Now Is the Time

>> Tuesday, January 6, 2009

This post is my submission for the Green Moms Blog Carnival. The topic is global warming. Check out the musings of all the great Green Moms on January 12 at the Not Quite Crunchy Parent.

A month or so ago, I watched President-Elect Barack Obama on 60 minutes soon after his election. The interviewer asked him if changes in energy policy are less important now that gas prices have dropped so much. Obama replied that energy is more important and when pressed for an explanation, he responded:

"Well, because this has been our pattern. We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it’s not important, and we start, you know filling up our SUVs again.

And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It’s part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it."

I mentioned awhile back that I listened to Alisa Gravitz, the Executive Director of Co-op America, speak at the DC Green Festival about her organization's proposed 12-steps to curb the climate crisis. The premise of her speech was that we have ten years to take extreme action to stop increasing carbon emissions, by 2050 we have to start moving in reverse, and by the turn of the century, we need to be producing zero carbon emissions. She repeated many times during the speech, "We can do this. We can."

So if “Now is the time to break it” and “We can do this. We can!”, then why does it seem like so few people care? Why am I still wondering what to say to others about environmentalism without offending them? Why are other environmentalists still feeling embarrassed about their “unusual” actions? Why was “green” voted the most annoying word of 2008?

I think that people would be willing to sacrifice to counteract climate change if they felt like there was a real eminent crisis, but the American public is still getting mixed messages from scientists and the media.

I feel like we need one of those emergency weather warnings:

"blaring annoying ear-piercing sound"

“We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this message from the National Weather Service. If we don't all start taking climate change seriously RIGHT NOW we will all be in for some seriously bad weather!”

The twelve steps outlined in Alisa Gravitz' speech were:
  1. Increase fuel economy. We need to go from the worldwide average of 27 mpg to 40 mpg by 2012 and then to 60 mpg by 2020.
  2. Reduce driving. Cut miles driven per car in half between now and 2050.
  3. Accelerate the production of zero emission vehicles like plug-in hybrids.
  4. Develop waste-based biofuels. She stressed waste-based, not corn or palm oil.
  5. Building efficiency. Get every new building right.
  6. Improve efficiency inside of existing buildings.
  7. Increase solar power. Solar needs to be the major form of energy by mid-century. By 2012-2015, solar will be as cheap as coal.
  8. No more new coal plants.
  9. Replace 1400 of the most inefficient coal plants with natural gas.
  10. Get the remaining coal plants to be more efficient until we can phase them out.
  11. Stop deforestation.
  12. Eat local, eat organic, eat vegetarian.
You may notice that few things on this list are actions an individual can take. Most of the steps are wide-scale changes that are going to require mass support and policy change.

Environmentalist writer and activist Bill McKibbin also gave a speech about climate change at the DC Green Festival, and at the end of his speech he says something to the effect of: "I was asked what the three most important things are a person could do for the planet, and my answer was, 'Organize, organize, organize.'"

If we are going to curb climate change, we have to organize. We have to stop being afraid of what others think, and we have to act now.

Now is the time. We can do this. We can.

You can listen to Alisa Gravitz' and Bill McKibben's speeches at

I also recommend this video about the effects of climate change on island nations, specifically Kiribati where a friend of mine served in the Peace Corps.


Steph @ Greening Families January 9, 2009 at 6:14 AM  

It sounds like we have been concerned by some of the same issues lately. I've been talking about green/sustainable/frugal issues for years and receiving lots of funny looks and mocking comments along the way. While the media's treatment of green issues seems to have taken a turn for the negative, in my daily life discussions on those issues have been more positive of late.

An increasing number of conversations have turned surprisingly thoughtful. A recent comment about the weather became a discussion on global warming. A query about where to place a can when cleaning up at the end of a playdate became a conversation about our city's recycling program. It has been very heartening.

I don't know how you run your comments so feel free to edit this out if you like - I recently posted this article about the influence parent have on their children's future spending habits: Creating a Legacy? if you'd like to hear more of my thoughts on this subject.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper January 9, 2009 at 8:41 PM  

Steph, Thanks for the comments and the link to your article. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Lynn from January 12, 2009 at 9:36 PM  


Thanks for such a heartfelt and thought provoking post. I hate to say it, but I think some of what you are feeling may have to do with where you live. I'm in a small city right next door to Washington D.C., and green is BIG here. People really get it and want to know what they can do to help. What I see more than anything is still a lack of awareness or a lack of understanding of which steps to take and HOW to go green.
I'm definitely going to check out the links you included!
I'm so glad you're participating in the Green Moms Carnival!

