.
“She was wonderfully bright and had a good heart, and wanted to do the right thing,” Cotter said.
Moving into the city with Womack following their marriage proved to be physically and mentally taxing for Cotter after years of monastic life. To cope, he started studying Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction program, which pulled from the Vipassanā Buddhist tradition, utilizing yoga and meditation.
“Basically what meditation is is just slowing down the thought processes so that you can maybe just see in this vast space between the thoughts. It opens up into a deep, deep unknown … Each person has an opportunity to explore this for themselves, but you have to go through this discipline of mind and body, and not to mention the social discipline,” Cotter said.
From there, Cotter earned a master’s degree in counseling from UNM in 1998 and became a counselor himself, implementing Kabat-Zinn’s approach in hospice and nursing home settings to help individuals without much time left to live find peace in their final days.
“I found that I enjoyed mostly being with those who were coming to the end of their lives. That’s where I felt most comfortable,” Cotter said. “And helping them to open up into the unknown (was nice), because that’s what I’ve been doing for a long time.”
Cotter attributed his initial interest in the effects of climate change to the 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which details former vice president Al Gore’s advocacy work in climate change education. Cotter has since dedicated himself to learning about the science behind climate change and taking action to reduce his own environmental impact. Currently, he is particularly concerned by fossil fuels and addressing energy needs for transportation.
“All I feel that I can do is to get my personal act together here, and not be consuming so much of everything across the board and … minimizing my participation in a global capitalist structure that is absolutely dependent upon transportation,” Cotter said.
Although Cotter does not have internet at his home, he does occasionally visit the home of his friend Karen Rivard for internet access.
Rivard first met Cotter in 2017 on an “online geriatric dating service” before Cotter gave up the internet. The two bonded over their respective losses of their spouses, and they have been close friends ever since. Cotter described Rivard as a “godsend.”
“We have this little contest (and) I’ve given up because I can never win. My electric bill’s always more than his, my gas bill’s always more than his, and he has a bigger house … But he has influenced me in many ways to be more careful about that, and I’m much more aware of it than I was before I met him. I mean, he lives it. He doesn’t just preach it; he lives it,” Rivard said.
Rivard, though occasionally pessimistic about how far personal conservation efforts can go without meaningful change on a global scale, finds Cotter to be a positive influence on her own conservation efforts. However, she said she couldn’t see herself ever reducing her consumption as greatly as Cotter.
Though the future itself is unknown, Cotter has faith that the younger generations will find their way out of the current climate crisis despite the vast powers of corporate greed at play.
Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle