Following is another guest post by our conference blogger, Shelly Randall. Visit Shelly’s website at

If not me, then who?

It’s the conference theme and the rhetorical question we are all grappling with at the Northwest Earth Institute’s North American gathering at Fort Worden State Park here in Port Townsend. If we don’t step up to take action, how can we expect others to?

On Day 2, the first full day of the conference, we heard several inspiring stories from leaders who have stepped up to build coalitions around local food, to facilitate local investing opportunities, to create a lifestyle change action guide, and more.

Participants are appreciating the level of detail shared on how to replicate these actions in other communities. “A good mix of pragmatism and idealism,” was one comment. “The best feet-on-the-ground presentation I’ve seen,” was another. Snooze-inducing Powerpoint presentations these are not!

I plan to write detailed posts about the presentations I attended in the weeks to come, especially the success stories from Port Townsend: using NWEI Menu for the Future discussion groups to bring farmers and local-food customers together; and growing community capital with a membership group called LION (Local Investing Opportunities Network).

Right now it’s past midnight, and my head is swimming with “feelings of excitement, interest, intrigue, befuddlement,” as presenter/attendee Kurt Hoelting described it at the end of this long and mind-bending day.

But before I hit the sack, I want to share Kurt’s original and heartfelt response to the question, “If not me, then who?”

“It’s exactly the question that sent me on this journey. And it’s probably the most important question I live with every day, he said at the start of his keynote talk on how he chose to take personal responsibility for his role in global warming.

Kurt, a wilderness guide and meditation teacher who traveled all over the world for business and pleasure, decided to dramatically reduce his carbon footprint by giving up jet and auto travel for one year. He wrote a book about his 2008 adventure called The Circumference of Home: One Man’s Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life.

For that one year he decided to travel only within 100 kilometers of his South Whidbey home, within a circle that encompasses the stunningly beautiful Puget Sound basin. Tonight we enjoyed a slide show of images from his walking, biking and paddling trips, and considered his advice for avoiding despair or denial over the state of the world: “The question is not do we respond, but can we turn it into an adventure?”

Kurt asked us to tell the person sitting next to us the boldest thing we could imagine doing to address the current environmental crisis. Then he urged us to consider actually doing it.

“The invitation I leave you with is to really ‘up the ante.’ To dare one another, in a way, to move in the direction of something bold. Something that begins to match the scale of the challenge we face.”

What’s the boldest action you can imagine taking to move yourself or your community to greater sustainability? Leave a comment if you want to share.

After all, if not you, then who?