Melissa Everett's Professional Site

A sustainability maven explains what she actually does for a living…

Moving Planet/ Moving People Part 2

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Framing the Message

Once the messengers are ready and focused, (as discussed in the previous post)  what’s the message?   I propose two elements:

1. This place — our home, wherever we are — must be a model for clean energy economic development — not as a package of dry policies designed to go under the radar of most people’s caring, but as a set of opportunities to be vibrantly debated by citizens, discussed in schools and workplaces, and reflected in entrepreneurship in our communities.

2. The people of this place can and must guide the change, as citizens and entrepreneurs.  It’s not a change that can be driven by a cabal of investors and CEOs and policy people. They can guide, strategize, invest, problem-solve, and generally plant seeds. But the critical path forward happens when communities bring the change process home, when people not only wish for clean energy but buy it, with their household dollars, at work and through their local governments.

This brings us to one more aspect of pattern recognition, and that is the significance of  scale.  In a cheerful little book called God’s Last Offer, Ed Ayres tells a story about how people come to acknowledge wildly unknown, unimaginable things.  When the Europeans were colonizing the South Pacific, a huge ship approached a tiny island.  According to the captain’s journal, there were residents calmly fishing on shore and in canoes. They seemed to look at the ship but didn’t acknowledge it – didn’t wave, didn’t interrupt their work.  Then some of the Europeans got into smaller boats and started coming closer to the natives. As soon as the smaller boats appeared, the natives  started brandishing their fishing poles and fleeing.  The big ship didn’t compute the way the small boats did.

In dealing with energy and climate change, while important work is done and needed at the global, national, and multi-state level, there is a certain nimbleness and innovation that is occurring distinctively at the local level, because people can see options and take direct action. Cities, towns and villages are big enough to make a difference and small enough to engage with.  So in the days after September 24, what we do directly to influence change in the transportation, buildings, infrastructure and enterprises of our cities, towns and villages matters just as much as what we may direct our higher levels of government to do on our behalf.

There is much going on already, from local energy challenge campaigns to state climate action plans.  These are points of light, models to help us get  started.

The spark

To grow participation, I have hatched an idea that could be integrated into any state or regional or local 350 action…  a call to action and a pledge to respond: the  Business Leaders Energy Action Pledge.  It is an invitation to every company, large and small, to commit to sharp reductions in fossil fuel use for heating and cooling, electricity, transportation and their own processes. And there’s a second commitment:  to source the necessary products and services from local  companies whenever possible.  And a third dimension:  to involve your entire work force in generating ideas and opportunities.

Business is where we see changes in the uses of products and services.   Of course, we can interpret business loosely so that the universities and colleges, hospitals and arts organizations, can take part.  If this idea takes hold, we have a framework for reaching into the workplaces of most citizens, opening up a much broader conversation about energy action.

That conversation can’t just focus on signing a petition, voting for a candidate, or any other yes/ no choice.  It has to open up ongoing dialogue and involvement, so that the public is invested in making Connecticut number one in energy efficiency and excited about creating leaner, smarter lifestyles to be part of that picture.  It isn’t enough to capture people’s attention for a day.

Where attention links to impact is the psychology of peak performance.   Whether you’re looking at athletes or educators or entrepreneurs, those who sustain success find ways to engage people’s attention that are ongoing.  Peak performance comes when you are stretched just about to your max, but not so much that you are unable to regroup and regenerate.  Rather than dumbing down the public conversation, we have to amp it up with peak performance psychology.

One more Bill McKibben story.  Of all his books, my favorite is actually not about climate change, but about living with flair in the face of sadness.  Long Distance is Bill’s story of the year he took up cross-country ski racing, in his 40s, while his father, Gordon McKibben, was fading and finally dying.  Like many movement leaders, Bill doesn’t have the luxury of a smooth or easy life – he has the sensibility of using the challenges we face, as a catalyst for peak living and a reminder why we need to keep this planet livable for those we love.

If we can get this part right, September 24 won’t be an endpoint but a springboard for new energy in our economy and communities.


Written by melissaeverett

August 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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