Ready, Ames, Fire

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.

In the first couple of weeks of Step It Up organizing, our map looked a little unbalanced -- lots and lots of actions on the coasts, fewer in between. As we near 700 scheduled rallies, however, that's changing fast -- and on the ground in Ames, Iowa, last night, I got a sense of why.

This is a college town -- Iowa State University is here -- and when organizer Julia Olmstead stood up to give her spiel for a local Step It Up rally, a couple of hundred people signed up on the spot. Iowa is political country, of course -- the presidential candidates for 2008 are already barnstorming through the state. (Didn't we just have an election?) But people here have felt as baffled as most of us around the country about how to make a difference in Washington, D.C.

The politicians who come here pitch the issues relentlessly toward people's supposed self-interest. All come and promise more support for turning corn into ethanol, a process that unfortunately doesn't do much, if anything, for reducing carbon emissions. (And one SUV tankful of corn could feed a person for a year.)

Many Iowans have begun to suspect it's a bit of a scam -- and anyway, they know that their real interest in the long run is served by politicians who will do the right thing for everyone, reducing carbon emissions so it will still be possible to grow corn here a few decades hence.

They've begun to rally around Step It Up as one way to get their congressional delegation on board with real cuts that will matter in real time. It's fun to share their energy -- and the organic pork and Amish-raised chicken at the Methodist Church potluck supper and square dance before last night's event.

And it was fun, too, to ski down Onion Creek in the city's suburbs, flushing deer and enjoying the lengthening days of spring. In fact, across much of the country the weather has turned beautifully wintry in the past week. I left Vermont reluctantly -- we just had the best snowfall in many years, three feet of lovely powder in the woods. After the anxiety-producing heat wave that lasted till mid-January, it's almost as if we're being rewarded for our efforts to actually do something about global warming.

If only it were that easy. But it's worth remembering, even in the heat of organizing, to pay attention to just how lovely the world we're working for really is. Paying witness is one of the jobs our generations have inherited -- the world is as intact and complete right now as it's going to be for a long time to come!

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