Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Teachable Moment

I was on the organizing committee for the Kansas City rally. Was I part of a social movement that will sweep across America ... and possibly the world? This thought entered my mind early Sunday morning before the sun had come up, the day after the largest global warming (or climate change) rally in America. But then the sun did come up.

Some 12 weeks before, Bill McKibben, an environmental writer living in Vermont, came up with the idea of a rally a week before Earth Day, but with a specific goal: Get the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050. By April 14 more than 1,400 planned events were established in all 50 states, from Paia, Hawaii to Cold Spring, New York. Individuals and small groups within their particular communities organized these diverse events across the country. Bill McKibben created the national phrase Step it Up 07. How well will we ultimately "step it up"?

In Kansas City the weather had been cold and rainy the week prior to our event. Late Friday afternoon we had to make a decision to move our rally inside, because of possible snow some weather reports offered. "Unusual" for this time of year some said. Hm-m. More unusual weather in other parts of the country we learned.

I stood in a park late Friday afternoon, where our rally was supposed to have taken place if we had had "normal" April weather. I was holding an umbrella and about to be interviewed by FOX news. The cameraman clipped on the mike and the reporter asked me if I was ready.

The reporter's first question was whether or not I saw any "irony" in all this; the global warming rally was going to be moved indoors because of possible snow. I laughed. What the viewers didn't know was that before the camera started running the reporter and I had talked about how climate change might bring unusual or even extreme weather patterns, even though data showed steadily rising temperatures. The reporter, however, had deliberately given me a teachable moment.

The Kansas City rally was a success. Had it been held outside on a warm spring day we probably would have gotten more than a thousand people in attendance. However, what we did get were some 500 enthusiastic individuals along with various speakers and representatives for some of our congressional politicians. A good day in my opinion.

The following day the sun came out for the first time in at least a week. It was warm and bright, blue sky overhead. Spring had arrived. By 9:30 I heard the quintessential American sound. The neighbor to my right was mowing her lawn with the all-purpose polluting gasoline mower, along with two neighbors across the street. No, I didn't go outside and scream at them that the world was ending.

I live in the middle of Kansas City and our lawns are small enough to be cut with hand mowers or in some cases with a good pair of scissors ... no I'm exaggerating about the scissors. But you get the point.

At 10 o'clock the e-mails started arriving from our steering committee Goggle group. Do you think that reporter was being too sarcastic mentioning that snow had driven our "warming" rally inside ... we need to write to him and educate him ... "only" 500 people showed up ... don't they know how important this issue is ... what happened to the media ... etc, etc. I turned the computer off.

That afternoon I played tennis; it was a great day for doubles. We didn't discuss global warming (or climate change) once. The National Day of Climate Action was a nationwide success. Now, teachable moments are most certainly almost everywhere.

I think I'm going to spend more time chatting with my neighbors, and perhaps a little less--for the time being--with my "eco" colleagues. In fact, some of my neighbors may have a few teachable moments to offer my environmental friends. I suppose we could all talk together from time to time. Don't forget Earth Day this Saturday.

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