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Local Eco-Activists Get Versed on the Gore-y Details

Local Matters


Published March 7, 2007 at 2:57 p.m.

VERMONT - Al Gore is coming to a town near you - at least indirectly. In conjunction with a series of upcoming community events, Vermonters will re-present slides from the former vice president's Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, to audiences across the state. The presentations are part of a national campaign sponsored by the Nashville, Tennessee-based organization the Climate Project.

An Inconvenient Truth captures Gore's lecture tour on the topic of global warming. In early January, the Climate Project invited 1000 aspiring presenters from across the country to Nashville, where they were trained in Gore's technique.

One of them was 23-year-old Thomas Hand, who came away impressed by the diversity of the turnout. In Nashville, it was obvious that Gore and the Climate Project "had made a concerted effort to get a broad cross-section of America represented," he says. "It was a real slice of life - very few tree-huggers."

Hand, a 2006 graduate of Middlebury College, is the program manager at Native Energy, a Charlotte-based company that arranges renewable energy credit purchases. He gave a Gore-inspired presentation in February at the Killington Mountain School. On March 28, he'll present at an assisted-living facility in Manchester, his hometown.

"If someone from within your community gives the presentation, it's a lot more powerful," Hand notes. He and others modify Gore's slide show depending on where the presentation is taking place.

"The most challenging part of this process is bringing the slide show down to a time limit that people can handle," Nashville-attendee Liz Soper writes in an email. Soper is the field education manager at the National Wildlife Federation headquarters in Montpelier. In addition to giving two presentations - in Fairlee on March 17 and Burlington on March 31 - she's working to promote climate-change-awareness education for high school students, hunters and anglers.

Joseph Hartman considers Gore's presentation a useful template for promoting the "solution side" of the climate-change debate. Hartman is the executive director of the Plainfield-based nonprofit ClearVision, which champions socially conscious television projects. He says Gore has inspired him to make global warming his organization's "lead issue." He adds, "At this point, after a recent shift in public opinion, people want more concrete solutions."

Hartman seems to fit into a larger trend of climate activists in the area. "In Vermont, you already have a lot of people who are savvy about climate change and/or who've already seen An Inconvenient Truth," notes Jon Isham, an economics professor at Middlebury College who also went to Nashville. "For many people, the question is, 'What comes next? What do I do besides change my light bulbs?'"

As editor of the forthcoming Ignition: What You Can Do to Fight Global Warming and Spark a Movement (Island Press), Isham has a few answers. Having collected essays by the likes of National Resources Defense Council co-founder Gus Speth and Ripton author-scholar Bill McKibben, he hopes to provide readers with inspiration for further action.

Isham suggests Vermont occupies a unique position nationally. "The question facing Vermonters is, "Do we want to be at the forefront of the clean energy economy?" he suggests. Isham cites state energy utility Efficiency Vermont, citizen coalition Addison County Relocalization Network and student environmental groups at the University of Vermont and Middlebury, Green Mountain and Sterling colleges as encouraging models of global-warming activism.

Katey Gordon of Burlington says the climate project training has inspired her to build informal connections between existing grassroots networks. "Now, we're magnifying the efforts that were already underway well before the climate project," she notes.

On March 17, Gordon will present her version of the Gore slide show at the "Fueling Our Community: Building Local, Sustainable Energy Solutions" conference in Bristol. She will cover the potential effects of global warming on New England. Gordon is also the head organizer of a "Step It Up" rally - part of Bill McKibben's national campaign for climate-friendly legislation - in Burlington on April 14.

Gordon, an adjunct professor at Burlington College and a self-employed environmental educator and consultant, believes the climate project and its local spin-offs reflect a growing shift in public consciousness. "A sense of mutual responsibility is more accepted, more widely recognized, than before," she says. "We're starting to understand what it means to be a member of a global community."

Visit http://www.theclimateproject.org for more info on upcoming presentations.