Gotta Start Small to Go Big

Anybody remember President Obama's recent State of the Union speech? We were watching it at the Sierra Club Green Home offices, excited to hear about his successes on the environmental front.

President Obama is one impressive orator but according to that speech, he plans to: fix the economy; implement a new health care policy; complete the war in Afghanistan/Iran; rebuild our standing internationally; help impoverished nations; among other important problems to address - not to mention, foster the green movement and bring renewable energy to America.

Noble goals all, but at some point I began to wonder, is it realistic to accomplish even a portion of this by 2012? Perhaps but knowing how monumental these problems all are, it is unlikely that even one or two of them will be solved in three short years.

The same thought occurred to me while attending a recent green conference, which shall remain nameless. The speakers talked about making recycling mandatory throughout the country; bringing wind and solar power to all municipalities; ending coal mining and replacing it with clean renewable energy; providing adequate supplies of clean water and air to all citizens of the world; retrofitting American homes with proper insulation, energy efficient windows, low flow toilets and showers, composting, and more. We need all of these things, no doubt, but at some point, it just won't work to say we can accomplish all of them simultaneously.

Consider this a plea for community leaders, politicians, non-profit executive directors and others in position to help fix our problems and affect change in America: please, let's try to take a more realistic approach to going green. This means PRIORITIZING our goals, if not nationally then by municipality or geographical area. This way, it might be possible to get one or two or even three of the mission-critical agenda items accomplished. Yes they ALL need to be addressed, but trying to do so simultaneously will most likely result in making a little progress on all fronts but completing none. Better to select one or two major issues and work them intensely to actually succeed -- then and only then move to the next ones.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: instead of having each major city in America try to work on a full sustainability plan, why not assign a specific area of focus, and then share the solution with other cities in the form of a best practices template? For example, Chicago would work on indoor air quality since they spend so much time indoors; Las Vegas would work on water conservation since it is in the desert; Los Angeles would work on solar power since it has a high percentage of sunny days, and so on. Then at the end of three or five years, each city would have to share their completed template with other cities nationally and even internationally. In this way, we'd have a collection of significant successes instead of all cities recording varying degrees of success in many categories.

I know this is rhetoric but I have an innate fear that thousands of well-meaning volunteers who support these leaders will end up frustrated and unfulfilled. It is up to our leaders to choose a path that can lead to success, one goal at a time.

Thanks for reading; I'd love to hear your thoughts on this....