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Beyond Petitions | The Nation

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Beyond Petitions

It's 93 degrees outside my apartment window -- positively Nordic (it was 100 yesterday). This week, after years of resisting -- because of the expense, and the environmental impact -- my husband and I finally bought a living room air conditioner. It sure feels nice. But it's disturbing that because of global warming, we had to buy something that may contribute to... global warming.

Summer in New York City is always unbearable for at least a couple weeks, but this year is hell. Like all bad weather, this heat has hit some people much harder than others: a blackout left folks in Queens without power for almost two weeks, while the air conditioner from the H&M store near Penn Station wastefully cools the sidewalk, a seductive ploy to invite customers inside. Heat waves have always been a possible hazard of spending the summer in this city, so we don't know for sure what's causing this one, but no serious scientists dispute that global warming is taking place, and that we should make serious changes in our greenhouse gas emissions in order to ease up on this poor old planet and at least minimize the damage.

Last year, a friend (a longtime, deeply committed social justice activist) confessed that since he'd be dead before any serious fallout from global warming -- meaning, I suppose, before Manhattanites are up to our ankles in water -- he wasn't motivated to take any action on the issue. That's quite understandable, and I think a lot of people feel the same way.

Even some environmentalists aren't much help. I read in today's New York Times that people are objecting to a plan to use the water power of Manhattan's East River as a source of alternative energy because it might hurt the fish. I'm sorry, if I'm a fish in the East River, my life already sucks -- it's really, really polluted in there. Energy innovation is badly needed, and environmentalists, of all people, should be playing a more constructive role. It's like Teddy Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, and all those Cape Cod liberals mobilizing against the wind turbines -- fearing they would mar the view of the Bay. Honestly, being a populist right-wing talk show host and making fun of the liberal elite must be such easy money.

But over the past year, after Hurricane Katrina, and this apocalyptically hot summer, more people are feeling personally affected by climate change -- and wondering what they can do.

I was wondering myself, so I signed a petitionthe other day from the League of Conservation Voters. I'm sorry to report that I then got a follow-up email from them, a communication so foolish I'm embarrassed even to have it in my inbox. It exhorts me to send an email to Bush telling him to see Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." "Maybe he'd finally see the light!" the League gushes. Are they kidding?

Call me cynical, but sending an email to Bush telling him to see a movie made by his arch-rival in a bitterly contested election didn't seem very promising. Luckily, I do know some people who have better ideas. I'd recommend the great brains at EcoEquity, an amazing website, full of essays lucidly explaining the science of the problem, its social justice dimensions, and exploring real policy solutions (like emissions trading) in a serious, nuanced way. (Great view of debates within the climate justice movement, too.) Another acquaintance, Liz Galst, has a blogoffering practical solutions to global warming. I like the way she combines political action -- like telling Congress to support the Safe Climate Act-- with intriguing ways you can take more personal responsibility in daily life (her tips go far beyond the usual feel-goodery-- she even recommends, for drivers, an ecologically-conscious alternative to evil Triple-A). Finally, my friend Meg Daly, a writer and editor in San Francisco (where temperatures also reached the 90s this week -- and when does that ever happen?), has also started a blog on this subject, written in an accessibly intimate, personal tone, offering reflections, resources, and small actions. (Meg is going to be posting much more over the next few weeks, so stay tuned.) Given the scary subject, there's an admirable dearth of despair on these sites. I haven't, sadly, seen much visible, in-person collective action on climate change. But it's hard to imagine marching on Washington right now -- it's much too hot!

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