07/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Environmentalism & The Terrible Twos

A New York Times article datelined Rusutsu, Japan about the G-8 meeting this week made my jaw drop and my heart sink. Agreeing to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050 without making any specific commitments for the next decade, the assembled leaders in the photograph looked extremely pleased with themselves. I don't understand why.

The people I know are taking their personal carbon footprint quite seriously. On the tiniest level, people are thinking about how they use their cars. People are not just running out to the store for one little item; they're waiting and making more conscious choices about their transportation. People are renting Zip Cars. Some are getting rid of their cars. Others are using their bicycles more and I saw a middle-aged woman on roller skates the other day. Everywhere I see ordinary human beings behaving with more thoughtfulness and dignity than our world leaders.

The most galling aspect of the G-8 meeting is that those in attendance call themselves leaders. What leaders? Where? I've seen more leadership in a sandbox. No one was a leader at that meeting. No one. Certainly not the President of the United States.

His tone, rather, put me in mind of an unhappy two year old at the playground. The subtext might have read, "I won't, unless China and India have to, too." I know, we all know, that China and India are huge transgressors of any world plan to acknowledge and address climate change. So what? It's not fair, it's not right, but, so what? I mean it.

True leaders are those out in front, those persons of vision and action who change things because of what they see from their positions at the front. Leaders hold out for the most outrageous of ideals: peace, freedom, truth, beauty, honor, joy, love.

I saw no ideals at the G-8 Summit. Instead, I saw compromise and jockeying and political posturing. These are not the behaviors of leaders. They are the behaviors of followers, the status quo, the same old same old.

Climate change is just the tip of the iceberg, if you'll forgive me. We, the spiritual stewards of planet Earth, are in need of leaders, badly in need of them. In need of those who challenge the status quo, who ask the difficult questions, who wait in far-seeing silence till the discomfort at long last causes small steps on the parts of many individuals toward incremental change.

Boston has become a veritable rainforest in the few years I've lived here. Climate change. It is no longer up to our leaders, dear one, because our leaders aren't up to the challenge. It is up to individuals to become leaders, to take a stand and lead the way -- one person, one car, one family, one street, one neighborhood, one town at a time.

Consider the opportunity to make changing your carbon footprint a spiritual discipline. Aware of wanting to make a difference, you will get out ahead of the same old, same old, take the long view, and will, by default, lead. Lead yourself, and those whose lives you touch. When we each get this and act on it, I bet we find a plan for climate change that even a two year old could implement.