The Second Half: Getting greener and wiser

By Kathleen D. Tresemer


Recently, I took a two-part class at CLR (Center for Learning in Retirement out at Rock Valley College), meant to stimulate my Second-Half brain and learn a little something in the process. The class was titled “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America,” a discussion of the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas L. Friedman. You may recognize Friedman as the fellow who wrote the bestseller The World is Flat in 2005.

Marion Wilke was our class leader, a very laid-back gal with an easy style, described by one classmate, “She’s so nice!” Wilke is a journalist with years of experience in the Rockford area. I wondered how such a “nice” gal would lead us in a discussion about an emotion-charged issue like the green revolution.

Never doubt the power of “nice.” By the time we went halfway around the room giving our initial comments, we were deeply involved in a debate—“nice” Marion really got us going!

I had to laugh when one guy commented about the number of guys attending the class—“Usually classes I attend are mostly all women.”

Just for fun, and because I am a rabble-rouser, I commented, “From a social viewpoint, that would be logical, as women tend to be nurturers—saving the planet is a nurturing thing.”

Playing devil’s advocate is what I enjoy most. I learned this about myself in my First Half, and try to use this skill for positive change in my Second Half. But times like this, the siren voice in my head calls, “Come to the dark side, Kathleen!” I took just a tiny step in that direction, and then I reeled myself in; I swear.

After our hilarious discussion about why more women came to classes like this (we concluded that it was a matter of census—more of us were alive!), we actually got down to business. One thought was that America had historically been leaders in innovation, and we needed that kind of spirit today.

“Become the world leaders in green technology,” someone suggested.

“But how do we get there?” Marion asked.

Day One consisted of 17 folks in their Second Half, most who had either finished the book or were well into it. I, of course, had not yet started the book because of various obligations, but had at least heard of the guy. The one place I tried to buy the book was sold out. I did finally get the book at my local library, pleasantly surprised at how many copies were in our library system and most of them were checked out! That made me happy, to see such interest in this book and this issue.

Part Two of our class was the following Monday, and would focus on what to do about the problems of our “Hot, Flat and Crowded” planet.

“This was one of the five books President Obama took to read,” a classmate shared, “when he went to Martha’s Vineyard.”

“That’s positive,” I thought.

The saddest part of all for me is this: the subject matter—pollution, dwindling resources and over-population—was at the top of our list of discussion topics when I was in high school and college! Back then, we all talked about alternative energy sources, recycling, and zero-population growth. While our efforts at saving the planet were passionate, they had less socio-economic impact than I would have hoped. Recall 1979, when President Jimmy Carter had solar heating panels mounted on the roof of the White House, promoting energy conservation in America?

Of course, by 1986, President Ronald Reagan had cut the budget of the Carter initiatives such as the Solar Energy Research Institute and other alternative energy programs, even allowing tax incentives for solar and wind energy start-ups to lapse. Did you know Reagan actually removed those solar panels? I guess he was trying to promote our oil and auto industries—you know, give our economy a boost. SIGH!

So, here we are again, trying to get a grip on pollution, climate change, over-population and energy. These problems are kind of like bell-bottoms and platform shoes: they keep coming back.

I would love to say that the little group of participants in my class devised a plan to change the course of history—I always wanted to change the world. Here’s what I did learn—social responsibility and social connectedness are the underlying issues. Innovation (developing new technology aimed at improving conditions now and later) as well as conservation (minimizing the impact now and preserving what we have for later) are necessary, but won’t happen unless we have a reason, perhaps the obvious economic incentives. Couldn’t there be more, like we start to value our world and each other?

Someone in the class suggested Greg Mortenson had the right idea—he’s the Nobel Peace Prize nominee who wrote Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time. His message is something like, “Once you look someone in the eye and share a positive experience, you want to do more to enhance the fundamental human experience for both of you.”

Or, you could reduce it to: “We are all connected, one world and one humanity.”

Or, even the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Or, like someone in the class suggested: “Pretend we’re the Nike company…JUST DO IT!”

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

‘Pennies, Peace & Philanthropy’

“Pennies, Peace & Philanthropy” is a Rock Valley College Center for Learning in Retirement (CLR) class that will examine the Rockford school children’s 2008 “Pennies for Peace” initiative, inspired by Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea. Don’t miss this intriguing and inspirational presentation!

The basics

Leader: Karen Bieschke, vice president of the Rockford Education Association

Date: Monday, Oct. 26

Time: 1-3 p.m.

Location: Rock Valley College Bell Building, room 13

Cost: $10

Contact CLR at (815) 921-3931 for more information.

From the October 7-13, 2009 issue

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