Earth Day confronted by a warming earth
Three locals assess where we are today
The movement to convince the world that global warming is a genuine threat made tremendous progress over the past year.
But so has global warming.
That is the reality that confronts the celebration of Earth Day on Tuesday, April 22. An estimated 1 billion people all over world will be taking part in some kind of Earth Day activity, but there will be one overriding issue: How to keep temperatures from rising those all-important few degrees.
Lake Oswego has become a bulwark in the movement to prevent global warming, with a city government that is highly sustainability oriented and many groups and citizens committed to the good fight against a too-hot earth.
Three of the most outstanding are Eban Goodstein of Lewis and Clark College, founder of Focus the Nation; Duke Castle, one of the founders of Oregon Natural Step, an organization that has been greatly successful in encouraging businesses to adopt sustainable practices; and Jean Baumann, a 'soldier' in Al Gore's Climate Project and an outstanding example of what one committed person can accomplish in an epic cause.
With Earth Day fast approaching, they were asked to comment on the status of global warming. And while all three are genuinely optimistic that measures can be accomplished before the sands in the hourglass run out, they are also realistic about the fact that global warming is proceeding at an even faster pace than predicted by scientists.
Getting the ear of
Goodstein had every reason to feel gratified when Focus the Nation was held Jan. 31. The turnout across the country, especially in the Portland area, showed that the work over the past year by Goodstein and the other event organizers had not been in vain.
'It was such a success that it has really amped up our expectations for 2009,' Goodstein said. 'We had really good media coverage, we had young people directly engaging with politicians. We contacted 75 congressmen, senators and governors. Now our goal is to get half of Congress, the Senate and governors into dialogues.'
Certainly, Earth Day will be a big day for Goodstein and Focus the Nation. They are publicizing several events, including the plan to make one million phone calls to members of Congress.'
Yet if Goodstein is optimistic, no success could come too fast to meet the challenge of global warming, as proven by some recent events.
'The biggest development over the last six months is that scientists say that the Arctic will be ice free within a decade,' he said. 'The previous estimate was 30 to 40 years.
'But that won't raise the sea level. What will significantly raise the sea level is the possibility of Greenland and Antarctica becoming ice free in the coming years.'
Still, the increasing number of people recognizing this danger makes Goodstein optimistic.
'If we act aggressively over the next couple years, we can hold the warming to 3 or 4 degrees Fahrenheit and forestall catastrophic results. Presidential candidates of both parties have been candid about wanting to cut emissions.
'The big question is whether we can develop real champions and leaders in the House and Senate. That will determine whether we really tackle this issue.'
More than global warming
Oregon Natural Step has always operated on the philosophy that everyone will eventually come around when it comes to combating global warming. Castle is happy to see that this is exactly what is now happening.
'We have seen a dramatic shift in thinking around climate change,' Castle said. 'This discussion has shifted from wondering if global warming is real to an acknowledgement that not only is it real but that climate changes are occurring much more rapidly than scientists expected. The discussion now is focusing on what can be done and how quickly we can do it.'
But, while the global warming issue is vitally important, Castle says it is only part of a much bigger picture.
'What is really important, though, is to understand that global warming is a symptom and that if we don't understand the interrelated nature of global warming with other sustainability issues we could think we are solving one issue while making another issue worse,' he said.
A perfect example of this, Castle says, is the emphasis on corn-base biofuels 'without understanding the negative effects that emphasis can have on our agricultural system and economy.'
A good soldier marches on
Baumann does 116 sustainability-oriented things. That fantastic fact is what gets people's attention more than anything else when she makes her presentations for Al Gore's Climate Project. A viewing of the Gore film An Inconvenient Truth was a life-changing event for Baumann, who then signed up for the original 1,000-person volunteer 'Army.'
The best measure of Baumann's commitment, though, is that she is still functioning as a member of the Gore Army even though her enlistment has run out.
'I'm still getting requests, so I still do presentations,' Baumann said. 'Now the Climate Project has training around the world and has nearly 2,000 members.'
In her year with the Gore crusade, Baumann said she was happy to see the 'sense of denial' about global warming fade away.
'It's very satisfying,' she said. 'Finally, that attitude has turned. Instead of denial, interest in global warming is going up. People have an appetite to learn more. And people like me are still so passionate, or even more so.'
Few people committed to the global warming issue have put their optimism to work as much as Baumann. Her commitment is passionate yet never strident, and she is ever eager to help people find any ways they can to be sustainable - 'I also learn a lot from others' - and turn around the global warming trend.
Still, she admits, 'I'm worried.'
'The IPPC (Intregrated Pollution Prevention and Control) has put out its fourth report, and greenhouse gas emissions are escalating,' Baumann said. 'Species are lost, temperatures are rising, there's agricultural impact, and disease is growing.'
But you can't keep a good optimist, or soldier, down.
'At the same time I'm hopeful,' Baumann said. 'What raises my hope is that I'm still being asked to make presentations, and the city of Lake Oswego is aggressively planning to be carbon neutral.
'It is easy to feel worried, hopeless and anxious about global warming. It is critical we move beyond that to hopefulness, resolve and action. That's why I keep hanging in there.'
Baumann may now be a soldier without portfolio, but she is still fighting the good fight. When last seen she was marching over to Lake Oswego City Hall so she could apply for a position on the new sustainability advisory board.
She was also planning to participate in four events on the week of Earth Day.