Venice, long known as a place where a good time is just around the corner, mixed a festive summertime atmosphere with political activism as local residents participated in a “Virtual Town Hall” on recent adverse changes to the environment Saturday, July 7th .

“Parties for the Planet,” sponsored by the political action group MoveOn.org, featured several of the 2008 Presidential candidates, who appeared via video to discuss their respective positions on climate change. Members of the political action group had previously provided each candidate with a list of questions asking them to explain their positions on global warming and, as President, what approach to this important topic they would consider implementing.

“We’re trying to organize our neighborhoods into political pockets so that people can get more involved in saving our planet,” said Heidi Mylo, a MoveOn.org member who hosted the Venice party at her home on Penmar Avenue in Venice. “It will also give us a chance to introduce ourselves to them.”

Maraya Cornell, a co-organizer of the Venice fest with Mylo, was attracted to the event because she believes that global warming is one of the most pressing social predicaments of the 21st century.

“The reason why I got involved now as opposed to earlier is that this town hall is about climate change, which is a big issue with me, the thing that I’m most passionate about,” Cornell explained. “For a long time, I’ve been very frustrated with the way that our government has been ignoring climate change, and I decided to do something about it instead of just complaining.”

Cornell, who moved to Venice from Sacramento two years ago, channeled her frustration into action by joining MoveOn.org and became more politically active. She jumped at the opportunity to help organize the Venice party when a MoveOn.org official called and asked her to be a part of the organization’s Live Planet agenda. She is also involved in Operation Democracy.

Operation Democracy is a component of MoveOn.org’s campaign to energize the electorate nationwide on social and political issues. The campaign entails organizing groups of politically active citizens into local “councils” that are seeking a more progressive and interactive social and political agenda, and to hold politicians more accountable.

“We work on national issues, but we organize locally,” said Cornell.

The event was the largest event that MoveOn.org has had since 2004, according to the organization. Over 30,000 members were expected to hold 1,300 parties across the country.

The gatherings coincided with a series of Live Earth concerts supported by former Vice President and climate action advocate Al Gore. Attendees watched the concerts, which were broadcast from various parts of the world, on live television.

“People who participate in MoveOn’s Virtual Town Hall on climate are part of the solution to a crisis that affects us all,” said Gore in his statement.

Critics of the highly publicized series of concerts and parties allege that the concerts were a promotional tool for Gore, its cofounder, or that the purpose and goals of the musical fests were too vague in nature.

Audience members at Mylo’s house appeared engaged in the topic of the night, chatting amiably with each other and applauding the comments made by the presidential contenders.

The two candidates who seemed to impress the audience, judging from applause, were Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

“What I’ve proposed and will be detailing in the next several weeks is a system in which you have a cap and trade system that also auctions off the [emissions] permits, so that we are getting the sorts of investment in creating a market for clean technologies.” Obama said. “But we’re also generating billions of dollars each and every year that we can devote to the sort of Apollo Project or Manhattan Project on clean energy.”

In his comments, Richardson hinted that he would take a leadership role in combating global warming.

“I would create within the White House a cabinet level agency and a prestige individual to head it up,” Richardson said. “But it would be run by me, the President, because I believe it’s going to require Presidential leadership to get it through the Congress.”

All of the candidates who offered positions on climate change were Democrats. The Republican Presidential contenders were also invited, according to the organization, but all declined to participate.

Jeremy Pal, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Environmental Sciences at Loyola Marymount University, recently co-authored a study on heat waves generated by greenhouse gases in the Mediterranean.

“There were over 20,000 deaths in 2003 from excessive heat in Europe, and these types of events will continue to be much more frequent in the future unless greenhouse emissions are reduced,” said Pal, who works in the field of climatology and water resources.

According to the study, temperatures will continue to rise and fall to extremes in many parts of the globe, due to warming trends. The variance of these extremes could become the norm, and what we now know as average temperatures and typical occurrences, like the amount of rainfall, could be greatly altered.

“Instead of a region getting a typical amount of rain for a particular season, we could see an excessive amount of rainfall one year and a drought the next couple of years,” explained the professor, who was born in Venice.

Over 100 people attended the gathering at Mylo’s home.

“The turnout was far better than we could have hoped for,” said Mylo, a local businesswoman who is a 15-year Venice resident.

This is the second Virtual Town Hall that the political action group has held across the nation. The first one, which occurred in April, focused on Iraq. A third event, scheduled for the fall, will spotlight healthcare.

“This is the first time ever voters can compare the Presidential candidates’ proposals, side-by-side, for solving the climate crisis,” said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action. “The public is paying attention to the climate crisis as never before, and we will demand that our next President have a credible plan for bold action on the issue,” concluded Pariser.

On Sunday, July 8th, members of the organization voted for the candidate they believe has the best plan to combat global warming, which many leading scientists have determined is having an adverse effect on the world’s ecosystems and wildlife.

“I’m hoping that people will come away from this event with more awareness about climate change and more passionate about other issues that are also very important,” said Cornell.

The Party for the Planet was co-sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future, the League of Conservation Voters and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

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