John Kerry couldn't have been much further from the White House on Monday night.
The 2004 Democratic presidential candidate appeared at the Bagdad Theater with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, to pitch their new book, This Moment on Earth: Today's New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future.
Their appearance drew about 400 people, two-thirds theater capacity, paying $26 apiece for admission and a copy of the book. The 90-minute talk was well-received—no surprise, really, given that 72 percent of Multnomah County voted for the Massachusetts senator in '04. The audience gave the couple a standing ovation when they came on stage and applauded occasionally afterward.
"We believe that this moment on Earth is a special one," Kerry told the crowd. "And we have been given the responsibility of living up to the demands of the moment."
Kerry, who has ruled out another presidential run in 2008, told WW before his speech that he and his wife began writing their book in late 2005, before Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth again made planet-saving a hot topic. The Kerrys' motive: their frustration in the 2004 presidential campaign at how little traction his environmental plans gained.
"We talked about the environment everywhere we went," Kerry said in an interview last week. "And somehow it was hard to break through because of Osama bin Laden and the war on terror."
Both Kerrys have decades of environmental bona fides. He fought acid rain in the '80s with a bill that used a widely copied market-oriented approach to pollution controls. And she is a longtime board member of the Environmental Defense Fund, the green movement's right flank. Also, the couple first laid eyes on each other at an Earth Day rally in 1990 and got reacquainted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
In the wealthy couple's personal life, they traded their SUVs for hybrids and switched to fluorescent bulbs and non-toxic cleaners. And Teresa uses video conferencing instead of air travel.
But the book isn't about them, and it isn't about scare tactics, either.
"It's a hopeful book," Kerry said last week. "It's about what average Americans are doing, going out and changing things at the local level, and how you can make a difference."
This Moment on Earth celebrates farmers, fishers, soldiers and preachers—pragmatic "new environmentalists." That includes former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg, who in 1993 helped make Portland the first U.S. city with a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (One flub to Kerry's local shout-outs Monday night: He referred to U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a fellow Democrat, as "Blumenthal.")
In fact, Portland's green achievements fill a full seven pages of the 201-page book.
"I'm all for anyone with any kind of power using their position to get people to change their behavior," says Portland Office of Sustainable Development Director Susan Anderson, one of the Portlanders cited in the book.
A week after the book's March 26 publication, it ranked No. 21 in sales on Amazon, and climbed as high as No. 15 at Powell's Portland stores. So far, reaction has tracked people's views on the messenger, with conservatives bashing the book, and the Daily Kos crowd fawning "O Captain! My Captain!" style.
The book itself is concise, informative and inspiring. As for conservative jibes about the Kerrys' "personal sacrifices": As radio pundit Don Imus observed March 23, the Kerrys don't have to do this; they've got money. They could be shopping.
"We need to go back to creating a grassroots movement that is not partisan," Teresa Heinz Kerry told the Bagdad crowd, "but is just hugely optimistic."