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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

“It's not easy being green.” - Kermit the frog

Elli and I have been reading and discussing Naomi Klein’s new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING. Elli said she didn’t realize how serious the predictions were when scientists first voiced dire warnings in the late 1980’s. I countered that I knew.

“Okay.” she said. “If you knew, why didn’t you talk to me about it? Why didn’t you do anything?”

I rummaged through memories to figure out what I understood 25 years ago. Fortunately, while I have trouble remembering why I entered a room, where I left my phone, or what appointments I’ve scheduled this week, my long-term memory remains sharp.

I left the private practice of law at the end of 1988 and founded the RFC in late 1990. It was a tumultuous period for me; it began with me clueless about where I was headed and ended with me on a clearly defined path that would become my life’s work. I spent the first few months exploring several courses of action. In one, my lifelong passion for weather and climate led me to consider writing and teaching about ecological concerns. I read several books about the growing threat of climate change and the deteriorating environment. In particular I remember reading the 1989 edition of The World Watch Institute’s THE STATE OF THE WORLD. The authors warned clearly that time was short, we were headed in the wrong direction, and significant policy changes were required to avoid disaster.

So, I did know about those dire predictions 25 years ago, but Elli was right about something more important. I didn’t talk with her about my fears and I didn’t do anything about it.

Why did I say and do nothing? I could rationalize about not finding the right group to work with, but how could that explain not talking about it with Elli? I think that the predictions were too awful, too overwhelming, too depressing to talk about. I couldn’t even begin to figure out what to do and how to go about doing it. And later that spring, the concept of the RFC popped into my head. I had something really good and positive and exciting to sink my teeth into. I have no regrets about the course I choose.

I’ve kept up with environmental issues. I read much of the literature and championed the RFC’s support of targeted environmental activists. But it was the RFC, rather than preventing climate change, that consumed me. It wasn’t until my first grandchild was born in 2008 that climate justice issues became central to my politics. Now I’m committed to reversing global warming (the cause) and climate change (the effect). However I’m still wrestling with the same issues that caused my silence and inaction a quarter of a century ago: What to do and how to talk about this stuff?

I want to talk about it with family, friends and acquaintances, but don’t know how to do it without being a total downer, sounding alarmist, holier than thou, a know-it-all, or manipulatively sugar-coating what I say. And once I’ve engaged with folks, how can I address the half-baked or wishful-thinking driven “solutions” that all reading and experience screams will be counter-productive distractions. I try to keep in mind that our need to involve huge numbers requires accepting a range of positions and levels of involvement, not gathering a small band of purists.

Naomi Klein’s book is helpful in this process because it provides important historical information, as well as the political and economic context in which the proponents and opponents of environmental movements have operated. It also canvasses the burgeoning global resistance to the rape of the planet, which is a great boon to those of us who are trying to figure out how to engage in the struggle.

But Klein’s book raises as many questions as it answers. Klein says this changes everything, that the solutions require systemic change, but the solutions she highlights are incremental. She writes in the introduction that we must make such basic changes in our economy AND our way of thinking that we must change “even the stories we tell about our place on earth,” but we read precious little about the latter in the rest of the book. Clearly, this brilliant author is grappling with some of the same questions as the rest of us.

That said, I’ve read nothing that does a better job of reporting the most effective work out there, of highlighting the actions we should join and/or support. And I’m encouraged that despite our questions, so many of us are finally entering the fray.  Read More 
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