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Published September 10 2007

A local approach to climate change

DULUTH, Minn. – Dr. Arne Vainio reminds you to unplug household electronics when they aren’t being used. Folk singer Charlie Parr suggests you wash your clothes in cold water and turn off your engine if you’re stuck in a bad traffic jam. Retired teacher Sandra Wright tells you to take the bus to work or school.

The earth-friendly messages are the centerpiece of a unique ad campaign in the Duluth area, featuring regular folk urging their neighbors to take steps to combat global climate change. They’re a project of the Duluth-based Environmental Association for Great Lakes Education, which got a grant to try to turn climate change into a local issue.

The ads describe ways to take personal action to reduce energy use and cut carbon emissions, as part of an effort to reduce the climate-changing effect of greenhouse gases. Jan Conley, the environmental association’s director, got the idea for the local campaign after she watched “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s Academy Award-winning documentary on global warming.

Conley said she was “troubled that the suggestions for individual action were buried in the credits ... which ran when most people had left the theater. I have always believed that when confronted with difficult issues or huge problems, people tend to feel overwhelmed and will often feel nothing they do can make a difference.”

Some of the simple steps urged in the ads include replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs; walking, biking or riding the bus instead of driving; washing clothes in cold water; drying clothes on a line; taking short showers; insulating homes and caulking doors and windows; and keeping car tires inflated and engines tuned.

Conley said she thinks regular people will pay more attention to global climate change if they think they can make a difference themselves.

The ads are running this fall in Duluth and Superior, Wis., on posters that will hang in stores, restaurants and on city buses. In addition to those already mentioned, ads also feature school children, a University of Minnesota-Duluth hockey player, a photographer and a construction worker.

Each ad features a different tip but a common line: Be part of the solution.

Parr, the Duluth folk singer, said he isn’t usually a social or political activist and lets his music carry most of his messages.

“When they first wanted to put my picture up I thought, ‘why me?’ I’m not exactly photogenic. There are a few things I can get excited about getting behind, though, and (global warming) is one of them,” Parr said. “I have kids and I wonder, how can anyone hold their kids and think about what we’re doing to this planet and not try to do something about this?”

Rabbi Amy Bernstein of Temple Israel in Duluth agreed to be part of the campaign, even though she doesn’t consider herself a raging environmentalist.

“I don’t think I’m any more vocal on (climate change) than I am on peace and justice or any other issue,” Bernstein said. “But I think that’s the point. It’s not about environmentalists taking action.

It’s about putting people out there who are believable, who embody some value and are credible, and who talk about making a difference.”