Monica Evans, who co-founded and oversees the regional chapter of the Sierra Club in northwest Michigan,Â reminded us this week of the Step it Up rally to accelerate action on global climate change. She and herÂ colleagues are hosting a regional event in downtown Traverse City on the afternoon of April 14, startingÂ at 1:30 in the Chase Bank Courtyard across from Horizon Books downtown. There’s a parade andÂ a potluck dinner afterward.
The Traverse City rally is part of a national day of action organized by environmental writer Bill McKibben, the author of the 1989 best seller on global warming,Â “The End of Nature,” and his students at Middlebury College in Vermont. The frame for the national action is to pressure Washington to begin aggressively cutting carbon emissions and protect America’s right to an optimistic future. The energy behind the campaign was drawn initially fromÂ Bill’s capacious mind and especially his expertise on global climate change.
But Step It Up also is a quintessential example of the power of social media. It’s grown into a national event due in large part because the communicating and organizing reach of the Internet isÂ linking so many people together who care about the warming earth.Â Bill took a page out of MoveOn.org’s playbook andÂ deployed what are now routineÂ online information and advocacy tools — email, digital photography, video, audio, YouTube, blogs, action alerts, and archives. He stayed on message, persisently sending focusedÂ appeals to gatherÂ onÂ American street corners. People responded.Â One of thoseÂ cornersÂ is the place whereÂ Front Street and Park intersect in downtown Traverse City.
For those of us who live along the northern coast of Lake Michigan this is personal. Lake levels have been low for several years and are dropping again. We just ended the warmest of the 15 winters I’ve been around this place.Â CrystalÂ Mountain, where my wife works as a ski instructor, closed today, 10 days ahead of schedule. During the week between Christmas and New Years Day, traditionally the busiestÂ ski days of the year –Â and the most economically important –Â there was no snow at all. MyÂ daughter and I ran the snowless cross-country ski trails in our shorts and tee-shirts. The resort laid off over 50 employees. JimÂ MacInnes, Crystal Mountain’s general manager, says the ski season starts a week later and ends a week earlier than it did in the 1980s.
When President Bush and his fellow warming skepticsÂ argue — there are a bunch of those folks sitting on county and township boards around here –Â that reducing global warming gasesÂ affects the economy I’ve always wondered whose economy is he talking about? The struggling snow sports industry of the Upper Midwest? The Colorado Plateau ranchers and farmers challenged by a nearly decade-long drought? The small stores and family businesses in New Orleans drowned by Hurricane Katrina?
Bill McKibben and his colleagues are performing a public service.Â Step It UpÂ is a model for the kind of home-grown, street level campaign thatÂ online tools and techniques are able to turn into a mass movement.Â Frankly, it’s essential. In a world with climbing energy prices, rising land and housing costs, declining incomes, record population growth,Â battled hardened political intransigence,Â and several potential environmental calamities converging at once, expecting leaders to do more than talkÂ is folly.
A quick tour through the presidential campaign Web sites of Barack Obama (see yesterday’s post), Hillary Clinton and John McCainÂ makes that point clear.Â All talk about the global climate, and allÂ have proposed fixes — like promoting ethanol production and “clean” coal — that have no promise other than making favored constituencies richer andÂ global conditions worse.Â