In May of 2006, I had the chance to attend the China-US Climate Change Forum hosted by the University of California at Berkeley. To an eco-geek, the list of speakers was star-studded with Nobel laureates, professors from top universities, famous innovators, and leaders from the business communities in China and the United States. The conference opened with the premier of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, just before it hit theaters. Before a university worker’s strike altered plans, Al Gore himself was slated to join the stage.
But it was a random guy in the audience who stole the show with a single insightful comment in the closing moments.
During the conference, speakers had argued the benefits of different types of solar panels; they had showed environmental progress from some of the world’s largest corporations; they had represented government opinions; and they had detailed the economics of climate policies. In addition to these positive developments, the evening wasn’t without some finger pointing between the US and China over which country is more responsible for climate change and which should make the first big move.
After the last speaker had cleared the stage the conference was opened to audience questions. Most drew out details from the speaker’s lines of reasoning. Then a slender man in a well-worn brown jacket stood up. With short, grey hair he looked a youthful sixty.
His tone was quiet and respectful. He said (paraphrasing), “For three decades, I’ve heard speakers say things similar to what I’ve heard today. Thirty years ago, they were called doomsdayers. Today, we know enough to respect their opinions, but we still haven’t changed our lifestyles. I take good care of my clothes and they last a long time. I have short, cold showers and I don’t own a car. These solutions aren’t complex. They’re right before every one of us.”
When he sat down, there was a moment’s pause and then the auditorium filled with applause.
The man’s point, as I took it, was though we should all take the initiative to push our governments and businesses to act in environmentally sustainable ways, it’s a two way street and the other side starts with individual action. In all the talk of the latest thin film solar technology and the goods and evils of corporate environmentalism, somehow even the great speakers at this conference had forgotten to bring the message home, literally.
Since then, I’ve also treated my clothes a little better, taken more short, cold showers, and lived (and well) without a car. You may also do some of these things or other things to help build a more socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable society. If so, I’m glad to know you.Original here