A group trying to bring awareness to climate change has been walking across the country, including Berkshire residents Shira Wohlberg and Tony Pisano.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Shira Wohlberg cannot understand people who do not think drastic action is needed to save the environment.
And she does not have time to try.
"In our training at the beginning of the [Great March for Climate Action] ... they told us, don't waste your time with deniers," Wolberg said. "They're not worth your energy."
"Deniers," those who refuse to acknowledge the mounting evidence of global climate change, are not the target audience of the Great March, which Wohlberg and friend Tony Pisano joined earlier this summer.
But marchers are hoping to energize those who can be reached to build a grassroots effort to stem the tide of human activity that activists believe is contributing to everything from more frequent, severe tropical storms to drought in the American West to the melting of the polar ice cap.
They're big problems without easy solutions, but the marchers hope their trek across the contiguous United States will help build awareness of the need for big solutions.
Wohlberg joined the march at its inception in the Port of Los Angeles in March and made it as far as the border between Colorado and New Mexico before she had to return to Williamstown for work.
This month, she rejoined the march in Chicago and is joining the group as it takes a bus trip to New York City for this weekend's People's Climate March.
Wohlberg said she does not know what concrete changes will result from either the Great March or the People's March (which are not formally connected but obviously related to one another).
Another lesson learned in her orientation for the Great March: focusing on specific goals or expectations for the movement is counterproductive.
"We had a lot of activists come, and they say, 'People are going to want you to say, "This is the exact outcome and we'll fail or we won't fail," ' " she said. "And if people actually started paying attention to you, they want to say that you failed.
"Your job is to stick with what you believe in and do everything you can so you never get to that point where you say, 'I did nothing.' And you never know who you influence and who you interact with and what the ripple effects are."
Besides walking through the American Southwest this spring, Wohlberg puts her convictions into action on a daily basis, avoiding disposable packaging, seeing how little garbage she can generate on a month-to-month basis and collecting apples from roadside trees that otherwise would go to waste.
"If I see someone throw something away, I say, 'Well, part of this is made of metal,' " Pisano said. "Like a microwave oven, someone might throw it in a landfill, and you can take the oven apart and scrap the metal parts. You can recycle the plastic. Anything that has a plug on it, I'll at least cut the wire off and strip it. You spend all this energy taking copper out of the ground, and once you throw it in a landfill, it's never going to be recovered again."
Wohlberg and Pisano say it is frustrating living in a society where people wall themselves off from the natural world, closing the windows and turning on the air-conditioner when the temperature climbs out of the 70s or lighting up their homes like a Christmas tree at the first sign of dusk.
"There are so many things we can do [to conserve]," Wohlberg said. "That's the part that's so incredibly frustrating and disturbing. It's not impossible. We totally have the ability to do what we need to do and to love doing it.
"It's an adventure. I set little challenges for myself, and it's fun. I try to see how little electricity I can use. I walk around my house in the dark and train my feet to know where everything is and my hands to know where everything is."
Earlier this year, when Wohlberg's feet were trodding the highways and byways of the Southwest, she saw first hand the damage man is doing to the environment and the efforts of some people to right those wrongs.
"We walked along the Colorado River, the aqueduct, and you can see that the entire environment is 'desertified,' " she said. "It was probably desert to some extent anyway, but now what water there is is in this very confined space. It's fenced off, so animals can't get to it unless they're a lizard or a bird.
"And the water is going to the cities, where you know people are running the tap and washing their cars and in Arizona they're watering the golf courses. And here you see this environment that's supposed to receive the water, and it's all parched and dry and there are dust storms. And that's where the water is supposed to go."
Wohlberg was to some degree encouraged by the opportunity to see those sights with like-minded environmentalists and to to tell people working in isolation along the march's route that they are not alone.
"It feels like if you're paying attention — if you're not just listening to the mainstream media saying everything's impossible and you're ridiculous and stupid — if you're actually paying attention, there are so many different kinds of people and groups out there who know that something needs to be done," she said. "And they're not mutually exclusive. They all need to be done.
"It's this feeling like there's a cresting wave almost that needs enough momentum to get over that hill or enough accumulated energy and bodies and voices that we're going to break through. I feel like it's happening.
"But that's because I'm tuned in to that kind of thing."
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