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Global Warming Teach-In To Activate Students

National Global Warming Teach-In Aims to Inspire Student Activism

By Melinda Tuhus

From the radio newsmagazine BETWEEN THE LINES Distributed by Squeaky Wheel Productions Listen in RealAudio:

Interview with Eben Goodstein, founder and director of Focus the Nation, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

"If we don’t act in the next two or three years, then a window will close for our children forever. And that window is: If we act aggressively now, then we can hold global warming to three or four degrees Fahrenheit." -- Eben Goodstein, quoting Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on why the Kyoto Protocol's requirement for three dozen developed nations to cut their greenhouse gases by an average of five percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012 is not strong enough

On Jan. 31, what's being billed as the largest teach-in ever held will take place at more than 1,400 colleges and high schools, as well as some community centers and places of worship. It's called Focus the Nation, and its mission is to educate the next generation about climate change and inspire young people to take political action.

The teach-in is one of four components of the plan. The first is a live webcast a day before the event, on Jan. 30, called the "2% solution," which refers to reducing greenhouse gases by two percent every year, starting now. Following the teach-in, the Green Democracy component will feature a live videoconference roundtable discussion between Congress and campuses on working for solutions to global warming. Finally, participants can vote online for their top five solutions to the problem of climate change.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Eben Goodstein, founder and director of Focus the Nation and a professor of economics at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. He explains how this effort differs from the groundbreaking grassroots actions of 2007 to raise awareness of global warming and what's at stake for today's youth who will be directly confronted by the climate change crisis.

EBEN GOODSTEIN: We’re all coordinating very closely, trying to build a social movement that moves America beyond where we are right now, which is, I think, a broad recognition of the impact of global warming and the fact that it’s big and real and scary, but it’s combined with a fatalism, a sense that somehow we really can’t do anything about it and we’re sort of forced to condemn our children to an impoverished planet. We’re really trying to move America beyond that, to sort of wake up and engage with this civilizational challenge.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I know there’s overlap between your work and that of Bill McKibben’s "Step It Up" effort last April and the student-run "Power Shift" conference last November. But how is "Focus the Nation" different?

EBEN GOODSTEIN: What’s different about Focus the Nation is that we’re institutionally based. Step It Up really was mobilizing kind of ad hoc committees of community activists and others, and what we’re doing is creating a deep educational engagement at educational institutions, primarily, across the country. So every major four-year college in the country, hundreds of community colleges, hundreds of high schools, are really engaging in a serious kind of conversation about global warming solutions.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I went to your website and saw your proposed curriculum, which is unbelievably extensive.

EBEN GOODSTEIN: The key… how do you actually mobilize a thousand students or more? The problem of global warming education, if you show a movie or have a lecture, you get the usual hundred, 150 students to show up. We were faced with the challenge of how do we get thousands of students on every campus engaged, and the key is to get faculty engaged. So what we’ve done on our website, we have a proposed agenda for the day that includes 45 sessions, slots for 110 faculty members. We have a session on obstacles to change. So here at Lewis and Clark, for example, we’re going to have a psychology professor talk for ten minutes about denial, a communications professor talking for ten minutes about the media, and then an economist talking for ten minutes about technology obstacles, and then leaving a half hour for discussion. A session on life without polar bears – which is a sad thought, but one we need to start thinking about – in that one we’re going to have an artist who isn’t going to talk about global warming at all but gonna talk for ten minutes about what makes polar bears such powerful iconic images. We’ll have a philosophy professor talking about the moral implications of mass extinction, and then a biologist who we hope will give us a little bit of room for hope that if we do the right thing, there’ll still be some remnant habitat for these beautiful creatures in northern Greenland.

So, the idea here is if you get dozens of faculty members engaged – and at many campuses around the country this is happening, it’s a model that’s really spread – then you will get thousands of students engaged, because each faculty member will bring a hundred students, either by canceling their classes and attending sessions, or by giving extra credit or assigning…and what we really need to do as educators is signal to young people that this really is important.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Is one of the goals of Focus the Nation to influence elected officials?

EBEN GOODSTEIN: Absolutely. Yeah, Focus the Nation is about education, but it’s also about civic engagement. So, we’re encouraging every Focus the Nation event to end in the same way, in a roundtable discussion with political leaders. So across the country, senators, mayors, congresspeople, city councilors, state representatives have all been getting invitations to come, sit down with young people, and have that roundtable, non-partisan discussion about their future.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Now, for Power Shift the push really came from young people. You’re saying this push is coming from somewhat older people – faculty members who will expose, or encourage or maybe require their students to participate. Is that right?

EBEN GOODSTEIN: Yeah, I mean, really the success of Focus the Nation has primarily been the fact that at every college and high school and community college in the country, there are a dozen faculty and staff who recognize the historic moment in which we’re living. Our scientists are speaking to us very clearly about the very short window of time we have for action. Rajendra Pachauri, who’s head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said late last year that if we wait until 2012, that will be too late. He said, “What we do in the next few years will determine our future. This is a defining moment.” That’s coming from the head of the international body of scientists who are evaluating the likely impacts of global warming. And of course, what Pachauri means by that is, if we don’t act in the next two or three years, then a window will close for our children forever. And that window is, if we act aggressively now, then we can hold global warming to three or four degrees Fahrenheit. But that window’s going to close if we don’t act in the next couple of years. The stakes are incredibly high for young people, and that is our intent – to focus the nation on the decisions we’re either going to make or not make in the next couple years that are going to have such a critical impact not only on our own lives and the lives of our kids, but in fact for every human being who will ever walk the face of the planet from now until the end of time.

Eben Goodstein is founder and director of Focus the Nation and author of "Fighting for Love in the Century of Extinction: How Passion and Politics can Stop Global Warming". Visit their website at

Related links:

Energy Action Coalition at
Green Peace at



Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Jan. 25, 2008. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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