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Ringo tells students: "We have not created a great place for you."

            Jerome Ringo spoke to a hall almost full of young people. Middle and high school students made up the great majority of the audience at Murray State’s Earth Day’s key note speech. A scattering of college students, a few elected officials and some diehard environmental activists lent some age to the crowd.

            Ringo tailored his speech to his audience. He apologized to the students for the mess that his and preceding generations had made of the environment. 

           “We have not created a great place for you,” he told them.

            The snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa that they studied are no longer. The coastlines and marshes of his native state, Louisiana and of Texas are disappearing at the rate of an acre every forty five minutes. The permafrost is melting and Greenland is disappearing. The meltdown of Greenland will produce enough fresh water each day to cover Texas thirteen times over. That will have real impact on the coastal cities and population centers. Indigenous peoples on islands and coastal areas are having to move and move again to escape the rising waters. Ringo said the next war will be over water. Two billion people cannot get a glass of clean water.

           “We are no longer living in a four season world.” He said. “There are two seasons – winter and summer. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends.”

            The four hottest years on record have occurred since 1995 and the summer of 2005 was the hottest in recorded history. This summer, 2009, may break that record. Ringo said he is an evacuee of Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. When he attended the National Wildlife Federation meeting in Florida in 2005, he was caught in Hurricane Rita.

            “As soon as I am finished speaking, I am leaving Murray so you won’t have a hurricane.” He joked.

            Violent hurricanes are not accidental. The warm waters of the oceans are like steroids to the storms that hit the Gulf of Mexico, according to Ringo.

            Jerome Ringo was the only black delegate to go to the Kyoto Climate Change Conference. He recognized that minorities do not come easily to environmental activism. When he joined the Louisiana Wildlife Federation in 1994, there were 24,000 members and he was the only black member. Today, there are 19,000 members and he is still the only black member.  Lack of involvement is not an issue of color. It is an issue of exploitation. In Louisiana, there is a stretch of territory called “Cancer Alley” where petrochemical companies are located – interspersed with poor small towns. While in West Virginia, he saw that poor whites living near the coalfields were the first to suffer illnesses related to mining.

            Ringo’s
Apollo Alliance is dedicated to creating green jobs. He believes that the economically disadvantaged will get interested in the green movement when there are jobs to support them. He told the students that the Obama administration’s stimulus package contains money to weatherize low income homes. The problem is that the homes must be inspected for energy issues before they are weatherized. Arkansas has 400,000 potentially eligible homes and 2 inspectors. New York has 2.8 million eligible homes and 9 inspectors. 

            “That’s a job that a high school graduate can do with one week’s training.” He told the audience. “Then there’s a job for the energy conserving windows installer and the caulker and the guy who drives the truck to deliver the windows and the factory that makes them. Those are green jobs.”

            Companies do not set out to exploit the poor. He recently asked the president of Exxon-Mobile, a company that makes $1200 profit every second what he will tell his grandchildren that he did to create a green environment.

            Ringo believes that the US needs to diversify its energy portfolio. He told the audience he had seen a plan for wind turbines to be placed on abandoned oil rigs in the Gulf. (There is no law or regulation regarding use of oil rigs that no longer produce.). The blades of the wind turbines would fold like flower petals before a hurricane or high winds and the turbine would turn so it would not face the winds directly. Under the rigs would be floats that produce electricity from the movement of water.

            Ringo told students that they can start now to conserve. Change light bulbs. Turn your computer off at night. Unplug the phone charger when it’s not in use. Do carbon discharge checks on campus.          

  He is thinking of the young people who came on a big yellow bus to hear him speak. But he is also thinking of their children and grandchildren.


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