Cool Planet: Inspiring Change
Mar 30, 2013 11:09AM
● By Beth Davis
Paul Thompson, co-founder of Cool Planet, a local Edina nonprofit working toward neighborhood fun and action for the planet, was born and raised in Minneapolis. He spent more time outdoors than indoors. He rode bikes, climbed trees, caught mice in the wetlands (much to his mother’s dismay) and played every sport he could. It was here that he began to develop his love of nature, the environment and community.
After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1970, Thompson joined the Peace Corps for the opportunity to see the world. He taught biology and health science for three years in Borneo before traveling and living with people from other cultures and religions in Asia and Africa in an effort to broaden his horizons and become a global citizen. “The Peace Corps allowed me to connect with the world,” says Thompson. “I taught kids that had to swim across the river holding books over their heads to get to school. It puts things into perspective.”
An avid Frisbee player (he is a world-class senior grand-master flying disc player), Thompson’s brother would send him Frisbees to occupy his time and so that he could share his passion with others. Passing the discs out wherever he went, he used them to bring people together to experience fun and connection. It was a unique invitation to get people involved. “It was low-cost magic,” he says. “A way to get people to cooperate and collaborate.” Forty years later, this passion would be the catalyst for the launch of Cool Planet, an organization that informs and inspires people to be fit, have fun and take action for a healthy and sustainable home, neighborhood and planet.
“We had a Frisbee club in Edina,” Thompson explains. “In 2006, Jenny, the club’s co-founder, thought we should do something on Mother’s Day to honor mothers and the Earth. The Mother Earth Festival introduced Jim Hovland, the mayor of Edina, to popular explorer Will Steger, which led to a 1,000-person event at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, in Edina, where the mayor was asked (by Edina High School Project Earth students) to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.”
The turnout prompted the Frisbee club to think bigger. “Our goals were always to create healthy people and a healthy planet, so we made the leap and changed our name to Cool Planet,” says Thompson. As a retired elementary educator (he spent nearly 20 years in Minneapolis Public Schools), he is particularly keen on education and outreach.
The group works with schools, faith communities and partner organizations in Edina and elsewhere in Minnesota to engage people of all ages in solving the climate crisis. The organization helps in getting people outside, improving their fitness and connecting them with the things they love about the planet. By doing this, Thompson says, kids, families and communities take better care of natural resources and take their citizenship seriously to build the friendly, thoughtful and open-hearted communities needed to effectively address climate change.
“We want to move people to think for themselves to take action,” he says. “We don’t want people to just know their community leaders, we want their community leaders to know them. Voting is important, but what we do after that is even more important.”
Almost two years ago, Cool Planet launched Speak Up!!, a program designed to help train climate-solutions leaders. Its purpose is to give ordinary citizens the tools they need to be effective leaders of a climate solutions movement in their neighborhoods, schools, faith communities, civic organizations, businesses and families. Participants have the opportunity to learn about the science of climate change from board member Dr. John Abraham, from the University of St. Thomas; understand the psychology and challenges of communicating difficult information such as this from Dr. Christie Manning, board member and author of The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior; and learn to create authentic engagement in meetings, gatherings and conversations about climate change using Craig and Patricia Neal’s technology and book The Art of Convening. Since the program launched, Thompson says the group has trained approximately 150 people.
Cool Planet aligns itself with other organizations seeking change, including 350.org, founded by U.S. author and global environmental leader—and friend and mentor to Thompson—Bill McKibben. Thompson is heavily involved in building the 350 movement locally through MN350.org. The organization hosts multiple events, campaigns and projects to get people involved, excited and engaged in building resilient, strong communities.
What does this 350 number mean? “Leading scientists now say that we need to stabilize carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 350 ppm (parts per million) to avoid runaway climate change,” Thompson explains. “We are now at 396 ppm and running out of time. The window of opportunity is closing. People need to know that their involvement is so vital right now.”