CHARLOTTE -- The Vermont Earth Institute hosted a networking event for 10 regional environmental groups and the public last Thursday night in Charlotte.
The gathering, which was attended by 75-100 people, served as an opportunity to build stronger connections between regional environmental activists. The event was, an inspirational evening of motivation to take action, said Laurie Caswell-Burke, a VEI board member and the lead organizer of the event.
My whole idea was to get people together in an informal setting around food and a sense of community, said Caswell-Burke.
The Earth Institute was joined at the event by representatives from the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund, the Champlain Localvores, the 10 percent Challenge, the New American Dream, Efficiency Vermont and others.
In addition to the organizations who distributed informational material about their projects and goals, Sugar Snaps Catering put on a regal display of local Vermont foods to promote the local foods movement which has recently swept the Vermont landscape.
Tom Hudspeth, professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont, gave a brief talk to the crowd concerning the role of local organizations in the global struggle for environmental sustainability.
He emphasized that the mass media in the United States is not sufficiently covering environmental issues, and when it is covered, it appears in the Living section of most newspapers, and not in the News section. He noted that, In many cases, sustainability works against their [the mass medias] advertising interests.
However, Hudspeth observed that the Earth Institutes discussion groups are countering this trend by bringing people together to meaningfully discuss relevant issues.
Indeed, these local discussion groups are the principal focus of VEI. The newest discussion group, entitled Global Warming: Changing CO2urse, will investigate personal habits as they relate to climate change, in addition to developing a greater understanding of global warming science.
These discussion groups not only raise awareness about current affairs, but also, in Hudspeths estimation, rebuild the sense of community that has deteriorated so significantly in American culture.
Hudspeth stressed that community vitality, or social capital, as he also termed the concept, is essential to the success of global environmental sustainability. We have to work on social capital, Hudspeth exclaimed, or [the goals of the environmental movement] arent going to work.
He noted that outside the United States, other countries are working to develop strong communities with a rich understanding of how personal and community decisions impact global environmental issues. For example, the New Zealand Ministry of Education has developed sweeping K-12 curricula focused on sustainability issues.
The development of social capital, is exactly what the Vermont Earth Institute attempted to foment with this gathering of local activists who beforehand, may have had little or no contact with other regional groups.
The Vermont Earth Institute has worked to raise environmental consciousness through local discussion groups since 1995. More information on VEIs discussion groups can be found on their website, www.vtearthinstitute.org .