Saturday, July 24, 2010

A response to the Senate's failure to pass comprehensive climate legislation

On July 22, majority leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate will not address carbon emissions when it takes up legislation regarding the Gulf Coast oil spill.  This announcement has created a huge backlash from climate activists and environmental groups, who are understandably enraged that our congressional leaders have failed to take any action whatsoever to deal with climate change.

My first reaction to this news was frustration and sheer disgust. It seems that politicians are merely pawns of dirty corporations. They have bought into industry lies, and because of it we will suffer as our planet continues to warm.

But I've been thinking about the aftermath of the decision to not pursue a climate bill, and I've come to the conclusion that while our reaction of anger is completely justified, a reaction of disdain and disenchantment will do nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change. Disenchantment with our political system will do nothing to improve the future of our society.

We cannot let this moment discourage young voters. This needs to be a catalyst, a spark that rekindles the movement and shifts us back to talking about policy that actually will do something in our fight to curb climate change. More importantly, we need to learn from our government's failure to act that we can never take anything for granted. We will always have to hold our leaders accountable.

We need to raise hell for any politician that opposes the creation of a clean energy economy. We need to march, to chant, and to continuously pressure our leaders to take bold action to address climate change. Frankly, I'm sick of doing letter writing campaigns or phoning our Senators to ask for legislation. When we pressure our leaders, we need to be in the streets, demanding change. We need to be radical, and be proud of being radical.

But regardless of what our leaders do, we need to start being the change we want to see. We're not just fighting to prevent catastrophic climate change; we're working towards a peaceful, just, and sustainable future. And there's so much we can right now, in the present, to create a sustainable world. We can bike. We can garden. We can cook for one another and have potlucks. We can volunteer. We can be part of a community. And by living this way, by laughing in the face of social norms that say the only way to reach happiness is through money, materials possessions, stress, and non-stop toil, we'll also be radical.

If we can be radical in both our political and personal lives, we can accomplish two things. We can shift the political center leftwards, until we have the policy necessary for a sustainable future. We can also grow the movement, for every personal act, from shopping at a farmers market to taking the time to have a meal together, is also a political act; our actions send a strong message to the world. If by acting differently we can convince even one other person to also act differently, we will have accomplished a great deal. For that one other person will influence her friends to act different, who will influence their friends, and so on and so forth.

I see this vision of personal and political radicalism best in's 10/10/10 Work Party idea.  Imagine a diverse group of people from all across the world working together to create sustainable change.  By building urban gardens, by repairing and riding bikes, by putting up solar panels, by completing energy efficiency renovations, or by planting trees, we can send a big message to our leaders. This same group of people will then demand that politicians follow their lead, and create the same change at a higher level. But even if the politicians do nothing, we will not be disempowered, for the change we created on our own is here to stay.

Whatever we decide to do, we need to keep hope at the center of our work.  We need to remember that no matter what our president, our senators, our mayors, or anyone else does, we have the incredible power to make a positive difference in the world.  And I strongly believe that if we continue to use this power and demand that politicians follow our lead, eventually we will achieve the sweeping policy changes needed for a sustainable future.

The first step to creating radical change is to maintain a radically hopeful mindset. With that, I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Break Through:

The ethics, and politics, born of the joy, mystery, and gratitude of overcoming adversity will be radically different from the ethics born of the sadness of living in a fallen world pervaded by fears of the eco-apocalypse to come. The truth is, there are still ancient redwoods to behold and great rivers to swim in. There is still the Amazon and the Boreal. There are still seven billion wondrous human animals, each one of us capable of making ourselves into something utterly unique. And there is still great wildness abounding inside and outside of ourselves.

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