For many of us in younger generations, this moment in history feels like our defining moment. Sitting in a parked car to finish listening to the President of the United States address the United Nations on the topic of international cooperation after a decade of ‘go it alone’ strategies, the future continues to shine with hope and opportunity. Witnessing unprecedented levels of citizen participation in national discussions on healthcare and climate change policies, the role of the individual comes into focus more now than ever before. In this defining moment, we all have a role to play in creating our collective future.
The stories of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, sum up the impact individuals have in shaping our future. The following is a paraphrase of one of her parables:
“All of the animals in the jungle, big and small, even the lions and elephants gathered in bewilderment around a small hummingbird as a raging fire threatened their homes. The hummingbird darted back and forth from a riverbed to the fire carrying each time a sip of water to dose the flames. The lion incredulously asked: ‘Just what do you think you are doing, hummingbird?’ The hummingbird’s wings did not miss a beat with the reply as it darted to the river for another sip: ‘I’m doing what I can.'”
This year, Sierra Club volunteers and allies around the nation have successfully put an end to the modern day coal rush by stopping over 100 new coal-fired power plant—”including Big Stone II here in Minnesota, to be built on the eve of the United States taking decisive action to reduce carbon emissions. Had these citizens simply stepped aside, these coal plants, if built, would have added 400 million tons of carbon pollution annually at a time when we must reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050.
In Minnesota, voters statewide supported the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment which created a 3-8 of a percent sales tax dedicated to environmental preservation, youth civic education, and the arts. These resources create new opportunities for volunteers to improve the quality of life in Minnesota both in helping determine how the money is spent and participating in specific projects.
The fires of climate change, polluted communities, threatened waters and natural areas among others put our future at risk. However, hummingbirds, have no doubt that each day you choose to spend helping others put out these fires does indeed make a difference.
Power Politics by Arundhati Roy. South End Press 2002.
The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience by Wangari Maathai. Lantern Books 2006.
Sierra Club North Star Chapter
Blue Green Alliance
Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota
Friends of the Mississippi River
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Volunteer Programs, Renee Vail