E ndorsed by the U.S. Senate and Congress, with over 1,500 participating universities, colleges, high schools and other academic groups across the country, Focus the Nation is an educational initiative organized around the belief that we must move beyond fatalism and toward determination in order to overcome the challenges presented by global warming. Started two years ago at Lewis & Clark University, the hard work that has gone into Focus the Nation culminated on a national level on Jan. 30 with educational symposia.
The four components of the symposia promoted by Focus the Nation were a national teach-in with speakers from colleges and the community; a "green democracy" event inviting senators and other representatives in person or via webcast to participate; a "choosing our future" gathering, where attendees voted on the top five solutions to global warming; and a viewing of The 2% Solution, a national interactive webcast featuring Stanford climate scientist Stephen H. Schneider, sustainability expert Hunter Lovins and green job pioneer Van Jones. (
The 2% Solution can also be viewed online at www.earthdaytv.net.) Group viewings by high school and middle school students are still encouraged, and curriculum material is available for downloading on the Focus the Nation website (www.focusthenation.org).
I spoke with Timothy Dondero, Green Campus president at Sonoma State University and Focus the Nation event coordinator, about the 2% Solution webcast as well as the campus' teach-in slated for Feb. 7.
Dondero, who is working toward a degree in energy management, has apparently learned how to live with little sleep. He is working concurrently on the SSU Focus the Nation events, obtaining his degree, helping to build the Student Sustainability Coalition, promoting climate action on campus and mentoring students at Rancho Cotate High School who also participated in the Focus the Nation initiative.
Dondero believes that there are solutions to the current climate crisis and that people need to be educated and empowered to make change. The fatalistic attitude that many of us share regarding the future of the planet is not helping anything, as far as Dondero and those involved with Focus the Nation can see. The time has come to offer our young people, as well as our communities, meaningful forums for sharing information and creating change.
On Feb. 7, Sonoma State hosts an all-day teach-in, a free event organized by the student-led Focus the Nation planning committee. The event offers concurrent sessions of keynote speakers, seminars and panel discussions, replete with a sustainability fair featuring student clubs, local businesses, nonprofits and community organizations. The day culminates with a round-table discussion hosted by the SSU faculty senate engaging elected officials, community members, students, faculty and administration in a dialogue about climate change solutions.
Dondero stresses that this event is about finding solutions that we can directly apply in our lives. Our universities should be leading the way, he argues, and the teach-in, which is open to the public, is a way of getting the community onto the campus in order to share ideas and create positive action. In order to facilitate and encourage conversation between the campus and the community, Dondero and others have formed the Sonoma State Student Sustainability Coalition, a group of five student clubs that are sponsoring the Focus the Nation events. The coalition intends to build a fruitful, long-term relationship between inspired students and community members.
Dondero points out that with 6 billion potential activists in the world, the answers are out there. With enough focus and hard work, he hopes to see a network of climate-action clubs on every high school campus in Sonoma and Marin counties, and Dondero and his fellow coalition members are willing to mentor and provide the support necessary to make this vision a reality.
Dondero's work is energized by the emerging sense that now that we are finally admitting on a global level that climate change is a real and pressing danger, we have a duty both to ourselves and younger generations to find and implement viable solutions for handling the problem. Groups such as Focus the Nation and the Sustainability Coalition understand the pressing nature of the issue, and they also understand that our only hope is through action, education and communication.
I am reminded of the Step It Up campaign, which also began on a college campus and spread from there into communities across the country and which seeks to push Congress into adopting stringent emission reduction plans. Not everyone, however, is fortunate enough to be able to attend college. With this disparity in mind, it is all the more vital that a push be made to bring programs such as Focus the Nation into middle school and high school arenas. In this way, the next generation of high school graduates will have a chance of entering the environmental movement ready, willing and prepared to meet the challenge.
SSU's Sustainability Conference and Fair is slated for Thursday, Feb. 7, at the recreation center. Symposia run 9am to 4pm; the fair begins at noon in the Mt. Everest Gym. SSU, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. Free. For further details, go to www.ssufocusthenation.com. To contact Timothy Dondero regarding the upcoming SSU events or to request information for your school, call 209.712.1787 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.