Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What I learned last night

Yesterday afternoon I posted "Do you know your and your community's carbon footprint?, then went off to a local meeting on the issue of global warming.

I arrived at the meeting upset:

A. With myself because my carbon footprint is huge, i.e., I’m contributing several tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year;

B. Because the problem of global warming is so dire. This week, The Washington Post reported that "Carbon Output Must Near Zero to Avert Danger, New Studies Say";

C. Because our county sent as its representative to the UN international climate change convention in Bali an elected official, Paul Kelley, who had made these comments within the past few years:

“I am still not convinced that global warming is not a hysterical thing, a fad that will pass.”

“It’s sort of arrogant that people think that man can have such a catastrophic impact on the earth. I’m not so sure.”

And on and on and on. I felt anxious and critical of what I had read about local efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. I planned to question the speaker, Ann Hancock, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Protection Campaign, about why we weren't doing more.

After all, using the chart from her organization’s website, the commitment of our county to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% from the 1990 level by 2015 seemed woefully inadequate. Plus our county's greenhouse gas emissions rose at double the national rate between 1990 and 2000, and the graph (see yesterday's post) shows that it's continuing to rise at virtually the same rate from 2000 to 2010.

By the time I left the meeting last night, I had lost my angry edge. What happened? I relearned something very valuable: The most effective way of getting the message across is to refrain from blaming, ridiculing, or getting angry with those who don't believe that human beings are affecting our climate. It also helps to listen. Of course, these apply to all facets of my life.

I also learned that the best way to describe what is happening is this: “Climate change is caused by a manmade blanket of carbon dioxide that surrounds the earth and traps its heat.”

Ann mentioned Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life, which helped her become effective in carrying the message that we need to do something to protect our earth from overheating.

Why was I so impressed with Ann’s message? Because the very person who I thought would never change his mind, Paul Kelley, has now “come around.” So has the one hold-out on our city council.

I bought Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life this afternoon and plan to start reading it tonight.

(book cover: Language of Compassion)


John in Cincinnati said...

Hello Gail,

I got, what I guess is the 1st edition, several years ago. Thing is, when we get beyond the labels, the positions, we're human beings. There's a lot more in common than our differences.

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...


I am happy that you've come across Marshall's book. After reading it I can remember becoming much more aware of subtle judgment hidden in so much of what we say to each other. It's a helpful book. Enjoy!

Gail Jonas said...

John and Dan,
Thanks for your comments. Last night I read and thought about the four components of NVD:

It seems to simple, but it isn't what I naturally do.

the democratic activist said...

Excellent points.

I agree that, 98% of the time, the approach Gails suggests, "... to refrain from blaming, ridiculing, or getting angry with those who don't believe [as you do]..." is by far the best and most effective.

I have only one problem with this approach: what do you do with bullies and muggers? Talk nicely to them, and not blame them? Obviously not.

How do you engage with the totally corrupt? With those that have no interest at all in fairness, the Golden Rule, or any other than unrighteous domination over you and others ... and who simply are committed to cheating, lying, and any other form of dishonesty and violence they can get away with in order to rob and win (which is all they care about)?

When is punching someone else in the nose, figuratively or physically, the best thing to do? Only pacifists would disagree that there is, unfortunately, a time and a place for this kind of active communication, as well.

It seems there needs to be a clear distinction as to exactly when the punch in the nose response becomes necessary ... so that, the other 98% of the time, we'll know to utilize the non-vioilent language that Gail and Mr. Rosenberg advocate.

What, exactly, IS that distinction?

Gail Jonas said...

Chris, who blogs at The Democratic Activist,

I'm baffled by the same questions you raise. I think Glenn Greenwald has the right approach about targetting Blue Dog Dems who need to be replaced.

Maybe the distinction lies in attacking ideas, not people. I was able to do that regarding controversial environment issues in the 70's. I feel less capable now because democracy is at such risk and it feels so urgent that we DO SOMETHING.

My goal is to be effective in whatever I do. I'm searching for how to do that.

mattzero said...

Hi Gail,

I understand the frustration. I also question to what extent the blame game is productive. I want to believe that working with the "enemy" can lead to more sustainable futures, but maybe that is because it takes so much energy to be angry. I work at a non-profit called Zerofootprint and part of our interest is in helping get over the sense of powerlessness that individuals may have when approaching the climate change issue. Obviously there is much to be done, but the focus we have taken is in developing an interactive calculator and social networking platform ( that helps users become aware of their carbon footprint, begin planning reductions, and interact with other like minded individuals.

Gail Jonas said...

Thanks, Mattzero,
I've signed on to zerofootprint and will input my energy use. I wonder if it makes any difference that it's a Canadian calculator.

I filled in my data for a UK carbon footprint calculator, and it asked me where I live.