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Category: Environment

Stepping It Up, Against Global Warming

March 22, 2007

Because of her love of large white artic animals and fear for their future, a woman will host a rally April 15 at the Polar Bear Exhibit at the Indianapolis Zoo. In Tucson, three young women have planned a green teach-in, with speeches by politicians, music by local bands, demonstrations of rainwater harvesting, and booths of local green businesses. Students from a green high school will join in. These are two of some 1,000 events scheduled, spread across every state and inspired by Step It Up 2007, a national campaign to persuade Congress and other legislators finally to act decisively to reduce carbon emissions. Yesterday Al Gore, invited before Congressional panels, delivered his clear and blunt message that global warming is a “planetary emergency” caused by humans. With various Republicans questioning the science behind his dire claim, he said, “The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor,” adding “if the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say ‘I read a science fiction novel that says it’s not a problem.’ You take action.” Just two weeks ago the European Union came to a momentous agreement to cut carbon emissions by 20% of 1990 levels by 2020, a move the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dismissed as “rhetoric.” Meanwhile, the United States, with 4% of the world’s population, causes 25% of global carbon emissions. The business-as-usual attitude suggested by the Bush Administration’s EPA chief would ensure that those emissions grow by 1% a year, reaching an utterly unsupportable figure by 2020. But clearly something is changing. Only two days ago major U.S. investors and companies joined together to lobby the White House to demand action, following Europe’s plans. Environmental writer Bill McKibben believes that we as citizens have a moral obligation to act. “Step It Up, Congress. Cut Carbon 80% by 2050” is the goal and mantra of Step It Up 2007, spearheaded by McKibben with the help of five new graduates and one about to graduate, all from Middlebury College, where he is scholar in residence. The team operates out of modest quarters in Burlington, Vermont, with laptops and enough other computer power to run a very well designed Web site and blog, and their own cell phones to supplement barely passable telephone service. The site went up in January with a call for volunteers to organize local events for the April 14 day of national action. At the same time McKibben began a 12-part series in the online environmental publication Grist.  In a few weeks, more than a hundred people had volunteered to organize actions, and by mid-March, every state in the union is onboard. The 50-plus organizations listed as “Friends and Allies” include at least five national church groups, CODEPINK, environmental and other not-for-profits. As the numbers of local events around the nation began multiplying, McKibben wrote that “this would be the biggest demonstration about global warming yet in this country, and perhaps the biggest day of environmental protest in this country since the first Earth Day, in 1970” (OnEarth, Spring 2007). But beyond individual group actions, he calls for the birth of an environmental movement around global warming with the passion and drive of the Civil Rights Movement. Drama will be one of many strategies on stage April 14.  Songs are being written. Iconic locations are being chosen: underwater near disappearing coral reefs in Florida; atop mountains where snows once were; on church steps; on the levees in New Orleans; at the new coast lines—anticipated as the sea level rises at least 10 feet—in Lower Manhattan, with similar events in Boston and Seattle. In Rapid City, South Dakota, a children’s march will welcome adults as long as they parade in animal costumes. Talking to organizers in various cities and reading through plans on the Step It Up blog, one realizes the beauty of this national day. People simply stepped up to the plate without any prior experience at organizing to join with strangers in a common cause. Many of the actions will also respond to local environmental concerns. In Ames, Iowa, marchers will go from one coal powered plant to another. In Chicago, already noted for its environmental efforts, organizers hope to “bring the global idea to a local level,” according to Jennifer Pierce, a sustainable architectural designer. A scientist will spell out specifically what climate change will mean in their city. To make sure the momentum continues, Step It Up is scheduled one week before Earth Day (Sunday, April 22). Both Step It UP and Earth Day Network plan to spend the intervening week in Washington lobbying. Three things resonate from the Step It Up 2007 efforts: Media strategy Surely the timing is right. Frustrated citizens have seized on this outlet and believe their actions can influence change. To calls from the Step It Up Web site and blog, with the help of online environmental journalism, a few podcasts, and, so far, two videos on YouTube, every state in the union has responded. The simple strategy calls for organizers to reach local media, and as the day approaches, step up the drive for coverage locally and nationally, leaving traditional media to be enticed by invited celebrities and the visual appeal of street theater. As the day unfolds, local organizers will feed sounds and images for posting on the Step It Up site. The primary goal is to touch every politician who has a vote on these matters. In a Grist dispatch, McKibben wrote of his fascination that, with alternative web-based structures, “conventional media attention is no longer the absolutely necessary oxygen of political organizing.” Where are all the women? Where do they stand? I’m not sure that I got a satisfactory answer to my question as to why of the six organizers working with McKibben in Vermont, there is only one woman, May Boeve. Team member Jeremy Osborn conceded that leadership in the environmental field is mainly men but said, “an informal office poll shows we have more women Step It Up organizers than men.” Of the five women involved whom I interviewed, four are under 30 and work or have degrees in areas involving sustainability in architecture, agriculture or the environment. Jennifer Pierce of Chicago said, “Within environmental issues, there is more room for women because the area is more liberal and men seem to be more sensitive to nature, [although] right now, there are still more women in grass roots than leadership roles. By contrast,” she continued, “architecture is male dominated, even green architecture.” When I probed about the approach men and women bring to the environmental field, May Boeve felt that there is real collaboration in dealing with justice and environmental causes and that young people don’t want to box matters as men’s or women’s. Pierce was clear on what happens when tackling tasks: “In the environmental world, if women think on a small scale, they will eventually find themselves gravitating toward the large. You must think large because that is its nature.” New horizons The response surpassed the wildest dreams of Step It Up’s national organizing team. It opens up opportunity and hope, amid steadfast federal refusal to assume leadership sorely needed from the world’s biggest polluter, as developing countries justify even more pollution by their need for economic growth. The April 14 efforts exhibit a willingness to cooperate with communities of people for environmental and social justice and a growing presence of young women eager to explore new ways of doing things. This energy, combined with the commitment to radically reduce our individual and collective carbon footprints and pursue a suite of renewable alternative energies, leads, to borrow May Boeve’s words, “to opportunities for lasting fundamental changes for how we live together.” Regina Cornwell is New York based and writes about art, culture and the environment. Regina Cornwell is New York based and writes about art, culture and the environment

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