Nationwide 'teach-in' planned to address climate change
Piles of coal, battling windmills, and political leaders descend on college campuses.
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For Paul Weihe, a biology professor at Central College in Pella, Iowa, the scope of the event is unprecedented in his 10 years there. "People understand that this is the issue of our time," he says. His campus is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, and the keynote speaker there will be Cal DeWitt, a minister and scientist who founded the Evangelical Environmental Network. "We've got so many different people from different backgrounds [participating]. In the past, this would be something the science geeks were into," Mr. Weihe says.Skip to next paragraph
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Alexander Wait, who teaches biology at Missouri State University in Springfield, will be heading to some local hangouts to help "break through the apathy." He'll give a talk at local bars during the "Save the Ales" pub crawl. With breweries facing a hops shortage, he says, "if you care about beer, you should care about climate change."
On the edge of Lake Champlain, the University of Vermont is hosting a week of events, which organizers hope will be just the start of continued action. They expect crowds at the Sustainable Burlington Design Charrette, a structured brainstorming session on ways the city can improve everything from transportation to energy usage. Local officials will be on hand to hear ideas, which will be archived for use by the mayor's recently created environmental council.
"It seems like climate change can just be overwhelming, [but these activities] show that we can actually do things personally and collectively to fight it," says Valerie Esposito, a PhD student and organizer at UVM. In April, the winner of a student sustainable-design contest will receive $3,000 to implement his or her idea on campus.
Timing Focus the Nation during the presidential primaries was deliberate, to encourage voters to press candidates on global warming. The related "Green Democracy" forums are designed to be nonpartisan, featuring groups and speakers of all political stripes, including governors and members of the US Congress.
There's much that adults can do to set the stage now, by investing in the creation of green technologies, Goodstein says, but only today's young people "have the moral authority to speak for the future.... So it's really important to engage [them] directly in dialogue with political leaders."
Outreach to established political leaders is one way in which these events differs from the Vietnam era teach-ins, Professor Mitchell says. Those were offered as the "more palatable carrots" paired with the "sticks" of sit-ins. But such pressure "is missing from this [Focus the Nation] exercise," he says. "People are not saying, we have to divest the university from stocks in Exxon, [for example].... It's all about 'Let's contact our congressional representatives.' It's very reformist, and in that sense it's a very sharp contrast with the message of the teach-ins from the Vietnam War era, that the establishment is corrupt.' "
Goodstein sees a different parallel: people feeling empowered to make change. Between 1960 and 1964, the American mood shifted from accepting segregation – even if most thought it was morally wrong – to a determination to end it, he says. By the same token, "The ultimate purpose of Focus the Nation ... is to move America by 2009 to the point where we say, 'Of course we can stop global warming. Of course we must.' "