Last weekend, me and my fellow Ecosans headed out to UNLV to attend the organizing conference for Focus the Nation. Timed to occur just before the presidential primaries, FTN will be a day of coordnated awareness-raising and political action on campuses, churches, and community centers across the nation, with the hope that it will help climate change become the main issue of the ’08 race. Last week’s conference was put on by Focus the Nation founder Eban Goodstein, and consisted of a series of workshops and presentations to help local organizers prepare for the event.
Goodstein opened with the obligatory science bit (ppt), which continues to surprise me with new information every time someone gives the talk. I hadn’t known, for example, that the past 10,000 years have been unusually warm and stable in temperature, meaning that the entire history of civilization has been blessed with a balmy spell that’s about to turn into a human-caused heatwave.
After being educated on what’s at stake, we split into a series of breakout sessions to brainstorm strategies for the January event. They yielded some great ideas on how to bring awareness of global warming into the mainstream, from tying the issue to heartland values of freedom and Christian stewardship to leveraging the growing corporate interest in sustainability to change consumer attitudes.
Adding to the gravity of the conference was its location: Las Vegas, the epicenter of the indulgent American lifestyle. A few hours on the strip was enough to convince me that there’s next to nothing that can be done to make this place sustainable – not even the massive, LEED Silver MGM City Center currently under construction. Cities like Vegas and Phoenix would be facing serious water shortages in the next few decades regardless of growth or global warming; add to that a doubled population and projected dustbowl conditions, and you’ve got the recipe for disaster.
The conference ended with a sendoff from Oberlin’s David Orr, a superstar in the field of sustainability education. Talking at the pace of a New Yorker on speed, Orr intelligently spoke out against the mass denial that prevents us from dealing with the unfathomable events ahead. He exhorted the audience that we don’t have time for lime green solutions like clean coal and nuclear power – instead, we must “solve for pattern” and attack the root of the problem. During the Q&A, I asked him if he thought a capitalist society could ever be sustainable. He said he didn’t know.
Despite the profoundly scary stuff being discussed, the conference was hardly all doom and gloom. In fact, there was a palpable sense of excitement present amongst the participants and presenters. Focus the Nation’s goal is nothing short of sparking a massive social movement, and after seeing the energy and creativity of the attendees, it seems like it just might happen. I’m no activist; I’d rather spend an hour resizing jpegs than writing my congressman. But Eban, Orr, and the others there made it clear that there’s no time to lose: either we start spurring massive change in the next two years, or we risk the very real possibility of a Children Of Men future. Now’s the time to act – and Focus the Nation we shall.