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Are we finally on the right trail?

We were walking a trail that meanders past fields, farms and boutique vineyards, a setting so giddy green it makes a person want to do cartwheels through the poppies. I was with my friend Janet, whose nature radar constantly halts her in mid-sentence to point to a rare bird or wildflower.

We walked by two furry beasts staring our way and she exclaimed, "bison." Then came rows of blueberry bushes, a farmhouse with eggs for sale and run-around chickens and horses.

So bucolic it made your eyes sting, it was the ideal place to toss around the word "sustainability."

This is Janet's thing. A couple of years ago she announced she was going to graduate school to study sustainable development. May 4 and 5, she's helping to put on a Sustainable Enterprise conference in Rohnert Park to focus on how earth-saving is good for business.

Janet is no neo-enviro. Before she became an expert on sustainability, she put together night hikes at Point Reyes. Her seaside wedding included recycle stations. She's one of the longtime earth huggers whose progressive notions are now mainstream.

Greenies are like computer geeks, outlasting those who mocked them and labeled them fringe people. Granola-eating jokes are as last century as ones about pocket protectors.

I once told Janet that her people needed to come up with a better term for sustainable development. Something sexier. I'm not sure why I thought sustainable was so off-putting. It's a pretty easy concept to grasp -- take care of the present by not mucking up the future.

But we've gotten past the words. Greenhouse gases, global warming, climate change, even carbon credits are part of the everyday chat. My milk carton talks about wind power. Part of the price of my T-shirt will help plant a tree.

Greenies don't gloat, but bad news has turned a lot of scoffers into believers. We have the Supreme Court ruling that government has the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, even though the president says, "You can't make me." The International Panel on Climate Change declares that global warming is a certain thing that could lead to more floods, drought, the extinction of some plants and animals. A Web site invites ghoulish wagers on which beach resort will be first to go under water. A military group warns that national security is threatened by upcoming struggles over natural resources.

Janet remembers when the media gave minimum attention to environmental news -- "There'd be some sports scandal on the front page and buried in the back a little headline that the earth could be dead in 20 years."

Back when we were consuming and warring, Earth Day rallies received as little coverage as peace protests. Now it's big deal news when San Francisco bans non-biodegradable plastic bags and restaurants start to replace fancy bottled water with tap.

The enthusiasm over planet-saving has juiced up over the past 12 months, said a Georgetown University professor in Newsweek's special section on the environment. He's not sure what caused the momentum, said John McNeill, but is hopeful we just might save ourselves if we stay focused. An impending drought helps. The prospect of a parched summer is hard to grasp at the top of the green season, but we're on alert, and global warming nudges closer.

Janet's message has always been that human beings need to live as partners with nature. What we do today may keep our children and grandchildren from going to war over not just oil, but water. That's sustainable thinking, and that's sexy enough.

See the article in the Press Democrat

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