Environmental shake up

Pub date June 17, 2008
SectionGreen CitySectionNews & Opinion

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GREEN CITY Nothing mobilizes community action like a natural disaster. When the big one hits San Francisco, everyone from the city’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams to informal groups of resourceful and community-minded individuals will fly into action to tend the wounded, free the trapped, feed the hungry, and rebuild the community.

When the situation calls for it, San Franciscans have demonstrated over and over again a remarkable capacity for selfless and almost superhuman action, from the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989 to last year’s outpouring of support for the cleanup effort after last year’s big oil tanker spill in the bay.

So why aren’t we bringing that same resolve and community resourcefulness to global problems like climate change, rapid depletion of natural resources, persistent poverty and warfare, declining biological diversity, and the myriad threats to public health? That’s the question being posed at a groundbreaking grassroots event this weekend in Golden Gate Park.

The Big ONE Convergence 2008, scheduled June 21 and 22 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., is sponsored by The Big ONE movement, which formed in the wake of San Francisco’s World Environment Day in 2005. The group was inspired by the idea of "the big one," or a massive earthquake, because the goal of the movement is to affect everyone in much the same way that a natural disaster of that size would.

"We emphasized the tectonic idea because tectonic shifts are big," said Sudeep Rao, an event organizer. "We need to make big changes. It can’t just be about light bulbs and shorter showers. We can’t think that’s all we need to know."

Members of The Big ONE have been meeting on a monthly basis and discussing sustainability ideas since 2006. Their home base is a Web site called www.beautifulcommunities.org that is organized into various "neighborhoods." The groups examine issues such as health, housing, social justice, economic justice, energy, and sustainability.

The Big ONE movement is just one part of Beautiful Communities, and this weekend’s convergence includes a massive potluck in between learning how to do everything from building a solar oven to teaming up with a local organic farmer to deliver fresh food to schools.

Event co-chair Tori Jacobs said there are more than 7,500 nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area, 3,800 of which deal with sustainability issues. One goal of the convergence is to bring these groups together so they can collaborate.

"So much work is being duplicated, and our efforts need to be collaborated," she said. "The only way to do that is to get to know each other and to dialogue about how we can help each other."

Jacobs said there will be hundreds of nonprofits at the convergence and the intention is to have them all meet, coordinate, and move forward together. There will be break-out sessions from 5 to 6:30 p.m. both days, allowing the general public to meet and brainstorm ideas about community on Saturday, and giving representatives of the nonprofits a chance to meet with one another on Sunday.

"The one thing [The Big ONE participants] said is, ‘Let’s make this event the starting point,’<0x2009>" Jacobs said.

To act on the ideas generated at the convergence, the Peaceful World Foundation has agreed to let participants use its headquarters in San Francisco as a weekly meeting place to hold revolving town hall meetings and gatherings. Rao said the event is about bringing like-minded people together.

"We’ve lost that sense of collective empathy and urgency about what needs to be done," Rao said. "We are inspired, and we want to help others be inspired. We believe in Dr. Martin Luther King’s assertion that the tranquilizing drug of gradualism is unacceptable."

Rao said relying on the commercial and governmental systems to solve pressing global problems through science and technology is a leap of faith that the people shouldn’t be willing to make.

"They do have a large role solving our problems," Rae said, but without collective and individual efforts to bring about change, leverage skills, and pressure governments, the will to take big steps just won’t be there. That requires a convergence like The BIG One.

"Everyone I have spoken with has resonated on that aspect," he said. "They say, ‘Yeah, I want to go and meet individuals face-to-face and build that trust.’<0x2009>" *