ASHLAND — A sense of personal despair and powerlessness is a major stage of environmental awareness — and something that must be overcome and turned into empowerment and action, a group of Ashlanders was told Tuesday night.

ASHLAND — A sense of personal despair and powerlessness is a major stage of environmental awareness — and something that must be overcome and turned into empowerment and action, a group of Ashlanders was told Tuesday night.

"Despair is a quagmire where all becomes hopeless, but luckily it is a signpost on the journey, not the destination," said Australian Kelly Tudhope, lecturing with the Climate Change Despair and Empowerment Roadshow, which is giving presentations up and down the West Coast.

Some 20 people, including Cat Gould of Ashland, shared tales of depression on their journey to environmental activism, up to the point when "a cork popped" and they found direction and hope. "My whole life I was depressed, disempowered and in despair," she told the crowd, "but something about climate change popped that cork and I realized I can't afford to feel depression. I released that and have felt a lot more optimism about the future, even though the news is worse."

Roadshow speaker Pat Rasmussen of Leavenworth, Wash., drew gasps when she told of finding vast stands of lodgepole pines in her native state turned reddish brown from the western spruce budworm, an effect increased by warming, she said, adding that the dead timber will release a "carbon bomb" into the atmosphere over coming decades.

However, said Tudhope, of the Rainforest Information Center, while large majorities of people report being concerned about warming, very small percentages are altering their lifestyle in response. As Al Gore says in his global warming presentations, despair, like denial, lets you off the hook about doing something positive, she noted.

Holly Del Sesto of Phoenix reported "deep sadness in my heart, with tears close to the surface, till I got to the point I needed to do something about it."

Louise Pare of Ashland said, as she moved out of despair into the phase of action, that she now speaks up freely, talking to strangers on the bus about global warming.

Tudhope said the sense of despair is actually compassion for species who are being treated as resources and driven out of existence.

For those not sure of what action to take personally, Tudhope said three courses of action are close at hand:

Buy locally grown food, which hasn't been transported far. Avoid meat and dairy products, as they are energy intensive and are a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. Eat and grow organic food, made without fossil fuel energy.

Some "low hanging fruit" in the battle against climate change would be to lower the speed limit back to 55 mph, which would cut oil demand by a billion gallons a year and "allow libraries to get money now being diverted to Iraq."

The Roadshow does 90-minute presentations and one-day workshops, trying to create grassroots climate action groups, as well as to "address the hopeless despair that many people feel about how to transform despair into empowerment and effective action," according to its Web site, www.climate.net.au.

The Web site also said it hopes to "unveil the false 'business as usual' solutions being touted by the major political parties, such as nuclear power and so called clean coal."

The presentation will be given at 7 tonight at the County Building, 102 S. Redwood Hwy., Cave Junction.