• Plugging ourselves into the climate change equation
    April 20,2014
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    My family recycles. We live in a solar heated house. We use energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs. We grow or buy a lot of local food. We are “aware.” We are “the good guys.”

    But when it comes down to it we each have our own car, because despite the awareness, despite our desire to save the planet, it would be a major inconvenience to share a car. It would even be difficult to share one car in rural Vermont. I could ride my bike more, but that would require more planning and more time — and I am often in a hurry. So I drive. 

    Even so, in terms of creating a light ecological footprint I am doing pretty well, probably better than most Americans. But it isn’t enough. As a planet we are racing full tilt toward a vast ecological upheaval, and my solar shower won’t stop it.

    Rewind: A few years ago I was talking with Bill McKibben backstage as he waited to deliver the keynote address at SolarFest. Referring to SolarFest’s efforts to create awareness and change I said complacently that we were changing the world, one person at a time.

    He looked me in the eye and said, “That’s not good enough. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the luxury of one person at a time.” I thought he was exaggerating.

    Rewind a little further to a talk by Robert Kennedy, Jr., at Green Mountain College. Someone asked him about the importance of household recycling. He shrugged, saying in essence, “Do it if it makes you feel better. But it doesn’t matter, because it isn’t enough. The war is being fought in Washington, D.C., in the areas of policy and regulation. Make no mistake about it, it is a war — and we are losing.”

    Kennedy’s call to arms was alarming and inspiring. But wait a minute! Policy and regulation? That is so boring. And inconvenient. So we are losing the war.

    I am adding up these images, these memories and this information. I add them up, and I do not like this equation. I try different forms of the equation: factual, political, economic, emotional, social. But this equation invariably ends in disaster — even more disastrous for my children than for me.

    But when you introduce variables into equations the results change. There are endless variables. Some are very frightening, like the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that allows rich people to buy and sell our elected representatives. This makes for a scary calculation when money is no longer a means to an end but becomes speech itself. The rich can drown out the rest of the world, and the poor have no voice at all.

    The game may be rigged, but the equation is not set in stone. There are other variables.  

    The variables are us. We are the unknown factors. We — all of us, some of us or maybe just a few of us — are the variables that rewrite the equation. We are the weapons that change the balance of the war. We are the ideas whose time has come. We are the ingredients that catalyze change so that it happens — not one person at a time, but globally and arithmetically, making us bigger, stronger and smarter than the dollars.

    We have tools like the Internet that we are just beginning to grasp. We have the ability to organize as never before. We have biotechnology that seemed preposterous only a decade ago.

    So maybe, despite the grim equation, despite the inertia of human nature and despite my ignorance of just what the variables will be, I do dare to hope. I too have a dream: a dream of rewriting the equation, of a new solution in which we are bigger than the sum of our parts, where we will be more than enough.

    Robin Chesnut-Tangerman is an educator and green builder specializing in renovations and innovations. He can be reached at talisman@vermontel.net.
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