Just a Thought: April 26, 2017
Changing the climate of isolation
When author and activist Bill McKibben spoke at Edinboro University in 2014, he highlighted the work of 350.org, a global nonprofit he founded. The 350 signifies parts per million of carbon in the air at which the earth could continue to sustain stable life as we've known it.
Today, we're over 405 ppm, says NASA. And counting.
Incredibly, 350.org, now active in over 188 countries, was started by McKibben and a few Middlebury College students in Vermont. They wanted to build a global climate movement – epitomized by the People's Climate March on April 29, which they've helped to create.
That they have galvanized people from far-flung places like Burundi and Papua New Guinea to join in campaigns, and entities like Syracuse University and the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan to commit to fossil fuel divestment, is incredible – and proves Margaret Mead's well-known quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
What struck me most while listening to McKibben, during his enthusiastic presentation to a full theater, was his confession that he'd really rather not be playing this role. He'd prefer sitting in a quiet room, typing away, then sending his ideas into the world to do the work.
McKibben humbly classified himself as a typical writer: pretty introverted, solitude-loving – certainly not your usual "face of a movement."
But despite his inherent discomfort, everything he was witnessing compelled him to jump in, learn as he went, and trust others around him for support.
McKibben probably couldn't have ever imagined that those others would quickly comprise millions globally, ready to take to the streets whether dirt or paved; ready to represent the other side of the story: No, it's not okay that those who are poor, nonwhite, and "underdeveloped" are disproportionately subject to health-destroying pollution; No, it's not okay that fossil fuel magnates are in bed with political leaders (or are one and the same); No, it's not okay that renewable energy – which "creat[es] jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy," according to Fortune magazine this past January – is repeatedly suppressed.
And no, it's not okay that corporations who've polluted their surrounding communities can pay their way out of permanent, provable changes – as Erie Coke Corporation has been accused of doing with its release of carcinogenic benzene into Erie's air for decades.
On April 29, Erie's version of the People's Climate March will begin at the East Avenue boat ramp at 2 p.m., continue past Erie Coke, and end at Wayne Park on East Sixth Street with a rally of speakers and music until 4 p.m.
Incidentally, if you're feeling a little march weary by now, I'm with you. I'd really rather sit by the water, breathe deeply, and contemplate damselflies.
But those damsels – and all other sentient beings, including us – are in distress. Despite my love of alone time, this present climate crisis makes me feel lonely. Helpless. So, so tired.
And to paraphrase Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges speaking at Mercyhurst University in 2011: If you're at home, alone, posting on Facebook and signing online petitions – and never actually showing up – you're right where "they" want you.
So I'll be there, marching with you Erie area allies – you who'd also probably rather spend a Saturday afternoon relaxing in the soft loveliness of an Erie spring.
And we'll join our fellows globally who'd likewise rather spend the fleeting moments of their lives enjoying the wonder of their natural surroundings. All of us acknowledging that our efforts might not amount to much measurable change – or they might. All of us recognizing that regardless of the outcome, we'd rather show up and be seen, so that next time a sense of isolation creeps in, picturing each other can be a source of solace.
Katie Chriest can be contacted at katie@ErieReader.com.