Anonymous,  January 12, 2009 at 11:28 PM  

Yes, organizing is very important and group actions are important. But also, groups are made up of individuals, and I think that we first have to get people committed on an individual level before they will be motivated to speak out and organize with others. It did make me a little sad that in Alisa's list there were only a couple of things that individuals can do: reduce driving and eating locally & organically. There is sooo much more that individuals can do and must do if we are going to create a society of individuals who care enough to organize for change.

What do you think?

Erin aka Conscious Shopper January 13, 2009 at 8:09 PM  

Lynn, You have a point about my perception being shaped by where I live - the South is slow in everything! But even when we lived in Silver Spring, MD (until six months ago), I felt like people were aware of climate change and green issues but weren't doing much about it. Maybe it's just the people I hang around!

Beth - I completely agree that we have to get people committed on an individual level first. It's like a green starter drug, and then hopefully people will move on to the "harder drugs" of organized community efforts. But I worry that a lot of people stop with the individual efforts, and that's not going to be enough. I think the reason Alisa included so few things individuals can do is that the individual actions aren't the ones that are going to make the big differences.

Christine Gardner January 14, 2009 at 2:26 AM  

Erin - I think you have touched on a crucial observation in that while many of us can work magic within our own households to cut back and live more responsibly - and even spend hours at our keyboards with the hope of educating and motivating others to join us - we all still wonder how to reach that infamous tipping point. When do these small actions add up to significant change in our global climate condition?

Perhaps one helpful suggestion is to encourage us all to step further out into our communities and fight for standards of living that will exponentially address the challenge. Whether it be at our schools, our companies or within our city governments, there are roles we can all fill to educate and lead others into more definitive action.

There are so many like-minded people out there who are ready to take action. They are just looking for the validation, leadership and infrastructure to move in a new direction.

Diane MacEachern January 14, 2009 at 10:03 AM  

As someone who has been working on these issues for 30 years, I'm really heartened by the level of discussion going on. Even though it's late, and not enough, compared to the dust-ups we generated when we started in 1970 (yes, at the first Earth Day), I feel like we're in a hurricane. It's frustrating that progress isn't smarter and faster, but it is happening, and I'm thrilled we're all a part of it.

ruchi aka arduous January 14, 2009 at 12:42 PM  

Erin, I think organizing is really important too. I think the question we're all bumping against is, what is an effective method of organization?

I recently got into a pseudo-argument with Colin Beavan about this actually. I think his principle was that all organization and any is good. Mine is that it depends on the type of organizing action. I'd love your thoughts on this. :)

mother earth aka karen hanrahan January 14, 2009 at 2:10 PM  

the parallel of the word addiction and a 12 step program really caught my attention ...put's so much of this into perspective

Erin aka Conscious Shopper January 14, 2009 at 8:13 PM  

Ruchi, I'm very interested to see both yours and Colin's opinions on that. I don't think I have a set opinion at this point, so I could easily be swayed to either side. :) I agree with Colin that any organization is good in that it brings attention and awareness to the cause (sort of like a "no publicity is bad publicity" thing). Plus, the more people that get involved the better.

On the other hand, some organized groups are more effective than others at getting their message across. For example, many years ago I was interested in joining a local vegetarian group but didn't know of any. Finally one day, I noticed a sign on an out of the way bulletin board in a tiny food co-op for a local Vegetarian Society. Since it was so hard to learn about them, I don't think they were being very effective. Another example of a vegetarian group: PETA is widely known and has influenced many to go vegetarian, but many people (including myself) find them too aggressive and extreme. So it could be argued that PETA is not very effective either, though they might think otherwise. I think it's pointless to spend effort in an organization or group that is not going to be effective.

On the other hand (and sorry this is turning out to be such a long reply), sometimes an action that might not seem important could turn out to have a much farther reaching effect than expected. I'm thinking of a story told by Bill McKibben in the speech I mentioned in this post. I can't remember the story exactly, but basically he and a group of people decided to organize a march to the capital of their state, I think it was Vermont. They didn't expect much to happen from it, but many people joined the march and it ended up getting a lot of publicity, and the end result was some important policy changes (if I'm remembering correctly).

So I guess I'd say some organized efforts work better than others, but any organization is better than none.

Mary January 14, 2009 at 10:30 PM  

One of the areas you didn't cover was how much work is being done in the education sector, i.e. revamping buildings to be energy efficient at the same time curriculum is changing for students. This is what gives me the most hope as it changes how people think at the same time it transforms the market base.

Alline January 16, 2009 at 2:58 PM  

Hi Erin. Coop America (now Green America) does amazing work. Attending their Green Business Conference in 2007 gave me the courage to launch my business in the "no-compromise" fashion of which I had been dreaming, and a way, I hope, to really make a difference. Yes. We. Can. Thanks for your post!

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