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Looking for new leaders

Paul AndersenAspen, CO Colorado

“Dad, global warming is happening so gradually that most people don’t think it’s important,” reasoned my 14-year-old son, Tait. “It’s not like the civil rights movement, where black people were being lynched and discriminated against. That was so much more immediate, so much more visible. People cared. They got involved.” Tait has been reading about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who has become one of his heroes. His education in social justice began this spring in an Aspen Institute seminar, where he also read about Gandhi. Now his eighth-grade class is looking at how passive resistance and peaceful protest have provided the means for social and political change. Tait says he would like to apply the methods of King and Gandhi to fighting global warming, except the issue lacks popular momentum. He doesn’t feel strong popular support exists to combat global warming because of the complacency he sees in our mass-consumer culture. “A lot of people don’t seem to mind global warming because they think it will make them warmer and more comfortable,” Tait concluded. “A lot of people say they don’t like shoveling snow; they don’t like winter. If the world was getting colder, then I’ll bet people would do something about climate change.” He’s got a point. If grapes were freezing on the vine in California and oranges were turning into popsicles in the citrus orchards of Florida and Texas, you can bet there would be change. If spring break in Fort Lauderdale required parkas and long underwear instead of bikinis, people would act. Leadership would probably still not come from Washington, but it would spring up from the grassroots like dandelions in May. People would reduce their driving, cut their energy use, curtail their resource consumption and rally worldwide to fight global chilling. “With global warming,” Tait said, “we’re like the frog in slow-boiling water.” Tait is looking for a crusade in which to test his views on social justice and exercise his impassioned moral arguments. I suggested that he Google global warming activism, so he found a website that lists events for Earth Day, one of which is scheduled for Copper Mountain. “I can’t see driving a car a hundred miles to protest global warming,” said Tait, disgruntled by a feeling of futility. “What else is there to get involved with on the level of King and Gandhi? Who are the leaders of today?” Tait is looking for a good cause, and he’s got plenty of them. Racial issues are pervasive. Social justice remains a frustrated dream. Gender inequality is rampant. Environmental challenges abound. War, famine, pestilence, corruption and crime are widespread. Global warming may not have the punch it deserves, but one day it will. Eager to take on these issues, Tait is looking for leaders, people like King and Gandhi, who can lead the charge with courage, passion and messianic zeal. There are plenty of bold, highly motivated individuals working for the good of mankind, but few are household names that youth can emulate. Tait wants to act just as much as my generation did on peace and civil rights in the ’60s and ’70s. Youth will always look for something to change, jarring the dominant culture out of its convention and habit – the comfortable rut – by championing their own belief systems. I encourage Tait to think critically about issues as they enter his awareness. That’s part of my job as a parent; to help him question the way things are, understand how they got that way, and to advocate effectively for the way he thinks they ought to be. My generation got only so far, and now we’re perceived as part of the problem. So Tait is looking for leaders, and they will come. When they do, the mystique of change will rally Tait and his peers in ranks behind the new Kings and the new Gandhis. And so goes the hopeful march of history. Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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