Changing a climate of environmental apathy

Silver Spring writer, author works to raise awareness

Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007

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Charles E. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Posing Friday on the roof of her green condominium building, Eastern Village Cooperative Housing, author Carole Douglis holds a copy of her children’s book ‘‘Tore and the Town on Thin Ice.”

As a child growing up in Montgomery County, Carole Douglis appreciated the wooded land behind her home, and was appalled the day she learned about the damage pollution can do.

When she was about 7, she visited Sligo Creek. Someone mentioned the stream had never looked more polluted. Douglis asked what pollution was, and was disturbed by the answer.

‘‘I was viscerally horrified,” she said. ‘‘How could people make pollution, make poison?”

Protecting the environment became a lifelong passion. Douglis, 51, of Silver Spring has written about climate change for different organizations and recently took part in climate and presentation training conducted by Al Gore, former vice president of the United States, his scientists and technical staff.

She became certified to give a version of the presentation shown in ‘‘An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore’s recent documentary about global warming.

For two and a half days, Douglis and about 200 people from around the country and the world — 1,000 people total have been trained — went to Nashville, Tenn., to learn more about global warming and how to give Gore’s presentation. The work, she said, was exciting since people are starting to speak out together about the state of the environment. It also inspired her to make some changes to her own lifestyle.

‘‘I am challenging myself, and I will challenge others as well, to go carbon neutral,” Douglis said.

By going carbon neutral, people can offset emissions of carbon dioxide so that personal and household activities no longer contribute to global warming. Douglis is off to a good start — she lives in a building that has a green roof and other environmental initiatives in place.

Douglis is looking forward to making the presentation to community members, with the hopes that people will be inspired to make lifestyle changes that will benefit the environment.

‘‘I want to help people be more conscious of what they can do collectively and individually,” Douglis said. ‘‘... It’s a way to feel powerful and a way to feel really good.”

Douglis began her career as an environmental journalist, then worked as a consultant with several different organizations to help them determine the best communication strategies to educate the public about the environment. She spent five years working in Africa — a country that also has seen the effects of global warming, Douglis said — and still returns to continue that work.

Lester Brown, currently the president of Earth Policy Institute, worked with Douglis when he was president of Worldwatch Institute. She was Worldwatch Institute’s director of information, and her role was important.

‘‘A research organization with no outreach is not tremendously useful,” Brown said. ‘‘She was good. She was committed to the issues she was working on and continues to work on those issues in various capacities.”

Bob Ramin, now the executive director of the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., worked with Douglis at the African Wildlife Foundation. He was the director of marketing and communications; Douglis sent stories to him from Africa that helped bring conservation and habitat issues to life, he said. In her writing, Douglis was able to bring out relationships between people, animals and culture, Ramin said.

‘‘Carole’s a great storyteller,” said Ramin, a Burtonsville resident. ‘‘I just think she’s a really wonderfully intuitive and inquisitive person. ... She really gets involved.”

Douglis has also written several children’s books for the United Nations Environmental Programme, including one about global warming called ‘‘Tore and the Town on Thin Ice.” The book is about a little boy who seeks solutions to global warming after the ice in his Arctic village thins and he crashes through it, causing him to lose a dogsled race.

At the end of the story, Tore learns various ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and stop global warming, like only driving a car if he must.

‘‘It was not easy to come up with a happy ending for a book about global warming,” she said.

Douglis believes people are becoming more concerned about the environment, particularly since this winter has been mild. However, she said, there is still work ahead since it takes more than one person to change what is happening with the environment.

‘‘It’ll take very collective action, but again, it’s very exciting,” Douglis said, adding that entire cities and countries around the world are making efforts to be more energy efficient and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. ‘‘We can do this.”