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Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007 02:24 pm

Springfield’s hotties

Two locals are tapped to spread Al Gore’s global warming message

Untitled Document A middle-aged African-American woman from Springfield and a white male professor from the local university recently discovered they have something in common with hot celebrity actress Cameron Diaz as well as billionaire venture capitalist John Doerr. What could it be? All four recently spent a week holed up in a Hilton in Nashville, Tenn., undergoing intensive training at the hands of former presidential candidate Al Gore Jr. to become Climate Change Messengers, or foot soldiers in the campaign to raise awareness of global warming. Ceceilia Haasis, employment resources manager at Springfield Center for Independent Living, and Jim Bonacum, assistant professor of biology at University of Illinois at Springfield, were among the one thousand volunteers from around the world selected to participate in Gore’s Climate Project, an organization designed to further the message sent by Gore’s Oscar-nominated documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The training was conducted in five separate sessions, each with about 200 participants. The trainees were selected from a deluge of online applicants said to number somewhere between 4,500 and 10,000. Each applicant had to complete a questionnaire asking about their interest in the environment and their experiences in public speaking. All trainees are given a PowerPoint program and about 800 slides and asked to give 10 presentations over the coming year. Bonacum, who teaches genetics at UIS, seems like a natural fit — a biologist who says he has been worried about the issue for years. “Gore’s film really articulated the problem very, very well,” he says. “But when I saw it, I was sitting in a movie theater with my girlfriend and maybe two other people. So I was concerned about getting the word out.”
Haasis applied when a friend circulated an e-mail to her “sisters” group at the Abraham Lincoln Universalist Unitarian Congregation. Though she’s not a scientist, Haasis says Gore has packaged the information in a way that is easily understandable. “He has slides that show ice cubes melting and spilling out of a glass. He makes it very simple,” she says. Their classmates included people from across America and a few foreign countries. “I was actually amazed by the diversity of people there,” Bonacum says. “The youngest was 14.”
“One at my table was a Roman Catholic priest, who was going to give the presentation to all these different congregations,” Haasis says. “There was a young girl about to start teaching high school. There were scientists, business people, just people from every walk of life. Their common interest was the climate crisis, and this is what they felt they could do to help.”
That included Diaz, who blended right in with the tree-huggers. “She sat at my table,” Haasis says. If Diaz was distraught over her much-publicized breakup with Justin Timberlake, Haasis didn’t notice. “She seemed fine. Of course, she’s an actress . . . . ”
Gore spent a full day going through the presentation with the trainees, slide-by-slide. “He’s very funny and he tells great jokes,” Haasis says. Then they gathered into smaller groups to examine the information more closely. The training ended with a day devoted to participants giving snippets of the presentation. Both Haasis and Bonacum say they came home from the training inspired to make their own lives less stressful to the planet. Haasis hopes to walk more instead of taking her car everywhere; Bonacum has switched the lights in his apartment to compact fluorescent bulbs, and hopes to put his thermostat on a timer to reduce the heat generated during the day, when no one’s home. “I try to live a relatively simple life, to minimize my carbon footprint,” he says. He and Haasis are eager to put on their show free of charge for any interested group in the Springfield area.  

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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