Like most of us, my wife, Betsy, and I want to leave the world a bit better for our having been in it. This takes on more urgency for us as grandparents of a delightful three-year-old. We don’t want our grandkids to ask, "What were you doing while the Earth was getting ruined?" and have to respond, "Not much—we just watched it on TV." Instead, we want to leave a positive legacy for them and, equally important, for others around the world.
The best legacy we can imagine is to help make a world in which people treat each other with more kindness than is now the case, and a world in which people can still be delighted by the richness and mysteries of the web of life. And we want to leave a world that is still livable: less stripped of its resources, less polluted, and less disrupted politically and climatologically.
Like most, we are flooded with appeals to help with the many urgent causes involving war, human rights, environmental degradation, and others. We have to employ triage. Our reasoning goes like this: violence of all kinds leaves scars, lost lives, ongoing hatred, and wounded societies on both sides—yet life somehow continues.
But environmental damage is different. A lost species is lost forever. An old-growth forest, destroyed along with its rich diversity, is gone for countless generations. Toxicity may persist for centuries or millennia. Species, habitats, and indigenous cultures are now being extinguished at an alarming rate. Before long we may have seen the last whale, elephant, or tiger in the wild—something we have had with us all our lives and have always assumed our grandchildren would enjoy as well. It seems to us that protecting what remains of the world’s natural richness and diversity is the most valuable gift we can give to our offspring and to the world.
A Special Group
Among the groups that we support, we receive the best payback on our time and resources from a tiny organization that operates worldwide with remarkable success: Global Response. This organization has proved extremely effective in preventing the destruction of natural treasures and indigenous cultures by helping people write letters. Its staff of three is directed by Paula Palmer, a member of Boulder (Colo.) Meeting.
In this age of economic globalization, giant corporations roam the world seeking places where protections are weak and local populations are vulnerable, to exploit for labor and resources. Global Response counters these assaults by mounting very carefully targeted letter-writing campaigns. Betsy and I have joined this global letter-writing community that spans 100 countries and also includes children and young people. We write actual letters rather than faxes or e-mails.
The Global Response campaigns are designed to directly influence governmental and corporate decision makers, whose actions can determine the fate of entire ecosystems and our global climate. Global Response achieves impressive results. When an official in a Third-World province or the president of a large corporation walks into the office to find his or her desk piled high with letters from all over the world, and when the letters are protesting some questionable action the official thought few people knew about, this gets attention in a big way. Through these campaigns, Global Response letter writers help save several parts of our Earth each year.
The organization works closely with local grass-roots groups who know best what is needed, and with other environmental groups. It has developed a trusting relationship with indigenous groups all over the world, amplifying their voices through the letter campaigns. It is the only group that we know of with this kind of focus. It does this amazing work on a very small budget, stretching every dollar to its limit.
In an arena where a 20-percent success rate is considered good, of the campaigns Global Response has been involved in, 44 percent have been successful. As a board member, I have observed how such a high success rate is achieved: enthusiastic letter-writing members, painstaking research of issues, close partnering with local organizations, strategic targeting of letter campaigns, and careful use of its slim funds.
Working with local and international partners, this feisty little group has taken on giants like Shell Oil and the World Bank on specific issues, and won. Recent victories for Global Response include blocking a pipeline through a national park in Russia and canceling construction of a poisonous aluminum smelter in Patagonia.
The largest of Pakistan’s national parks, in an area of great scenic beauty and ecological importance, contains archaeological sites dating back 5,500 years, and 20,000 indigenous people depend on its resources for survival. All this was threatened by an illegal contract to drill for oil, which was stopped with the help of Global Response letter writers. The local partner there wrote: "Against heavy odds, the campaign to force Shell Oil Co. out of the protected Kirthar National Park has succeeded! . . . Shell Oil could not withstand the flood of Global Response letters. It is a great victory for conservationists all over the world."
For a year and a half, Global Response letters and public protests urged the South Korean government to stop construction of a seawall that would destroy an internationally vital habitat for migratory birds and the livelihoods of thousands of fisher people. This February, a Seoul court ruling brought construction to a halt. The local Korean partner wrote: "Warmest thanks . . . to you and people at Global Response. During our congratulation meeting yesterday, the secretary-general mentioned your organization and your name. Every one of us gave a warm hand to you. You are the one of the most devoted activists to raise the Saemangeum issue worldwide."
Global Response letters helped stop oil exploration along the pristine Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, which would have invaded a national park, two wildlife refuges, and habitats for sea turtles and dolphins. The local partner wrote: "Our deepest gratitude to Global Response for all the vital support at key moments with your letters . . . . Because of you, we don’t feel alone, and we have the strength to continue."
More is Needed
Betsy and I find that it’s easy to write to decision makers. We take great satisfaction in knowing how effectively our letters are targeted. Often we get interesting letters back, for instance from the president of Mexico, the CEO of Boise Cascade, and the president of Costa Rica. And before long our grandson, and perhaps his entire class, can join us in writing, and thereby learn to appreciate the natural world.
It also feels good to support this group. Founder and donor Roy Young says: "In terms of environmental protection, Global Response delivers the best return on investment that I have ever seen." Effective as these campaigns are, the needs are overwhelming. So much more could be done with more members. Those who are concerned about the future of our wonderful Earth and who want to leave a better world for those who follow may want to consider joining the Global Response community.