350 Miles Through Utah: A Pilgrimage for Hope
Editor's Note: Utahns Jamie and Ryan Pleume are walking 350 miles across Utah to raise awareness about climate change. They started their journey today. We will be posting periodic updates from their journey on this blog.
“Hope is an action not an emotion.” A rabbi spoke these words in the sweltering heat, standing on a patch of lawn near the United States Capitol. His voice, hoarse with age, shook with emotion as he spoke to the small crowd—proxies for the desired audience—Congress. Hope is hard to come by these days. We are living in a time of existential crisis. Even though the consequences of climate change threaten the lives and safety of millions of people around the world, our leaders refuse to act to curb our national patterns of indulgence. In this political environment of denial, I struggle to find hope, so I was glad to hear of it described as an action. But, if hope is an action, what kind of action does it entail?
The science is clear. We must reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to 350 parts per million. To accomplish this reduction, we must voluntarily walk away from the economic, social, and political patterns that dominate our lives in the United States. The only way to tackle such a monumental journey is one step at a time.
Three months ago, I convinced my husband that we should take a 350 mile walk through our home state of Utah. I reasoned that we were both at a crossroads in our lives; we could take some time off; and a symbolic walk would be a great way to celebrate 350.org’s 10/10/10 day of action. He was not a hard sell. We had been living in Washington D.C. for two years, pining for the type of adventure that comes with open space and gravity (it’s hard to experience gravity ten feet above sea level). At the same time, we had reservations about moving back home to one of the most conservative states in the nation: a state whose politicians still refute humans’ contribution to climate change. We began to conceive of a walk that was both political and personal.
Politically, our 350 mile walk sends a message: These Utahns want their leaders to pass powerful climate change legislation immediately. We are joining a long lineage of serious, dedicated, frustrated political walkers—people who took a risk and walked away from the status quo, hoping that their feet would change what that their voices could not. The Jews walked out of Egypt. Mormon pioneers walked across the prairie. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King walked instead of taking the bus. The list extends beyond archetypes. Political walking is part of the bedrock of our democracy: the right to peaceably assemble is more than talk, it is walking the walk. At the end of every mile we will take a picture. Each picture will become a postcard sent to political leaders as part of the Million Letter March organized by the Citizens Climate Lobby.
Personally, the walk is a search for hope. I don’t honestly believe that powerful climate change legislation will survive the gauntlet of lobbyists hired by corporate “citizens,” like British Petroleum, Exxon Mobil, and Monsanto (to name my favorites). As an environmental attorney, I read reports about the pathetic, unjust state of our environment every day. But, feeling hopeless does not require expertise. Just read the IPCC Report some evening and see if your heart starts racing. In a world where the best case scenario includes catastrophic droughts, flooding, fires, and extinctions before I hit middle age, I am not sure where to find hope. So, in honor of the long tradition of hopeless walkers looking for salvation, I started to call our 350 mile walk the Pilgrimage for Hope.
FDR purportedly once said to some social activists who had convinced him of the merit of their reform ideas, “Fine, you’ve convinced me, now go bring the pressure.” I hope that our walk and our letter writing campaign will join the actions of thousands of others around the world to “bring the pressure” on our politicians. Like small tributaries that trickle down mountains, congregate in valleys, and eventually meet the ocean with the pressure and force of the Mississippi, I hope that our individual action will join with the myriad of individual actions around the world in a constant trickle of public pressure flowing into the halls of power so steadily that eventually the seams burst, exposing politicians and agency bureaucrats to the enormity of the challenge facing us all. Perhaps then, the world will begin to see some action that will give us reason to hope.
You can learn more about our journey at www.thewildernessproject.com.