Is It Up to The People?

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Tompkins Weekly  6-16-14

By Gay Nicholson

“The important thing is that when you come to understand something, you act on it, no matter how small that act is. Eventually it will take you where you need to go.”   – Sister Helen Prejean

Yvonne Taylor of Schuyler County has stepped up as a citizen leader with Gas Free Seneca to help her community resist the industrialization of their watershed. Frank Kelly got involved in Cortland County and helped organize sessions for the 2013 regional Climate Smart & Climate Ready conference. Anti-fracking activist Gerri Wiley worked with Sustainable Tompkins to present a Clean Energy Fair to residents of Tioga County. And in Tompkins County, Jonathon Comstock is in his second year of leading a large group of fellow residents in creating a solar-buying club to put hundreds of new solar electric systems on roofs throughout the county.

Across the Finger Lakes region, hundreds of people are realizing that it isn’t enough to just be concerned about climate change and the threats posed by the fossil fuel industry. As they watch the paralysis in Albany and Washington DC, they understand that they dare not remain passive, and must move into focused and dedicated action. But they also understand that they need thousands more to join them if we are going to achieve escape velocity from the current system and enter a new orbit based on ecological balance and economic justice.

At the final session of “The Climate, the Market, and the Commons” salon series, we will be exploring the essential roles each of us must play as voter, consumer, taxpayer, and community member if we hope to prevent catastrophic climate change. Hosted by Sustainable Tompkins, the last climate salon will be on June 19 at 7 pm at the Sustainability Center, 111 N. Albany. The first salons addressed the questions of “Why are we stuck in climate denial?,” “Can business and technology save us?,” and “Will government intervene?” and attracted large audiences for lively discussions. At the last salon, we will take up the question “Is it Up to the People?”

We know most people feel that their lives are already overfull with work, social commitments, and family obligations – so it is easy to see why so many residents feel justified in staying out of the political battles on climate and dirty energy, or why they may believe that they have no choices as consumers. But those who have been making room in their lives for climate and energy activism believe strongly that none of us has the luxury of not engaging on climate during these critical years. We need everyone coming out to vote in all elections so that each level of government is held accountable to the public good, not solely private interests. We need everyone shifting their consumption patterns, investing in clean energy, and supporting each other through the transitions ahead. We need everyone to recognize himself or herself as a Citizen of the World and to accept the duties and responsibilities that come with that identity.

On June 19, we will be exploring ideas for mobilization of a much larger and more engaged climate movement, identifying barriers people face when deciding to participate in climate and energy work, and sharing examples of local initiatives that people can join or find leadership roles within. Miranda Phillips, Sustainable Tompkins board member and Chair of the Ithaca Chapter of Citizens Climate Coalition, and Reed Steberger of Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative will join me as speakers to share our own experiences in organizing for climate protection.

We hope you will attend, participate, and get inspired to join Yvonne, Frank, Gerri, Jonathan and dozens of your neighbors in this work that is about the climate, our democracy, justice, and so very much more. As Pearl Buck said “We need to restore the full meaning of that old word duty. It is the other side of rights.” No one can protect the Commons but the People themselves.

(Previous salons are available for viewing from links on the Sustainable Tompkins website along with details about the other salon topics and guest speakers.)

Gay Nicholson is the President of Sustainable Tompkins.


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