I must confess that when the Sierra Magazine arrives each month I fear to open it because I know it will be filled with news about the latest environmental disaster and just get me all worked up. And, to be sure, this month’s magazine had the usual news about atmospheric CO2 levels in the Arctic reaching 400 parts per million, and the expected news about record high temperatures around the world and the depressing fact that a coal mining company in West Virginia is destroying the mountain tops along with the local economy. But there is good news as well.
First of all, we are told about Jessica Alba, the star of violent movies and also a beauty who graced the cover of Maxim twice, also has “launched the Honest Company (honest.com) which makes nontoxic, ecofriendly baby gear.” Jessica is interviewed in the magazine and shows herself to be quite knowledgeable about the uncontrolled spread of deadly chemicals in this country where only 5 of the 80,000 chemicals in this country have been banned, compared with 1,100 in Europe. She has testified before Congress to promote the Safe Chemicals Act.
Then there’s the very good news about the colleges and universities around the country that are taking steps to deal with the deterioration of the planet — ranked by Sierra Club and headed by U.C. Davis where “Lots of time and money go toward a well-rounded set of efforts, including being vigilant about using the school’s purchasing power for good, diverting around 70 percent of its trash from landfills, and offering transportation solutions: on any given day 20,000 bikes roam the campus.” The story also tells about Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford, and The University of Washington where remarkable things are being done by bright and concerned students and faculty to save the planet. The article goes on the detail 10 of the top schools and ranks another 90 in order of impressiveness in the eyes of the editors.
Of special interest is an article on “The Wizard of Oberlin” who “has a big plan for turning little Oberlin College (2,800 students) and the little town of Oberlin (population 8,300) into a model of how our species can live more harmoniously with the rest of nature.” The article spells out in some detail how this man of seemingly boundless energy, “a type A personality — possibly triple A.” is working with the college and the town to create “a laboratory for a new way of life.”
There are other articles of a positive nature as well, including one about Sanjit Roy, a man who has established the Barefoot College in Tilona, India which “has trained about 250 illiterate and semi-literate women from rural, unelectrified villages in 41 countries to be solar engineers. After six months of training, these women have provided more than 15,500 houses with solar electricity in their home countries. The government of India covers all expenses.” Roy focused on the poor in rural villages because “he got to thinking that the poor were strong enough and proud enough and good enough to raise themselves out of poverty” (a lesson for us all). He started with men, but they left their villages for higher paying jobs in the larger cities after their six months of training. So Roy concentrated on the women, wondering “why not invest in women, older women, mature women, gutsy women who have roots in the village?” It is a remarkable success story about how a person with energy and imagination can change the world for the better.
But most encouraging of all, in my view, was the editorial by Michael Brune who has spoken with politicians on both sides of the aisle and is convinced that there is near-unanimity in Washington that something simply must be done about climate change. As he says, he “keeps meeting people of every political stripe who share the values of justice and responsibility that are the heart of the [Sierra] Club’s work.” Both Republicans (who speak to him “off the record”) and Democrats agree that Congress must address the issue, and soon. “Mike [one prominent Republican said to him] we may not agree on much, but on climate change, there’s not really that much separating us.” As Brune notes, the Union of Concerned Scientists have already adopted “a national renewable-electricity standard that ensured that utilities obtained at least 25 percent of their power from wind, solar, and bioenergy by 2025,” insisting that this would “create 297,000 new jobs, $13.5 billion in income to rural landowners, and $15.3 billion in new local tax revenues.” The irony is that the political parties are so much at each other’s throats that they don’t know how to begin to work together to attain such a goal. Brune ends his editorial with a call for bipartisan cooperation that is not only sensible but absolutely necessary. Let’s hope the call is heard and does not fall on deaf ears. Now that would be good news!