LIKE MOST PROGRESSIVES OF MY generation, I grew up under the mythic shadow of the civil rights movement. My version? In 1954, my NewYork City-raised parents left graduate school at Cornell, packed their old green Ford, and headed south, to the Cumberland plateau and the town of Sewanee, Tennessee, population fifteen hundred. As they climbed the two-lane road to the top of the mountain, they came to a viewpoint, or, actually, two adjacent viewpoints, each providing a sweeping vista across the deep, shaggy coves spreading down to the flat farmlands in the valley below. A sign at the first viewpoint said "White View." The sign at the other said "Colored View." My dad had been offered a job teaching at a college that, although small, bore a grandiose name and tradition: The University of the South.
Ten miles down the road from Sewanee was a place called the Highlander Folk School. Founded in 1932 by Miles Horton, a southern labor organizer who had studied with Reinhold Niehbur at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, Highlander's original mission was to educate "rural and industrial leaders for a new social order." The school quickly became a major organizing center for the labor and later the civil rights movements, providing training, sharing information, and developing networks. During the late 1950s, virtually every major civil rights activist, from Rosa Parks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., attended Highlander workshops.
Civil rights was in the air as my parents, with three other white families and four black families, brought suit to integrate our local public schools. My mother, along with the local NAACP chapter president, sat down for coffee at the town restaurant and broke the color bar there. The State of Tennessee brought trumped-up charges against Highlander; my father testified at the county courthouse in its defense. The school was shut down, forced to relocate to east Tennessee. Pete Seeger slept in our family room while on tour. My parents listened to records by Joan Baez and Miriam Makeeba. We sang We Shall Overcome. And the signs came down. The South changed.
Here is the lesson I took from it all. In the United States, political change happens in this way: people adopt a moral cause (abolition, women's suffrage, labor rights, civil rights, antiwar, environmental, antinuclear) and build a movement to educate the public. They demonstrate in courageous ways the depth of their conviction. They build a tide of moral sentiment that eventually converts even the existing political establishment. Then the movement's demands are codified in national legislation.
Fast forward to1999. With my kids growing older and my career established, I decided to apply the political lessons I had learned to the central challenge of our time: global warming. Human-induced climate destabilization, if unchecked, will kill and impoverish more people, destroy more natural ecosystems, and drive more animals, plants, and creatures into extinction than has any other industrial pollutant in human history. I believed that deep concern for the well-being of our children, grandchildren and the other species of the earth could form the heart of a new and powerful grassroots movement demanding an end to the fossil fuel era and a future of clean energy.
Some wonderful colleagues and I founded a nonprofit organization called the Green House Network. The core idea was to multiply leadership supporting the clean-energy revolution that we need to stop global warming, to be the Highlander of a burgeoning grassroots citizen's movement. As the school did during the labor and civil rights movements, we have brought together citizen activists and educators and provided information, networking, tools, and organizing models. These leaders return home to engage in action and education—giving talks, organizing conferences, holding media events, meeting with political and opinion leaders—all helping to stop global warming.
Since 1999, in partnership with many regional organizations—Clean Air-Cool Planet in New England, Massachusetts Climate Action Network, Blue Water Network and Redefining Progress in California, Grand Canyon Trust in the Southwest, Environmental Law and Policy Center in the Midwest, and Climate Solutions in the Pacific Northwest, among others—the Green House Network has held sixteen intensive weekend training workshops. Through this series of workshops—in Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Arizona, and Wisconsin—a network of hundreds of volunteer climate change activists has been established. Collectively, Green House Network speakers—ranging from engineers to artists, from students to nurses to college professors—have now talked directly to tens of thousands of people about the need for urgent action to reduce global warming pollution. Many have done much more: Green House Network grads have gone on to found regional climate groups, work with cities and corporations on emission reduction campaigns, write newspaper editorials, lobby their legislators, organize media events, bring Green House Network training to new parts of the country, and even run for office as clean-energy candidates.
In February 2006, the Green House Network launched an ambitious national educational initiative called Focus the Nation: Global Warming Solutions for America. This project is being led by coordinating teams of faculty, students, and staff at what will be more than a thousand colleges, universities, high schools, and other educational institutions in the United States. Beyond this base, Focus the Nation is also involving religious, civic, and business organizations. Focus the Nation will culminate on January 31, 2008, in the form of one-day, national symposia held simultaneously on campuses and other venues across the country. Because the event will occur early in the political primary season, it will provide an opportunity to engage political candidates from across the country and at all levels of government in nonpartisan, campus-based discussions of climate solutions. The goal is for Focus the Nation to become a catalyzing event that shifts the national conversation about global warming from a paralyzing fatalism to determination to face the challenge of our generation.
In late fall of 2006, my colleague Chungin Chung and I began to spread the word about Focus the Nation, and the reception as we traveled across the country—from Columbia University to Central Florida to Boise State
University and many points in between—has been amazing. Already more than four hundred institutions—elementary schools, community colleges, research universities—have planted green flags on the Google Earth map on our website (www.focusthenation.org). It looks like Focus the Nation has hit the country at just the right time. Until the one-day national symposium, Focus the Nation will provide a place for the growing national concern about global warming, and growing public excitement about clean energy solutions, to coalesce into a unified national voice for action.
If you are reading this chapter before January 2008, you have, we hope, already heard all about Focus the Nation. Perhaps you are, or soon will be, deeply involved in organizing your own Focus the Nation event, at your school, place of worship, in your civic organization or business.
If you are reading this chapter after that, you are, we hope, part of a new politics: a bipartisan politics, reminiscent of America's Progressive Era, that is electing and holding accountable a new generation of political leaders committed to a clean-energy future. This chapter is about the genesis and mission of Focus the Nation and how this project can help build the new climate movement. In this context, perhaps you can reflect back on chapter 3 in this volume and ask yourself, How can I act as a citizen, a rebel, a social change agent, or a reformer?
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Global warming is a huge problem which will significantly affect every country in the world. Many people all over the world are trying to do whatever they can to help combat the effects of global warming. One of the ways that people can fight global warming is to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources like oil and petroleum based products.