More wisdom: From Burlington, Vermont, grassroots ideas on fighting global warming

Another local newspaper op-ed, this time from Burlington, Vermont (yeah, I know — a Gannett paper — still, smaller than Dallas). This comes from the March 4 edition of the Burlington Free Press’s “I Believe” series:

I Believe: ‘We have a responsibility to learn about climate change

by Joan Knight

“If politicians remain at loggerheads, citizens must lead.”
— Dr. James E. Hansen, physicist, director of NASA Goddard Institute

I was impressed when I attended a recent meeting with a group of volunteer activists forming a Vermont chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. This group is different, I thought. It might actually work. As a newly retired 72-year-old, I was looking for a new focus, and found it.

Religious groups use the word “creation.” Most people say “nature.” Academics speak of global ecology. Deep ecologists who view Earth as one living being say “Gaia,” in reverential tones, meaning our planet and its atmosphere is a living “body.” Its “cells” include us humans, plants, forests, microbes. All life is tied together by dynamic, interdependent relationships. Most native peoples sense that all beings are like sisters and brothers — members of the same family.

I understand. It started for me as a young child with what Rachel Carlson called a sense of wonder. Grasses back-lit by the setting sun; starfish in tide pools crawling about among colorful mats of living plants and fungi. It was a more spiritual experience than was going to church under parental orders. Nature really mattered.

Growing older, I revered the writing of Rachel Carson, David Brower, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry and so many more. I still feel abiding love for it all. I believe in Earth as a planetary living being.

It is clear that our family of All Beings is suffering.

Climate change. Global warming. Is it real? Is it a problem? Why are the changes happening? There is controversy about the answers to these questions. The collapse of climate and energy legislation last year in Congress was a relief to some in big business.

Natural laws or physics and chemistry are in action. The climate is warming faster than it ever has. Weather patterns are strange and tragic. Species are becoming extinct. Predictions of the end of nature (Bill McKibben’s 1984 book title) are common now. What if the scientists are right? We don’t need all the answers to figure out that something awful is going on.

Can we slow down the rate of change? Yes. Can we stop the climate from warming too much? It’s not likely, but I believe we must try. Should we let it happen while we enjoy our greenhouse-gas-producing lifestyles? Some family members deny the reality that their loved one has a serious illness and is likely to die prematurely. We humans have an interesting default to denial. This does happen. Might some of us, similarly, deny that our planet is critically ill?

Most of us agree that conservation of energy and resources is good for us and for the environment. We are changing our personal lifestyles. We have changed our light bulbs to compact fluorescents; we vacation closer to home; we’re working to improve the efficiency of our buildings.

Many of us also become members of environmental organizations. We read their magazines, put in bird feeders to enjoy nature, donate money and sign petitions in the attempt to show our legislators how we would like them to vote. Here in Vermont, we even talk with state legislators and are proud we are the “green state” — cherishing our remaining cows in pastoral landscapes and our forests for both wildlife and recreation. We’re thankful our delegation to the Congress “gets it.”

There are many grassroots activists successfully influencing lawmakers on a town and state level. But we know that states tend to make changes in laws and budgets in response to constraints brought on by federal legislation and financing. Are there ways to really influence federal representatives and senators? Paid lobbyists do it on a massive scale. Money speaks. But what about us?

The Citizens Climate Lobby believes in an approach by which ordinary people influence the federal “deciders” enough to sometimes change their votes. The influential people take the trouble to learn about and appreciate some things an individual legislator has done, seek to discover common ground, listen respectfully and talk in a collaborative way. After discovering what information would be relevant, they come back to provide it. In this comfortable way of relating, ordinary people do make a difference.

As citizens of this country we have a responsibility to learn about climate change, solutions and how to take part in the democratic process. We can sit down for a conversation and tell our legislators what we care about and why. We can write letters. It’s really our job as citizens to share these thoughts with our legislators, if we ever hope to be truly represented by them.

That’s where the new Citizens’ Climate Lobby comes in. The group gives us the tools we need. There is a monthly conference call with a leading thinker who will help keep us informed of the latest issues, and an opportunity to practice speaking with each other about those issues. We work together to help our legislators hear the non-confrontational message: We want a healthy planet for our kids and grandkids.

If I dare to step forward to lobby my representative, I want to learn how, to practice, to feel supported by kindred spirits, to know it’s OK to make mistakes and keep on gaining new knowledge and skills. I’m up for it. And I hope many of you will consider joining us as we begin making our voices heard where it matters most.

Check out the Citizens Climate Lobby website, and get information about how to join in on the next national conference call. This one will be focused on messaging — the importance of context and delivery. This organization seeks to empower each of us to have breakthroughs in our personal power, to be heard and to be counted. It feels good to be a part of a supportive web of passionate citizens.

Join us. Talk with an active member on the phone, go to the website (, find the lobby on Facebook.

It’s not too late to make a difference. We have been lazy in hoping someone else would do the right thing, that sending a check to an organization and signing an online petition was enough. It’s time for folks, including myself, to step up and be heard.

Real grass roots politics, from a woman concerned enough about the issue to think historically, and to read broadly about it.

Citizenship is wonderful to behold, when it is practiced so nobly and elegantly.

What else might we learn, if we really listened to the people?

Citizens Climate Lobby masthead

Masthead for the home page of Citizens Climate Lobby - click to see

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