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April 25, 2006

The Tear Sheet by Michael Lindenberger

Earth Day 2006: Is it time for you to act?Away in the north, polar caps are melting. Around the globe, oceans are warming. High above, the sky’s sheltering blanket is thinning.May I suggest, kind readers, that it is time for a discussion in Louisville unlike any we’ve had in a very long time?A talk among friends and neighbors, fathers and sons, folks you meet at the bus stop. A talk, I am suggesting, between the mayor and his opponent, between Congressional candidates, between you and I.This talk will be about faith, about the future, and about our fair city.In the end, I think, we’ll end up talking about what we owe each other, and each others’ children.That the topic shall be global warming, about the environmental perils we all face, will put some of us off. You may say, “Well, I am no scientist, no professor, no expert at all.”True enough. Neither am I.But can we not begin to talk among ourselves about the choices we make, the foods we eat, the cars we drive, the routes we take and the causes we support? I believe we can, and along the way we can begin to educate ourselves, incrementally, about the state of our environment.In framing this call to talk — this call to engagement! — I was aided and inspired when I read of Henry Wallace’s death last week. If you weren’t aware of Wallace, you missed knowing, or knowing about, a fine sort of character we can only wish wasn’t so rare.I never met Wallace, but I first encountered him in 1993, by way of a hand-written letter he sent me, care of the weekly newspaper in Oldham County that had offered me my first full-time job in journalism.The letter was congratulatory, and included a bit of advice along the lines of “don’t let the bastards wear you down.”I remember it because it was the only nice letter, among many, I received in response to something I wrote about the furor over President Clinton’s plan to let gays serve in the military. That I had resorted to a cheap and too-easy attack — calling the folks who had jammed the Congressional phone lines in opposition to Clinton‘s plans “idle fools” — was not mentioned.Instead, he encouraged me to keep writing, and to remember that taking a stand, even if from the comforts of a writer’s desk, is worth doing.At the time, of course, I didn’t realize that he had for decades committed himself to unpopular causes, ranging from gay-rights to civil rights to Castro’s Cuba to environmental stewardship.It was that last aspect of his life, his stewardship, that seems to hold a special resonance today, and I am happy to dedicate this act of commitment — this simple task of writing — to his memory and his example.Here’s how we can start, those of you who choose to take up my challenge. LEARN. If I could, I’d tell you all about the science of global warming, the impact of our daily choices and the quickest, surest way to change course. But I can’t in this small space, and anyway, the subject is big enough for each of us to find our own way and to learn at our own pace.You might consider picking up the current issue of Vanity Fair, on newsstands now. It’s the mag’s first-ever “green” issue, with a huge emphasis on global warming. While VF tends to be a bit celebrity-enamored, this issue is excellent, with contributions from folks like Al Gore, who may just ride his long history of warnings about this issue right back into the political limelight.But there are hundreds of ways to start (some helpful links are below); picking up a slick mainstream magazine may just be the most colorful. Pick a plan. Get started. It may turn out to be great fun.TALK: If you’ve got a plan, now you need a partner. Find someone to share what you learn with, and I promise you’ll enjoy this challenge much more. It doesn’t matter who the partner is. Make it your daughter, your favorite aunt, your 10th-grade history teacher, the boy you’ve had a crush on since last term. If you can’t find what you need to know, pick up the phone, or write an e-mail to someone you think should.SHARE.  It won’t take us long to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. But when you’ve managed to learn something you find useful — something about the extent of global warming, or about what we can do here in Louisville to help — pass it on.How? You don’t need me to tell you that. Blog it, write it, put it on a podcast.If you’re feeling old-school, put it in an letter to me, c/o LEO, or to my e-mail address below. Send me your stories, your ideas, or your frustrations — I’ll revisit the issue in a future column and sample your best responses.ACT. What’s the good of all the talking if we don’t change anything? Not much. What we’ll find, perhaps, is that we’ll change the way we eat or shop or drive.If so, let me hear about those things too. If you’ve read this far, after all, you’ve already made a clear start. The rest is simply follow-through. Michael Lindenberger wrote the Tear Sheet column for LEO from June 1996 to December 1999, and during that period he also served as the paper’s chief political writer. He rejoins LEO as a contributing writer after reporting stints at The Dallas Morning News and, most recently, The Courier-Journal, where he was a state correspondent and bureau chief. Send him story ideas at michael.lindenberger@gmail.comTry these links