Tuesday, 30 Jul 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

Last night, while hanging around with my coworkers (literally “hanging around” — we were at an action-climb training session), I was impressed all over again by how much all of us try to fulfill our vision of a sustainable lifestyle. Not only do we try individually, we try collectively; the entire Greenpeace office is committed to practicing what we preach (thanks in large part to our office manager, Krikor, who is by far the most dedicated sustainability activist I know in the city).

For example: At the office today, a solar contractor gave us an estimate for a new solar thermal system. Mateo, our West Coast action coordinator, and J.P., my partner in spurring the new clean energy economy, are obsessed with getting our new Protero Hill office solarized and using as few kilowatt-hours as possible. Before we put in a solar photovoltaic system, we want to make sure that we are using the absolute minimum amount of electricity; why make energy if you are just going to waste it? Conservation always comes first.

Mateo, man of a thousand trades, installed a meter on our hot water heater to gauge its use. No electron will go to waste. J.P, meanwhile, is in charge of tracking our greenhouse gas emissions and registering us under the California Climate Registry — a voluntary program set up by the state for businesses and government agencies to track and ultimately reduce emissions, with the hope that someday we will all be Kyoto-compliant or better.

Greenpeace activists fly a hot-air balloon with banners reading, “Clean Energy Now!” and “Stop Global Warming.”

Ben Fonnesbeck, Greenpeace.

There are a million and one people like us in the U.S. — people who are obsessed with saving energy. During the 2001 energy crisis, California Gov. Gray Davis (D) called on people to save energy (not to mention his reputation); in places like San Diego, where the crisis hit the hardest, Californians succeeded in reducing energy consumption by 10 to 15 percent. During that crisis, residents showed that they have the capacity to be green heroes.

And so, really, do all of us. There are loads of good people in the U.S. doing what they can to protect the climate, and one of Greenpeace’s goals is to support them in their work. As part of that mission, we are sending 10 youth activists from across the United States to South Africa this August for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The youth — clean, green heroes in their own communities — will hold the government accountable for not fulfilling the promises made at the first Earth Summit in 1992. They will pressure the official delegates to commit to concrete action, such as making renewable energy account for 10 percent of all energy use by 2010. Most important, they will prove to the rest of the world that although the White House refuses to commit to sustainability, U.S. youth care and are taking action at the local level to stop global warming. In doing so, they will hopefully inspire other youth to fight global warming in their schools and communities.

This afternoon, I helped the 10 youth activists get their local media outfits to cover the work they’ve done in their communities and the role they will play at the summit in Johannesburg. As far as I’m concerned, each one of these young activists deserves a front-page article in Time magazine. For example, Tricia, a student from Alabama, has engineered a methane digester using hog waste to help power her college. Nadia from Los Angeles has been working with communities of color and low-income communities to fight the relaxing of air pollution restrictions on power plants and get utilities to invest in clean energy. These are just two amazing heroes out of the 10. Their message is clear: Bush, don’t burn our future.

We are only four weeks away from the summit, and anxiety is setting in. A recent doomsday report by World Wildlife Fund predicts that by the time I am in my golden years, the Earth will be toast. In addition, Bush looks like he won’t attend the summit, and the delegates he is sending will hold the party line of non-commitment. What hope is there? Well, for starters, there is the hope embodied by these 10 youth. Despite the lack of national leadership and the challenges facing them, they are walking the talk in their own communities.