Victor Maene is passionate about reversing climate change.

One of five co-founders of South Jersey based out of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Galloway Township, the colorful Maene gets animated when he discusses what has become his life's work - convincing others we need to change our energy habits before it's too late.

"We can keep the climate train from running away," Maene said. "Once it gets past a certain point, we're not going to be able to stop it, so that's why the urgency is here."

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The national environmental advocacy initiative seeks to lower the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to a 350 ppm through embracing sustainable energy alternatives.

The local chapter was founded in November after Glenn Klotz, who is an avid fan of founder and author Bill McKibben, told Maene he believed the time had come to take action on climate change. The pair enlisted the help of friends and fellow environmental science enthusiasts Ron Hutchison, Steve Fiedler and Paul Utts.

The growing group held its fifth meeting Feb. 12. Klotz opened, discussing his recent trip to Rutgers University to see McKibben speak, after which Hutchison took the floor to discuss a few of the group's initiatives.

Before the start of the formal meeting, Maene and group member Steve Kuzma performed an acoustic musical set. Kuzma and Galloway artist Meed Barnett also displayed their artwork.

The group, which meets the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, has built a small but dedicated following in its few months in existence.

Hutchison, a professor of biology at nearby Richard Stockton College, serves as president of the group. Hutchison, who owns two electric cars yet insists on biking to work from his Northfield home, was elected president because the founding members believed his carbon footprint to be the smallest, he said.

It's easy to get people to listen to the group's message, Hutchison said, as the body of evidence supporting the existence and dangers of climate change is overwhelming. What's difficult, though, is getting them to change their habits.

"It's essentially a psychological experiment," Hutchison said. "You're trying to get people to change their behavior, and that's the challenge. In some ways, it's a pretty easy sales pitch, but a very hard thing to actually close the sale."

The South Jersey chapter actively supports the mission of the national group and seeks to make changes in the local area. In addition to spreading the green gospel to area residents and businesses, the group is pushing for the construction of a wind turbine array at the Beesleys Point Generating Station in Upper Township.

On Sunday, Feb. 17, members of South Jersey took a bus trip to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to join with thousands of others from across the nation to protest the construction of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport crude oil and bituminous deposits from Canada to Texas.

It's clear that climate change and the fight to stop it are now a permanent fixture in national conversation. With energy initiatives playing a big role in President Barack Obama's recent inaugural and state-of-the-union addresses, it would seem the tide is turning in favor of taking action.

Now, Hutchison said, it's a matter of how quickly this can be done.

"People are going to come around," Hutchison said. "It's basically trying to get them to come around a little more quickly. Sooner rather than later."

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