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Activists prepare for the Climate Convergence on Raleigh

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Karen Bearden is a birder. She and Joe, her husband, have been birders since the day they saw their first roseate spoonbill in a wildlife refuge in Florida 20 years ago. It looked like a big rose-colored flamingo, Karen says, with a bill shaped like a spoon. "That's the bird that hooked us."

From avid bird-watching, Karen recalls, it was a short step to the two becoming committed environmentalists and conservationists—because birds need clean water, air and habitat, just as humans do. That step, too, began Karen's journey to the center of the climate change movement in the Triangle, where she is today.

I visited with Karen last week to talk about Climate Convergence on Raleigh 2013, an important event that will unfold this weekend in conjunction with Earth Day. Joe, a manager at Tekelek, a mobile data firm, was at work. Karen operates from their North Raleigh home as a book editor, a volunteer "advocate for the earth," an area leader with 350.org and the Audubon Society and, for the last six months, one of CCR 2013's chief planners.

The Beardens' home is a gallery of nature and aviary art. The centerpiece is a giant photograph, taken by Karen and printed on canvas, of a brilliant light illuminating—as if in a cathedral—one room of a redwood forest in California.

"That was a spiritual moment for us," Karen says. "Joe and I came up a gravel road and stopped. There wasn't a sound. Then all of a sudden, the chickadees started to chatter to each other. I was just overwhelmed with joy; I was literally in heaven. That's our church, we say, just being out in nature."

I suppose it's possible not to care about the planet. Children are gunned down in a school in Connecticut. Bombs go off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and kill people. Around the world, civil wars rage, and many are killed every day. All of it invites a rancid nihilism about life itself and the absence of meaning.

Most of us, though, reject nihilism and search for meaning through some kind of spiritualism, whether formally religious or not. Is there a religion that doesn't teach us to be good stewards of our world? And if we aren't religious, doesn't meaning then depend even more on taking care of the other living creatures on earth, human and otherwise, now and in the future?

And so we come to the question of climate change. If you think it's a fraud, despite the scientific consensus that it is all too frighteningly real and present, then read no further. But if you accept the evidence that the earth is warming at an alarming rate, and that the cause is our profligate use of fossil fuels, you will surely want to know whether there's a movement anywhere capable of staving off disaster.

You'll want to know, that is, whether CCR 2013 and the groups behind it are up to the herculean task of taking down the fossil-fuel industry. And in North Carolina, can they prevent fracking and offshore drilling? Can they move us in time, because time is short, to a future of clean, renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power?

You may also, as you gauge their strength, realize that while theirs is a growing movement, it must continue to grow at an even faster pace to succeed—which should make it a movement you want to join.

That's what CCR 2013 is for, as Karen Karensays. It's a coming-together of all the major climate-change groups and activists in North Carolina for a show of strength and to discuss the next steps. "Our goal is to educate, inspire and issue a big call to action," she says, to state policymakers and to a public that, so far, is far too complacent to impact the politicians' decisions.

And it's a chance for those who aren't in the movement to check it out and jump in.

The 350.org movement started in 2007 with writer-teacher Bill McKibben and a few of his students at Middlebury College in Vermont. Today it's a global network of affiliates, including the one in the Triangle that Karen helped to launch.

Against the huge power and money of the oil, natural gas and coal industries—and utilities like Duke Energy that are in bed with them—the 350.org activists have their own weapons. "We fight with passion and compassion," Karen says, quoting McKibben.

Poetry, music and art are threaded through both days of CCR 2013 to help inspire participants and spark creative approaches to fighting the public policy battles, Karen says.

She's hoping for a massive turnout on Sunday for the concluding event, an outdoor encirclement of the Legislative Building. The idea is to symbolically surround state leaders, especially the Republicans who control the General Assembly and who are thus far in denial about climate change or simply don't care about it.

And sure, she acknowledges, a lot of what happens this weekend will be "the choir singing to itself"—climate change activists agreeing to agree. "But the choir needs to be together [and] to support each other," she adds. "And as someone said, not everyone in the choir is singing."

This article appeared in print with the headline "A movement builds steam."

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