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August 28, 2008

Beyond the Speeches and the Parties

As I write this, Gustav is barreling towards the Gulf Coast. It may hit landfall concurrent with the start of the Republican Convention next week. No matter how carefully choreographed the pageantry, we can never be certain that anything will turn out as planned – or that our elected officials of either party will develop or implement sound public policies addressing climate change or any of the other critical issues facing the United States.

Yesterday, I attended a panel on the “Pickens Plan”, with T. Boone Pickens and Carl Pope. John Podesta of the Center for American Progress moderated, and also enumerated the unfortunately all-too-familiar signs of climate change. Carl laid out his vision of what America needs to do – “repower, refuel, and rebuild” – and the role that our government must play. 

But it was Mr. Pickens’ words that really stood out to me. He readily acknowledged that his wealth and prominence in the corporate world give him access to the ears of any number of public officials. But, he noted, access doesn’t equal action – and he pressed everyone in the audience to get involved and exert the necessary pressure to get things done, at every level of government. Whatever progressives may think of the Pickens Plan, and there’s been loads of analysis in lots of places, we can’t argue with that exhortation. (Mr. Pickens also previewed an ad that he said the traditional media wouldn’t play over the airwaves, in which he claimed that Iran is converting its vehicles to natural gas – one of his main goals here, too. By the time you read this, it may have been uploaded to You Tube or other blogs.)

This convention has been a great time, and I hope I’ve fulfilled my Sierra Club remit in giving you a bit of “color commentary.” There’s nothing wrong with having a celebration, or giving speeches, or whatever. The speeches last night were moving, exciting, and everything else you’ve probably already seen or read. The visuals were amazing- I’m really impressed with the way signs were distributed and waved at the appropriate times! And yes, I did hit a couple of parties where the drinking and networking were happening in equal measure. Indeed, as I alluded to earlier, the networking here is at least as important as the hoopla that happened inside the Pepsi Center. Teleconferencing is great, but bringing thousands and thousands of folks face-to-face does have its place.

And just to be au courant, right now I’m listening to Rachel Maddow and Google CEO Eric Schmidt talk about the internet and politics, including the restrictive laws in China and what Google is trying to reach the Chinese population, what’s going on in other countries, and whether the “internet will change politics as we know it.”  (Rachel is a bit skeptical, since pundits have been saying that for the past 12 years!)

But I know that as soon as I get back to New York, I’ll be out there working for the candidates and issues of my choice, just like Sierra Club members everywhere.

Whoever wins in November, I don’t think that we can assume that candidate websites or the thousands of column inches written or speech after speech after speech will tell us exactly what either Obama or McCain will do starting in January, 2009.  That said, exposure to their ideas, through whatever medium that we seek out – including the experts at Sierra Club, whom I admire so tremendously – can and will inspire us, anger us, frustrate us, and most importantly, motivate us to decide whom to vote for and to work at keeping elected officials to their good promises (or work against the bad ones). 

Carl and Pickens closed their remarks yesterday by agreeing that actually combating climate change is quite feasible – the knowledge and technology is there.  And I don’t think I learned anything else in particular that Sierra Club members don’t already know, including the need to work hard in whatever fashion suits you.   So, I wish I could sign off with an Obama promise or McCain promise that all of our problems will be solved effortlessly – but instead, I’ll just say, “See you in the trenches!”



Ps, And oh, yes – tonight at Invesco Field, I’ll be proudly wearing my Sierra Club Tee.


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