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Bill McKibben: Creating the World's Biggest Grassroots Movement

Circle Nov. 3, 2007, on your calendar: It's the next big date in the fight to get America to finally do something about climate change.
 
 
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Movements need to keep on moving; once the rock starts to budge you've got to push even harder on the pry bar. It's time to Step It Up once more.

Circle Nov. 3, 2007, on your calendar -- it's the next big date in the fight to get America to finally do something about climate change. We're calling it Step It Up 2: Who's A Leader? With your help, by the time night falls on that Saturday -- almost exactly a year before election day -- we should have a better sense of who will finally muster the political will for meaningful action about the biggest threat we face.

Step It Up 1 happened on April 14 and was the first open-source political protest in U.S. history. People in 1,400 cities and towns in all 50 states staged rallies to demand strong climate action. For those actions, we concentrated on American geography: people picked places (the coral reefs off Key West, the tide lines in a dozen coastal cities, the dwindling glaciers on western mountains) that showed what was at stake from global warming.

This time we're focusing on American history instead. People are planning rallies at sites that commemorate great American leaders of the past -- not saints, necessarily, but people who rose to the occasion and actually dealt with the great questions of their day. Some are world-famous: we've already heard from people organizing events at the site of the Lincoln-Douglas debates over slavery, on top of New Hampshire's Mount Washington, and even at the church where John F. Kennedy was married. Other leaders are known in their communities: there'll be an event in Navajo country, for instance, honoring elder Roberta Blackgoat, who helped lead the fight against coal development on tribal land. With any luck, these will be occasions to remind ourselves what leadership is all about -- and also to have some fun. (In a country with tens of thousands of people who regularly dress up to reenact the great battles of American history, the possibilities should be endless.) Creativity is what we need, and fast.

There's no "group" organizing these protests -- just a few recent college graduates working from a storefront office in Manchester, N.H., to coordinate the actions of volunteers across America. They'll be making sure all of the presidential candidates know about the events, of course, but they'll also be helping local organizers invite senators, congressfolk, and candidates to their rallies. When they get there, organizers will present them with the platform drawn up over the summer by One Sky, a new coalition of climate campaigners from around the country. It calls for a long-term goal of at least 80 percent reductions in carbon emissions by 2050, an immediate moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, and a strong green-jobs program to install all the solar panels and insulation we could ever use.

We'll make it easy for local organizers to take up this cause, even if they've never staged a rally before. It needn't be big and it needn't be slick; homemade is best, in fact. And we can connect you with all kinds of people in your community who want to take action and just don't know quite where to begin. Once they've assembled, we'll use the web to link these rallies together into something larger than the sum of their parts -- to show our politicians that this is no longer a second-tier issue, but something they simply have to address.

When we tried this in April, we found out just how eager Americans really were to start this movement going. In 11 weeks, they created the biggest day of mass environmental protest since Earth Day in 1970. And it worked. In the months since, every Democratic candidate for president has embraced the 80 percent by 2050 goal, and Congress has passed tougher energy legislation than many would have predicted. But the movement isn't strong enough yet to finish the job: President Bush is almost certain to veto any strong new law, and Congress couldn't quite bring itself to ask Detroit to increase gas mileage. And the leading Republican candidates for president have mostly ignored the issue.

That's not all that's changed since April, of course. We've seen the hottest July in history across a large swath of America, seen record flooding in the United Kingdom and Asia -- and seen powerful new science detailing both the threat of global warming and the possibilities for dealing with it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in late spring that new technologies mean it is both possible and affordable to transform our energy economy in rapid order. What we lack is political will -- what we lack is the kind of movement that inspires leadership.

But that kind of energy is a renewable resource. Join us!

Bill McKibben is the author of 10 books, most recently Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

 
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