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Cooling the planet at the gas roots

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In Vermont, activists want to revive an old water mill to generate electricity. In California, so-called locavores are eating only local food, not food shipped by long-haul trucks. They're part of a bottom-up movement to fix global warming and start adjusting to a post-oil world.

But will it work?

For years, the task of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions was seen as a job mainly for central governments. The result: the 1997 Kyoto Protocols, a top-down effort by most industrial nations to mandate reductions in carbon burning. And indeed, one more reminder of the need to act was issued this week in a British report that calls for governments to spend up to 3.5 percent of GDP to counter climate change.

But with the major emitters such as the US and China outside the treaty, and with the Kyoto nations failing to meet their 2012 goals, the idea of millions of self- sacrificing individuals taking responsibility for their own energy-excessive lives seems like The Next Best Thing.

The "Relocalization Network," for instance, is one of several groupings of activists trying to swear off fossil fuels. The network has 128 local groups so far, mainly in the US, that create communities for a postcarbon world by such actions as Internet-linked car sharing, buying only local foods, walking and biking more often to destinations and, overall, reducing personal consumption.

This winter, a group called The Climate Project that came out of Al Gore's movie and book, An Inconvenient Truth, plans to train hundreds of "grass-roots messengers" to speak in their communities about the need for action on global warming.

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