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Greens Gone Wild

Environmentalist students gather to change the system.

12:34 PM, Apr 29, 2011 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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“A new study came out at the end of last year”—more fidgeting—“projecting what the consequences of these historic droughts are going to be in the decades ahead. Are we supposed to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that this is not real? You know, the fact that this global warming pollution, principally CO2, traps the heat, that’s not some theory, that’s physics! You can’t negotiate with the laws of physics.”

Perhaps sensing that he was losing his smart-phone using, perpetually distracted audience, Gore shifted the subject to the millennial generation’s favorite subject. “It takes courage, and it takes leadership, and it’s up to you to give that message to our leaders,” Gore said. Raucous applause greeted this change of pace. Hey, the audience seemed to realize, he’s talking about us now! “And you have been doing so, and I commend you for doing that.”

Gore concluded with what marketing types term a “call to action.” “Some of you know the old African proverb that if you want to go quickly, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together,” he said. “We’ve got to go far quickly, which means we’ve got to get our act together, so let’s start it right here!” And the crowd went wild.

Some, however, were less than inspired. Peter Hoy and Molly Costello, both from Chicago, thought Gore was a squish.

“Al Gore’s not climate justice,” said Costello. “He’s still agreeing with the system of capitalism, which is the source of all of our woes in the first place. We’re saying that because he’s supporting capitalism, he’s not truly supporting climate justice.”

Hoy agreed, saying that gimmicks like carbon exchanges are just contributing to the problem. “These exchanges have shown so far that they’re not able to reduce emissions at an adequate level,” Hoy said. “It’s basically, what is the goal? Is the goal to make money, or is the goal to reduce carbon?” So, if not a capitalistic solution to climate change, then what? Cutching his cell phone, Hoy said, “I’d like to see a local economy where people are exchanging on a neighborhood level or a city level.”

Other students weren’t satisfied with the direction of the discussions during the Power Shift workshops. After a disappointingly lifeless session called “Sex and Sustainability” (half of the hundred or so students packed in the room fell asleep), Sean Dubois told me that the environmental movement’s focus on birth control access in third world countries was misdirected.

“The way I look at it, we’ve reached a certain point in society where the concentration should be toward education, enlightening ourselves as species,” said Dubois, a philosophy major at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. “I think about us transcending the planet. We’re so busy thinking about what we can do for the planet while we’re here. And I think about us and the fact that we have space travel and we’re working our way toward that.” He didn't say whether he thinks humans should leave Earth entirely.

“I think about us just being the first-born child of the Mother Earth,” Dubois clarified, “but at some point we need to quit using her up like you would mistreat your mom and eventually, well, she doesn’t want to have any more kids, she’s all worn out and used up. So, the idea is that we learn to become adults, you know, take accountability and responsibility for ourselves and leave home.”

“You know, I’m not trying to get into aliens and all the other stuff,” Dubois continued, “but I kind of see ourselves, when you look at ourselves and kind of how reckless we are as a species all over, we haven’t figured things out, that if there is other life out there that has transcended, maybe that’s what they’re waiting for us to do.”

But before the species takes its leave of Earth, we still have some issues to resolve here. That was the purpose of “Next Steps for White Allies,” a session moderated by Jennifer Langer Smith of Interfaith Youth for Climate Justice. Student leaders of environmental groups, Langer Smith noted, are “very white.” How can very white environmentalists be more inclusive of “people of color?” she asked.

“Inclusiveness” was the theme of the hour. When one student began speaking from the front of the room, another in the back interrupted him. “Just to be inclusive of everybody’s hearing and everything else, can you use the microphone?” she asked, quite seriously.

But no matter how inclusive the workshop was, there were still some pretty strict ground rules for our discussion, like “step outside your comfort zone,” “speak from personal experience,” and “practice self-care,” a concept which was circularly explained as “doing whatever you have to do to take care of yourself.”

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