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His message isn't easy to hear, but Berkebile tries to balance his sense of urgency with spirituality. Yes, he believes humanity is facing dramatic challenges, but he's a big-picture guy who believes in having a vision. He keeps a notebook by his bedside to capture ideas that come to him while he's sleeping. He has a daily meditation practice and attends the Center for Spiritual Living.
One of his biggest breakthroughs recently came from a couple of Aborigines who visited last summer to work on a mural at the Kansas City Zoo. One morning, one of the indigenous artists forgot his painting supplies. Berkebile offered to return to the house to retrieve them. Instead, the man sat in silence for a few moments, and, within the hour, his companion showed up with all the items he needed. The secret, the Aborigine told Berkebile, is easing into the silence and letting the universe deliver. "I'm trying to be quiet more," Berkebile says.
And his message is getting through to a growing audience.
On a recent Friday morning, Berkebile looks small on the stage of the J.C. Nichols Auditorium at Liberty Memorial. Behind him, a banner touts the annual Governor's Summit on Regional Economic Development hosted by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Drinking from a green Nalgene bottle and wearing one of his signatures bow ties, he looks out on hundreds of area CEOs and government officials. Many of the business leaders have signed the chamber's Climate Protection Partnership, an initiative to reduce their contributions to global warming. Also in the audience are area mayors, including Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser, who have signed a national initiative to slash their cities' Earth-warming pollution.
When he approaches the podium, Berkebile has Sebelius to his left and Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt to his right. "Today, I'm proud to announce a new initiative to become America's greenest region," he says.
The audience members thumb through their binders, reading through the 17 goals outlined in the proposal, including a regional transit system and a "zero waste" economy. It's not for the fainthearted, Berkebile says. But it's the kind of vision that his own mentor, Buckminster Fuller, would have embraced. "Bucky felt that we're all born geniuses and we're gradually de-geniused by our parents and our teachers," Berkebile tells the crowd.
After nearly two hours of stifling yawns, the crowd chuckles. It seems like a small gesture. But to Berkebile, that's the most important step. Just 48 hours earlier, as he was cruising back from the Discovery Center with the Greensburg team, he was worried that Blunt might tune him out. But he appears to have everyone's attention.
"We invite you to join us in reclaiming our genius," he finishes.
He's already far past retirement age. But he's not going to hang it up until he sees that the mayors and business leaders who have jumped on the green bandwagon follow through on their green promises.
"This can happen, but can it happen soon enough and strong enough to make a difference?" he asks. "I don't know yet."
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