06/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

From Nashville to Copenhagen

This past weekend nearly 500 dedicated activists met in Nashville to spend two and a half days reflecting on the current science and direction of the Earth's changing climate. There were truly inspiring presentations by Nobel Laureate Al Gore and an array of scientists intended to inform and educate an assemblage of extraordinary citizens of the planet who give their time and effort to bring a simple message to their communities: namely, we are in midst of a planetary emergency and we need to address it now.

Just over two and a half years ago I answered Gore's call to join a movement to transform a complicated and technical set of scientific issues into an understandable and practical message that would educate and inspire fellow citizens to take effective actions that would no less than ensure the survival of our planet. Since then, over 2,500 individuals have heeded the call worldwide and over 50,000 presentations have been delivered, reaching at least 5 million people.

Surely, the catalyst for these presentations has been the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and each of us has been trained to dissect the PowerPoint slides which proved to be the centerpiece of the movie. The genius of this documentary is that it molded earth science into a comprehensive and comprehensible set of propositions that unitiated individuals could easily get their arms around. This alone has proved to be a feat of historic proportions.

Since its release, the basic message remains as potent as ever and an avalanche of new scientific data and statistics have effectively accelerated the urgency for the need for action. The consequences of inaction have pushed us ever closer to an inevitable "tipping point" where certain conditions become irreversible. Indeed, the Union of Concerned Scientists contends that we have already crossed the threshold of mitigation and must accept a degree of adaptation to climate change.

It is said that timing in life is everything. If so, with respect to this issue, we must act immediately. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of reciting dire and dour statistics to illuminate just how serious this crisis is. It is far more difficult to illustrate the interconnectivity of issues and events that are occurring in front of our very eyes.

And while in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters, one representing danger, the other opportunity, it is far easier to focus on the former than the latter. But I am convinced that it is critically important that we accentuate the opportunities inherent in the crisis, if for no other reason than to dampen a general fatigue among the populace that has set in in reaction to a long litany of fear-mongering.

Gore opened the session with an incredibly uplifting statistic. The average age of the Houston Space Center technician when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon in 1969 was twenty-six, meaning that when John F. Kennedy first issued his call to safely send a man to the moon some eight years and two months earlier their average age would have been eighteen. The call to public service, to civic activism, to expanding the reach of scientific endeavor was palpable and infectious. The inspiration elicited by this bold announcement projected upon an entire generation. We need that same resolve today.

We are turning the corner. Science and scientific method now are at the public policy table again. Congress is poised to seriously tackle this issue. Pending before the U.S. House of Representatives is legislation sponsored by California Rep. Henry Waxman and Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey that sets the table on carbon emissions targets on the environmental side of the equation and a cap and trade system on the economic front. The importance of effectively integrating the economic and environmental aspects to this issue cannot be overstated.

The importance of having an aggressive national effort to limit carbon emissions here in the only industrialized nation on earth that turned its back on the Kyoto Treaty is monumental. As we prepare for the Copenhagen Summit in December, it is critical that the U.S. assume the mantle of leadership on the most important global issue of the century.

In the 80 presentations I have conducted on this issue over the past 30 months I have witnessed two distinct developments: first, the climate crisis has deteriorated much greater and much faster than scientists had predicted; second, where circumstances under the previous Administration forced us to concentrate our efforts solely at the grass roots level due to a lack of political will in the Executive Branch, we are now witnessing a deliberate national strategy to act, and this enhances the grass roots efforts already underway.

We are now focusing on the opportunities inherent in this crisis. Waxman-Markey offer us the ability to advance the ball towards Copenhagen, and that will allow us to lead the world in the development of a new economic paradigm that will effectively lessen if not displace our dependence on fossil fuels to power our collective economic engines. Lest we not forget to remind those who fret over the economic consequences of such a paradigm shift, the opportunities for innovation, creativity, and economic ingenuity present a bounty that far surpasses our bankrupt addiction to oil.

We are replacing the certainty of inaction with the uncertainty of action, and much like President Kennedy's challenge nearly a half century ago, it is a clarion call to change, and after all, change is what the American people overwhelmingly support at this point in our history. A future where power is derived from the sun and the wind, where electric cars and the infrastructure to support them makes the inefficient internal combustion engine obsolete, where respect for ecology and the environment combines with economic opportunity to foster a cleaner and more productive planet.

As we left Nashville, we were energized by the knowledge that we can and must do what we can to make this world a reality. Our future depends upon it.