It's true that my hometown didn't find itself underwater this summer like certain cities in Pakistan, a country which experienced flooding of a kind unknown in its history, nor was mine, like Moscow, enveloped in a pall of choking smoke from out of control wildfires, thanks to a heat wave the likes of which hadn't previously been seen in Russia. In my city, there were no massive wildfires, no Xtreme hurricanes, and no unprecedented global warming-ish visual spectaculars like the calving off of a nearly 100-square mile iceberg in Greenland, four times the size of my town and the likes of which had not been seen in the Arctic for half a century. No, in New York City, it was merely, grindingly, ploddingly, the hottest summer (June through August) on record. Period.
Oh, and p.s.: just to put that in context, January through June 2010 represented the hottest six months on record for the planet, and barring a total surprise, 2010 will be the hottest year on record following the hottest decade on record.
And p.p.s.: check out this list of Republican climate-change deniers battling for Senate seats, all of whom are ready to take the pose of cartoon ostriches and many of whom may -- heads in the sand and butts up -- actually take their places in the next Senate. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute suggested that Xtreme weather events should be named for these guys (just as we now name hurricanes for generic human beings). The fact is, though, that such denial -- and so lack of action -- goes way beyond the official deniers which is why, I suspect, future generations will look back on much of the global leadership class as a criminal crew, not just for what they actively did in the world, including the requisite wars and other nightmares they were involved in, but for what they didn't do, for looking the other way when our planet was in real trouble. We're talking about the sorts of people who, on hearing the first cries of "fire" in a crowded movie theater, buy another bag of popcorn and search for a better seat.
Bill McKibben, the creator of 350.org as well as the author of the indispensable book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, is made of different stuff, as those who have read his regular dispatches at this site know. He's also the Energizer Bunny of climate change averters. He never seems to stop. Tom
My Road Trip With a Solar Rock Star
Or Notes on the Enthusiasm Gap
By Bill McKibben
I got to see the now-famous enthusiasm gap up close and personal last week, and it wasn't a pretty sight.
The backstory: I help run a global warming campaign called 350.org. In mid-summer, we decided to organize an effort to ask world leaders to put solar panels on the roofs of their residences. It was to be part of the lead-up to a gigantic Global Work Party on October 10th (10-10-10), and a way to give prime ministers and politburos something easy to do in the hope of getting the fight against global warming slowly back on track. One of those crucial leaders is, of course, Barack Obama, who stood by with his arms folded this summer while the Senate punted on climate-change legislation. We thought this might be a good way for him to signal that he was still committed to change, even though he hadn't managed to pass new laws.
And so we tracked down the solar panels that once had graced the White House roof, way back in the 1970s under Jimmy Carter. After Ronald Reagan took them down, they'd spent the last few decades on the cafeteria roof at Unity College in rural Maine. That college's president, Mitch Thomashow, immediately offered us a panel to take back to the White House. Better still, he encouraged three of his students to accompany the panel, not to mention allowing the college's sustainability coordinators to help manage the trip.
And so, on the day after Labor Day, we set off in a biodiesel college van. Solar road trip! Guitars, iPods, excellent snack food, and for company, the rock star of solar panels, all 6 x 3-feet and 140 pounds of her. We pulled into Boston that first night for a rally at Old South Church, where a raucous crowd lined up for the chance to sign the front of the panel, which quickly turned into a giant glass petition. The same thing the next night in New York, and then DC, with an evening at one of the city's oldest churches headlined by the Reverend Lennox Yearwood, head of the Hip-Hop Caucus.
It couldn't have been more fun. Wherever we could, we'd fire up the panel, pour a gallon of water in the top, point it toward the sun, and eight or nine minutes later you'd have steaming hot water coming out the bottom. Thirty-one years old and it worked like a charm -- a vexing reminder that we've known how to do this stuff for decades. We just haven't done it.
That's what we kept telling reporters as they turned out along the route: if the Obamas will put solar panels back on the White House roof, or on the lawn, or anywhere else where people can see them, it will help get the message across -- the same way that seed sales climbed 30% across the country in the year after Michelle planted her garden.
There was just one nagging concern as we headed south. We still hadn't heard anything conclusive from the White House. We'd asked them -- for two months -- if they'd accept the old panel as a historical relic returned home, and if they'd commit to installing new ones soon. We'd even found a company, Sungevity, that was eager to provide them free. Indeed, as word of our trip spread, other solar companies kept making the same offer. Still, the White House never really responded, not until Thursday evening around six p.m. when they suddenly agreed to a meeting at nine the next morning.
As you might imagine, we were waiting at the "Southwest Appointment Gate" at 8:45, and eventually someone from the Office of Public Engagement emerged to escort us inside the Executive Office Building. He seated us in what he called "the War Room," an ornate and massive chamber with a polished table in the middle.
Every window blind was closed. It was a mahogany cave in which we could just make out two environmental bureaucrats sitting at the far end of the table. I won't mention their names, on the theory that what followed wasn't really their idea, but orders they were following from someone else. Because what followed was" uncool.
First, they spent a lot of time bragging about all the things the federal government had accomplished environmentally, with special emphasis on the great work they were doing on other federal buildings. One of them returned on several occasions to the topic of a government building in downtown Portland, Oregon, that would soon be fitted with a "green curtain," by which I think she meant the "extensive vertical garden" on the 18-story Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building with its massive "vegetated fins," the single largest use of stimulus money in the entire state.
And actually, it's kind of great. Still, I doubt many people are going to build their own vegetated fins, and anyway I was beginning to despair that nothing could stop the flow of self-praise until one of the three seniors from Unity raised her hand and politely interrupted.
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