Focus the Nation: The Unanswered Question

Last night my husband, friends and I and 3,200 others gathered at University of Portland for Focus the Nation. College students quizzed Governor Kulongoski and other elected politicians on solutions to global warming while OPB did a live radio broadcast.

My first thought: young Jesse Jenkins of the Cascade Climate Network is my current top pick for president in the 2020 election. (Who says I can’t think ahead?) His smart, impassioned opening speech was that effective, that anchored in conviction.

My main thought, though, is about the question that a student asked but did not get answered. “Where’s the sacrifice?” he called from the back after one of the politicians gave a techno-wonk response to how we would reduce our carbon emissions sharply and quickly enough to avert global disaster. The room got quiet. The panel did not volunteer to respond.

OPB’s moderator Sandra Tsing Loh rushed to fill the void by saying playfully, “Ah, sacrifice. We’ll get to that question later, if we have time.” That time did not materialize.

With our nation needing to reduce our carbon emissions 80% by 2050, new technologies cannot save the day. Even energy conservation and energy efficiency — which we should all be practicing aggressively — are not enough. We have to use radically less fossil fuels, period, which means changing how we live.

Enter the concept of sacrifice, which the nameless man with the prophetic voice understood. I have been changing my life for awhile now with small sacrifices, and I’m willing to keep going farther in that direction. The last time our nation embraced the notion of sacrifice was during World War II. Can we not muster the moral fiber that our parents and grandparents did?

I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on this, both pro and con.


2 Responses to “Focus the Nation: The Unanswered Question”

  1. 1 jessejenkins February 2, 2008 at 12:07 am

    Thanks Alison for the props on the speech. It was fun, and I’m glad I had the chance to help pump up the crowd.

    I’ll be forming my campaign committee shortly! (BTW, I’ll be 36 in 2020, so I guess that’s the first year I COULD run for President).

    Check out the Cascade Climate Network’s website at For us, Focus the Nation is only the beginning!

  2. 2 Ted Wolf February 2, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Came across your blog by chance, and I was also at UP for the Focus the Nation event. You are right, it doesn’t seem America is ready for an honest discussion about sacrifice.

    Consider this. US carbon dioxide emissions are now about 21 tons per person. Our population is expected to grow over 30% by 2040. To achieve total emissions reduction, we are going to have to accomplish emissions reductions per person MUCH deeper than, for example, Europe, where per capital emissions are already only half ours or less, and where population growth over the same time frame is expected to be modest or negligible.

    Whether we call it sacrifice, or find some other more saccharine name that is somehow more palatable to Americans, the changes will be very large. If we can build meaning around making the changes, that might hold us together! I sensed the possibility that we could do so, in the enthusiasm of the crowd at UP.

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