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Remember the grassroots

I just watched one of the most charming, funny, and educational climate videos ever.

Lanny Smith, an award winning, earthman suit wearing, hip hop rhyming climate change educator combines music, video, and visual arts with excellent web design to explain the complexities of climate change with surprisingly clarity — all without dropping a beat. He manages to take even some of the more complex aspects of climate science (like how melting sea ice creates feedback loops by decreasing the average albedo of the earth’s surface, thus accelerating warming), and makes them accessible through rhyme at the middle school level.

Climate Progress tends to focus on the science and politics behind the climate change problem, but it is also important to stay in touch with what is going on at the grassroots level. After all, public opinion does occasionally play a role in the political process.

Earthman Lanny Smith’s most recent piece is a catchy theme-song for the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour, another great public awareness event. On March 28th at 8:30, WWF is asking “individuals, businesses, governments and organizations around the world to turn off their lights for one hour” (hence the Earth Hour).

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Of course, lighting candles is not a terribly realistic alternative to mass electric illumination, but the point is to engage people, to make a statement, and to demonstrate that the sum of many small actions can have a large impact.

Power Shift 2009, which brought over 12,000 students and youth to Washington to exchange ideas and lobby congress in the beginning of March was another truly inspiring grassroots event.

I managed to attend a just a few parts of the conference, but I was awed that over 2,500 students braved frigid weather to wave signs and chant “green jobs now” on the west lawn of the capitol, and to hold 350 separate lobby visits with elected officials (there is a really good account of the event on the Huffington Post).

Beyond the visibility of the event on capitol hill, the real value was that it gave 12,000 students the tools they need to become active participants in democracy. I had never lobbied a representative in my life before I signed up to do it at Powershift, but I walked away (along with thousands of my colleagues) with a real sense of empowerment.

Without the tireless work of grassroots activists and educators like Lanny and the Powershift organizers, there would be no reception for the ideas in this movement. No matter how many times policy wonks make the case for climate change legislation, progress would be impossible without a well-informed public putting pressure on its representatives.

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If kids aren’t growing up with a basic understanding of the problem then they won’t become engaged as adults in the solutions. So while we definitely need more Auden Schendlers and Phil Clapps in the world to work out solutions to our many climate ailments, we also need more Lanny Smiths, more Earth Hours, and more Powershifts to make sure that we have a public that is willing and able to see those solutions through.

— Sean Pool