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Make Political Activism the New Travel Soccer

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"Can you attend a rally this weekend?"   I ask.

"No, my kid's got travel soccer," is the frequent response.

For many today (including me til recently), canvassing and protesting are subordinate to kid activities.  

Life is busy and always will be. But the urgency of today's challenges mandate greater dedication to creating a just, sustainable society.   Having kids occasionally pack sandwiches for the hungry in church is no longer enough. We must teach them to stop the world from creating the homeless, poor and suffering.
Walking Around the White House on Nov, 18 at the "Do the Math" Protest by Veena Trehan

Political activism must become the new travel soccer.

Sure, children's sports contribute to their health and camaraderie. But those benefits -- and stimulation, the lessons of triumphs and failures, and the power of teamwork -- can also be found squarely in civic participation. Some parents and kids get it, like the Mom whose presence with her 6-year-old son at Bill McKibben's "Do the Math" Sunday event was another typical climate-related outing for the two, or the mother whose move to Occupy DC gave her young teenage daughter "the best possible education". But for many, saving the world comes second to scoring a goal.

A small redirection of resources could save our planet.

Travel soccer players put 8 hours to 14 hours a week, or 400 to 700 hours each year, into their sport. It would be great if they channeled all that time into political activism, but even devoting 1/10 of it would yield 40 hours annually.

Another popular kid activity is watching TV. Adolescents watch about 20 hours a week (or 1000 hours a year). Redirecting just 5 percent would result in 50 hours with high-achieving role models and cool parents and kids.  

Many kids get tutored for five hours a week (some of this of the don't-get-a -B-variety), or 250 hours a year. In 25 hours, they could learn more about civics, civic responsibility, the nation's history and social justice.

Let's look at the pressing issue of climate change. Sunday's "Do the Math" tour was organized by 350.org and featured speeches by Bill McKibben and other environmental leaders, then a march around the White House. Were local kids looking for meaningful engagement, 1 million alone (versus the 3,000 people there) could have been present, doubtlessly leading to the president denying the new Keystone XL permit.

And three basic facts McKibben highlighted that used trendy "real world" arithmetic might have led them to ask questions.

1. The primary accomplishment of 2009's Copenhagen Summit was agreement that planetary warming should be kept to less than two degrees. Coal and oil burning has raised temperatures almost one degree resulting in half the Arctic sea ice melting, ocean acidity rising by 30 percent, and America experiencing its warmest year, epic droughts, and a hurricane in New York.   We're believed to be on the path of 3 to 3.5 degrees. Four degrees, according to the World Bank's warning of last week, would lead to a "doomsday scenario".   Is it our responsibility to take civic action and how should be do this?

2. It is generally agreed by scientists that we can burn no more than 565 gigatons by midcentury to have a 80 percent probability of staying within the 2 degree threshold. We are increasing our carbon output by 3 percent a year and will hit this maximum in 16 years. When can we expect to hit it and will this work?

3. Coal and oil and gas companies have 2,795 gigatons of reserves, or five times what we can safely burn. These reserves are priced into their share price and used as collateral. Tar sands comprise half this carbon, and Exxon's reserves ALONE would take us 7 percent over the line. Bill McKibben framed it starkly, "Either Exxon will have to give in, or physics will have to give in." When has physics surrendered in the past?

Bonus: How does one get Americans to stop feeling guilty about energy use, as they are willing to use renewable sources, but live in a country where oil companies have discredited climate change and vilified renewable energy investments? How do we build a movement that fights a company that made more money last year than any company in the history of money?

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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.

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The time kids and parents spend reflects their pri... by Veena Trehan on Tuesday, Nov 20, 2012 at 11:55:59 AM
I love, love, love this idea. I'd go so far a... by Rob Kall on Tuesday, Nov 20, 2012 at 11:56:44 AM
Planetary neglect, also. Thanks!... by Veena Trehan on Wednesday, Nov 21, 2012 at 10:20:52 AM