Igniting Action for a New Movement

Jonathan Isham Jr. Sissel Waage

Could the next grassroots revolution in America be over climate change?

Economist, March 18, 2004

We need a grassroots movement.

Thomas Friedman, New York Times, February 13, 2005

"CAN WE REALLY WIN THIS FIGHT against global warming?"

We often hear that question from college students, business leaders, and civic groups as we go around the United States spreading the word about climate change solutions. If you've seen An Inconvenient Truth or had an eye on popular magazines lately—remember that Time magazine cover story that told us all "Be Worried. Be Very Worried"?—you too may be asking yourself, Can we really do something about global warming? Can we really shed our fossil-fuel dependence for a clean-energy future?

Our answer—and the resounding message of this book—is,Yes, we can.

We can do it if we engage neighbors in our coffee shops, our church and synagogue and mosque basements, and our chamber of commerce meetings, making a mutual pledge to protect places and people we cherish. We can do it if we then reach out to like-minded allies, building tough-minded coalitions of civic, religious, and business leaders who want to do the right thing. We can do it if we forcefully demand that our elected officials become champions of visionary legislation that will promote rapid investments, in the United States and around the world, in a clean-energy future. Above all, we can do it if we begin to "build the world anew" around the things that matter: our families, our communities, and our shared stewardship of this earth.

Winning this fight will be an immense challenge. To stop the accelerating growth of greenhouse gas emissions, to reduce those emissions to a small fraction of their current levels over a mere generation, will require unprecedented social and economic transformation. To succeed, a sustained movement of engaged citizens to lead the fight will be needed. Quoting Ignition coauthor Gus Speth (chapter 2), we need a groundswell.

As we document throughout this book, such a groundswell is growing. If you decide to get involved, you will be joining a diverse band of engaged activists: Republicans and Democrats; leaders of businesses, environmental groups, state agencies, places of worship, parent-teacher associations, Native American tribes, colleges, universities, and business schools; and rural grandparents, urban parents, and schoolchildren everywhere. Some see global warming as a form of intergenerational injustice or as a religious affront, some see it as a significant business risk, some are acting to ensure a hopeful future for their children and the landscapes they love. All understand the gravity of the crisis and are committed to doing their part to bring about change.

As this groundswell builds, it will face challenges unlike past efforts to change society. Leaders of past social movements—the civil rights movement immediately comes to mind—could rally the nation by pointing to a clear villain and sympathetic victims. Leaders of today's climate movement have a tougher sell: they must convince fellow citizens that global warming—where each of us is at once victim and oppressor, where the greatest damages will be to those not yet born—is nevertheless worthy of national resolve.

So yes, it will be hard work.

Ignition is designed to help. Here are assembled the voices of top scholars and inspiring young leaders, including academics who have studied social movements and politics for decades and new civic leaders who are developing tactics for today's climate action. This book is neither a cookbook nor a handbook of, say, "Fifty Ways to Save the Planet." Rather, think of it as an ongoing workshop, a gathering of like-minded citizens who are sharing their personal experiences and learning from one another. In the pages that follow, they present insights and strategies designed to build an even larger, even more diverse community of activists. Each chapter of this book is focused on ideas and actions that can tip the balance towards a clean-energy future, and together these chapters provide a comprehensive view of what is being tested and what has worked.

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