One Step Closer

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.

There are probably people with such overriding social confidence -- Martha Stewart, Donald Trump -- that they can plan a party without ever worrying whether or not people will want to come. I'm not like that.

When we tossed up our website for StepItUp2007 last Monday, we didn't know how people would respond to the invitation to put together a climate-change rally in their community for April 14. Seven days later, we have a pretty good idea.

It's been a remarkable and moving week. From the very start, the responses have been flowing in: I'll organize one on a bridge over the Charles River. I'll put together a march to the Hollywood sign. Here's my bookstore -- it's the perfect place to start a rally. Twin Cities. Tampa Bay. The Poconos. Utah. Alabama. Iowa. New Orleans. The Bronx River. Fort Collins. Reno. They've come in so fast and furious -- way over a hundred in the first five days -- that we're having to work hard to get them completely nailed down. Should we merge the five (so far) New York City rallies into one bigger one? We're working on it!

But we need many, many more people to step up and start planning actions in their neighborhoods -- I think April 14 will see many hundreds of rallies, from big cities to small suburbs. It's already clear that it's going to be by far the largest climate-change demonstration in American history -- and we've only been going a week.

What's amazing, too, is who's responding. The League of Women Voters of Cape Ann. The Sierra Club. Rev. Billy and the church of Stop Shopping. Real churches. The Natural Resources Defense Council. Some reef divers in Key West. Religious Witness for the Earth. Interfaith Power and Light. The Orion Grassroots Network is mobilizing its thousand member organizations. Everyone we've asked has said yes, from writer friends like Terry Tempest Williams and Brooke Williams (who are staging one of the more amazing actions, complete with skiers descending a dwindling glacier toward Jackson Hole) and Ross Gelbspan and Paul Hawken to veteran organizers like Kenny Ausubel of Bioneers.

Laurie David is sending out 600,000 emails to her virtual marchers. The National Wildlife Federation. The student climate movement, through Energy Action and on dozens of campuses. You name it. Many more will be profiled here, and on our website, in the weeks to come. It's just such fun to see the environmental movement, in all its many scales and across its many divisions, working together. You were mourning the death of environmentalism? Whistle a slightly happier tune.

The reason, I think, is clear. There's all kinds of pent-up energy -- people who have been obsessing about global warming for decades, or years, or the months since they saw An Inconvenient Truth. But it's been hard to know what to do about it, beyond the obvious things in your own home. Given an opening, people are pouring in. The education that leaders like Al Gore have been providing has sunk in, and the time for action has arrived. This will be just the first of what I'm sure will be many big escapades in the next few years.

And they will work, because they represent the latent worry and hope of most Americans, a force now rumbling loud enough that some politicians can register it on their exquisitely sensitive seismographs. Just last week, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced a revamp of their old and tepid do-very-little global-warming bill. The new one is not tough enough, but it's a far sight better -- two-thirds cuts in carbon by 2050. And Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) signed on the first day as a cosponsor. By now, most of the leading presidential candidates are on the record advocating somewhat realistic policies. Things are starting -- starting -- to come unstuck.

But the only real solvent is public involvement. If there are rallies on April 14 in most of the country's congressional districts, then by April 15 there will be more cosponsors for the best legislation, like the bill Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reintroduced into the Senate today. There will be more chance that obstructionists like Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) will feel the heat from colleagues and move bills out of committee. For 20 years this issue has been wedged immovably in Congress, and it will take a mighty shove from all of us to really get it moving again. ExxonMobil will be shoving back, of course, but we'll see who has more tigers in the tank.

Which is a long way of saying: Come to our party. Go to StepItUp2007 and register a rally for your community. It's not hard, and we'll even make it easier for you: You don't have to be "an organizer." You just have to be someone who's ready to take a stand.

Read Bill McKibben's previous columns in this series: column 1, column 2, column 3, column 4, column 5.

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