The Global Challenge That Requires Local Action

At times, the immensity of global-scale challenges, their seeming remoteness from everyday life, and the inaccessibility of the policy processes that address them make it hard for individuals to believe they can make a difference.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has noted that globalization is shrinking the world, linking events here with those far away.4 The great and legitimate fear of many is that the globalization process is homogenizing and hollowing out local economies, communities, and cultures. Yet today's technology is also empowering individuals to combine their forces in unprecedented ways and to link up with others seeking constructive change around the world. Web-based resources, outstanding organizations, and other levers make it possible today, as never before, for citizens to affect the outcome of global challenges. Positive local change can go global, spreading, seeking larger goals, and asserting itself until the world is changing.

The biggest threat to the environment is global climate disruption, and the greatest problem in that context is America's energy use and the policies that undergird it. So in terms of bottom-up, citizen-driven action, there is no riper target than the U.S. energy scene. Indeed, the energy-climate problem provides the best example available of how citizen initiative and local action are beginning to address a global-scale problem. We can imagine goals being set for renewable energy use and for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by businesses and universities, by communities and states and then by groups of states and national associations and organizations of many types, all supported by worried insurers and institutional investors, to the point that local actions are indeed going to change the world and, in the end, force national and international action. It is not a distant vision: it is a process that has already begun in the United States. We are not powerless to affect even the most remote and global challenges.

There is much to be done. As I reflect on the challenges ahead, I hope some of the grassroots networks that grew in the presidential campaign of 2004 will turn more of their attention to building awareness and action on climate. Religious organizations also have a big role here, as the National Religious Partnership for the Environment is already proving. The entertainment industry and the media also need to do more.

Educators and scientists can no longer content themselves with publishing and lecturing. (See www.focusthenation.org and chapter 11.) The scientific community has the credibility to take the climate issue to the public and to politicians. The various intellectual and policy communities—such as the foreign policy, consumer, and social policy communities—should come out of their silos (we're all in silos) and take up this cause.

With a cascading of many initiatives, we can build our movement. With a strong movement, we will not fail. Changing U.S. energy and climate policies has proven extremely difficult in the face of powerful industry opposition, which is why a powerful popular movement for change is so essential.

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