One of the first signs of being outside the United States, is that you hear about other news besides the war in Iraq. Right at this moment, I am reading a story in a local newspaper in France (Ouest-France): an English lawyer, Lewis Gordon Pugh (also an endurance swimmer nicknamed “The Polar Bear”), has just become the first man to swim in the North Pole. On July 18, he dove into the world’s iciest pool for eighteen minutes in order to inspire world leaders to take climate change seriously.
I am in a high-speed train that takes me from Paris to Nantes. I know the trip well, I have done it many times in order to visit my family. It is always enjoyable because of the gorgeous views of the countryside, and because of the reconnections I look forward to with my friends and family. In many ways, this trip is like all the others I have taken over the years; yet this time I also see some changes.
During my stay in Paris I was bombarded with billboards and signs on “How to Live a More Sustainable Life” (an awareness campaign). The EDF (Electricity of France) just published a practical guide on Energy and the Environment: E = moins de CO2 (E = less carbon dioxide) for two euros, available in all newsstands. It is divided in three sections: “My Planet,” “My Country,” and “My House.” Le Monde (the French equivalent of the New York Times) just published a special called Demain, La Terre, (Tomorrow, The Earth) and another one on Al Gore a few weeks ago.
In my train compartment, I am sitting next to a family of four: a mother with three boys, perhaps from five to twelve years old. They are very excited, they are going on vacation in Les Sables d’Olonne, a summer resort area near the Atlantic Ocean (from where the sailing race Vendee Globe takes off). The little one says, “Mom, what are these? They look like airplanes!” The mother responds, “These are wind turbines, honey. Look, they are running very fast, and there are so many.” One of the boys says, “But what are they for, are they going to take off? And the mom starts to explain, in great detail, what they are for and how they produce energy out of wind. The boys’ jaws drop. Their mom has their full attention. The boys keep watching through the window. One says, “Let’s count them.” Here they are, counting, with so much excitement, how many giant turbines are in front of them. The wind turbines finally stop appearing so frequently, so they take a break from the count. “Wow, twenty-six, that’s a lot,” the little one says. The mom takes the opportunity to talk more about the current energy needs in France and the issue of traditional fossil fuels energy and nuclear energy. At that point, only the oldest son seems to listen and understand the challenges.
I had a smile on my face as I listened to this mother talk, and watched her children listen. Sitting on that train, looking out the window, I had a vision of renewable energy on a large scale. I saw the power and the opportunity for all people—adults and children—to be aware of concrete actions for a better future. It was not tomorrow’s dream but it was real, and it was today. It became a boost for my engagement in sustainability practices. What a great souvenir from my summer vacation!