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The Write Stuff

Two of America's leading environmental writers join the protest movement against climate change.
 
 
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Bill McKibben, an AlterNet guest columnist, is spearheading the Step It Up 2007 campaign. A scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, McKibben's newest book is the forthcoming Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. His column is reprinted by permission from Grist. For more environmental news and humor sign up for Grist's free email service.

The writer who changed my life the most is Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer and essayist. I read him at an impressionable age, and most of what I've done since has been, in some sense, a result. So it was a great pleasure this week to get to thank him in person, to tell him about Step It Up, and to reflect on the nature of heroes.

I was in Louisville to do an evening program with Berry, part of the launch of a new book of mine. It was scheduled long before we dreamed up these protests, but like the rest of the stops on my book tour, it basically turned into an organizing opportunity.

Berry, of course, is the master of the local -- of the idea that we need to pay attention to our towns, our farms, our neighbors. It was good to see that the idea of Step It Up -- Americans taking action in their own home places -- appealed to him: he gave us a big plug on Kentucky Educational Television.

And it was just as much fun to meet all the folks organizing Step It Up Louisville, which will feature a parade from the Federal Building. The town has a new progressive Congress member, Jim Yarmuth, who could be a real ally; after April 14, he'll know just how much the people in his town care.

A few days later, another of my chief heroes, Terry Tempest Williams, was in our neck of the woods. She spoke at Middlebury College, and introduced all of our Step It Up student activists to the huge crowd that gathered for her inspired lecture.

She also told us about the event her graduate students at the University of Utah are organizing for April 14 -- they'll be gathering the waters from the rivers in each of the canyons around Salt Lake, and mixing them together in a ceremony designed to remind us how much that water means to the arid west, and how threatened it is by global warming.

Meanwhile, her husband Brooke, who runs the Murie Center in Jackson Hole, is helping to organize a Wyoming extravaganza: skiers climbing two days to a remote peak atop a dwindling glacier, doing a cybercast to a rally back in town, and then descending on skis.

Here's what we've found in the last nine weeks: There are incredible heroes all across this country who have simply taken the reins in their town or city and organized actions big and small. I wish I had room to list them all -- but on April 14 you'll see many of their faces, as we webcast the images from every protest rally across America.

And every one of those organizers is reaching new people with impressionable minds -- minds as open as mine was when I first read Wendell Berry, when I first stumbled across Terry Tempest Williams' magnificent words. April 14, I think, will be paying dividends for decades to come.

Bill McKibben is the author of "The End of Nature" and "Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age."