mckibben_130Good news on climate change has been creeping into the headlines lately: from carbon cap policies unveiled in BC and California to Al Gore’s stunning testimony before Congress two weeks ago. Still, many of the most sobering climate headlines—about future slumps in Northwest food supply, surges worldwide in mosquito-borne illnesses, or looming economic woes—might make a person wonder why she got out of bed in the morning.

But solutions to climate change require action. And since action usually has more in common with hopefulness than despair, I asked Bill McKibben recently how one might spread an inspiring message on climate change, even in the face of frequent bad news.

McKibben has learned a thing or two about inspiring others, not only through his journalism (described by reviewers as “matchless,” “gorgeous,” and “galvanizing”), but also through Step It Up, the April 14 national climate action day that McKibben launched a few months ago. He has been touring the country recently touting Step It Up and promoting his new book. I met him at a reception for Seattle Step It Up organizers.

  • In a nutshell, McKibben’s answer was this: Responding to climate change holds opportunity to build community and reconnect to local places.

    In keeping with the principle of strong communities, Step It Up is rooted in places people love and live in. Communities and individuals launch local events and link them to the national Step It Up—a scrappy, low-budget operation McKibben says is run by twenty-somethings at a cramped office table with laptop computers. Powered by sweat much more than by dollars, Step It Up has grown by leaps and bounds—to 1,100 events in 50 states plus some in Canada and the UK. Through emphasis on the local, McKibben is reaching rural audiences that rarely hear a solutions-oriented message on climate: “People who have never done anything like this before are organizing events in towns where nothing like this has ever happened before.”

    Some snapshots: The event in Hamilton, Montana, in the Bitterroot Valley, will feature a contra dance for “reel change” (ha!) on climate. In Ashland, Oregon, organizers are seeking local artists to submit “Art in Action,” visual representations of solutions for climate change. And Seattle and Portland are rallying crowds of singers, artists, labor activists, church congregations, elected officials, local businesses, and concerned citizens (and friends of Sightline—which is now an official partner of the Seattle event).

    Like MoveOn.org, Step It Up feeds Americans’ hunger for community. “We just gave people permission [to take action on climate change],” McKibben says modestly. But the true genius of Step It Up is this: McKibben gave those of us who are concerned about climate the chance to discover that we are not alone. We are in good company among neighbors ready to “step up” and take action.

    In addition to spreading the word regularly about Sightline’s work via proposals and pitches to foundations, Madeline Ostrander serves on the Step It Up Seattle organizing committee, where she has met a lot of new neighbors and dedicated climate heroes. To find out more about Step It Up Seattle, visit http://www.stepitupseattle.org/. Or join or start an event in your own town or neighborhood: http://www.stepitup2007.org/.