A Conversation with Kathleen Rogers: President of Earth Day NetworkApr 01, 2008 03:00AM ● By S. Alison Chabonais
Americans are being called to clean up their environmental act at home and abroad, but the response is slower than many activists would like it to be. Some say that it’s time to rally those most affected by the corruption of the Earth’s land, air and water—namely, those who will live with the consequences. For the past six years, Earth Day Network has been working to inspire civic engagement in the classroom. It’s among the organization’s most recent collaborative initiatives in 174 countries. We spoke with Network President Kathleen Rogers to find out how and why these activists are grooming green citizens.
Q. What is the state of environmental activism in the United States?
A: For the past 30 years our citizens have been steeped in self-interest, preoccupied with a popular culture that is devoted to electronic entertainment. Who actually needs what amounts to six TV screens in one house? Part of our focus is to get more people out enjoying walks in nature and valuing their community’s natural assets.
Recently, mounting challenges from climate change, combined with the 2008 election, have reawakened the environmental spirit initiated during the first Earth Day in 1970. We’re waking to the fact that we need to get active to counter global warming. The younger generation seems to understand the urgency, and their interest is generating hope for the future.
Q. How do we become convinced that creating a better planet is doable?
A: The American character is all about being useful. It’s our nature to take constructive action in the world—if we know what to do.
Our schools need to teach students how to connect the dots between their family’s health issues and the need to protect their environment—as well as their need and ability to get involved. As Earth Day Network pushes for a resurgence of environmental education in grades K-12, we’re encouraged with the results.
In 100 of the country’s 105,000 schools, we’ve paid teachers a stipend to lead students in not only identifying and reporting a local problem, but in successfully fixing it. Not one of these young activists’ environmental projects has failed.
One Cincinnati, Ohio, class lobbied their school board to allocate a $1 billion school bond initiative to “green” construction of five schools. A Los Angeles, California, class proved how indoor air quality in their school was adversely affecting student performance, and convinced the local board of supervisors to approve a new ventilation system.
Any class can get started with their own program by visiting www.EarthDay.net.
Q. What can we all do right now to improve things?
A: We can begin by taking care of “the low-hanging fruit” that is right in front of us—the obvious things that we can do every day. We can lower the winter thermostat to 68º Fahrenheit during the day and 55º to 60º at night. We can also raise summer air-conditioning settings a few degrees. Equally important is buying local food and only organic meat, raised without growth hormones and antibiotics. Of course, it also makes sense to combine family driving errands.
On the political front, research local Congressional representatives’ environmental records. Call the Capital Hill switchboard at 202-224-3121 to ask Congress members what they’ve done about pollution. Vote for those who stand for a healthy environment for all.
Q. What inspires you, personally?
A: When I get active, I can overcome what beleaguers me, and so can you. As a child, I ran around with a towel tossed over my shoulders, sporting a big “S” on the back, helping people out of predicaments. I’m still a do-gooder, and I know many other people just like me!
Finding our individual center someplace other than in material things is the only workable place to start. We can learn to put aside the drive for more material goods and find meaning elsewhere. We must decide how we will individually and collectively clean up our act, and we need to do it now.
Earth Day 2008 is April 22. Find a local Earth Day event at www.EarthDay.net. Participate in the National Call for Climate event this month by telephoning Congress members to demand investment in renewable energy, a moratorium on new coal-burning plants and a push for carbon-neutral building.