Driving down to Santa Barbara in a vehicle fueled by vegetable oil (thank you Eco Limo, and no, it didn't smell like french fries), I was excited to meet the first environmentalist to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Maathai, a native of Kenya, won this prestigious award in 2004 "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace."
What a powerful message the Nobel committee sent to the world -- that peace and security have everything to do with how we manage -- or mismanage our natural resources.
"The minute the environment is degraded you have created an environment for conflict. The root of all conflict is natural resources. Do not waste natural resources. They are to be treated with respect," Wangari said with an air of confidence so inspiring I felt like hugging her, which I did before the night was over. She really did feel like Mother Earth herself, so full of laughter, kindness and wisdom. This is a woman who has been beaten, thrown in jail and scorned for her efforts to...plant trees (over 30 million of them so far).
During dinner, Wangari spoke about the need for good governance. Of course she was talking about Africa, but her words had complete relevance for our own country:
"Don't let your leaders break their promises," she said. "If we have good leaders we can move forward. Good leaders will ensure that we take care of our resources."
Her comments made me think of one of the many promises our leader -- "the decider" -- has broken. Remember Bush's 2000 campaign promise to regulate CO2 pollution? Imagine how much better off we'd be today if he'd kept that promise. Or if the rest of us took on the task of protecting the environment with even a smidgen of Wangari's courage and commitment.