In 2001, long before the environment was featured in the news on a daily basis, Wendy read an article about global warming that changed her life. "It was about the possibility of temperatures going up by more than 10 degrees within the next 100 years," recalls Wendy, now 43, who had put her advertising career on hold to be at home full time with her four kids. "Maybe it was my maternal instinct, but it really struck a nerve. I felt angry, sad, and helpless to protect the world for my kids. Then I realized I had no one to blame but myself because I was doing nothing. I needed to be part of the solution."
That same week Wendy volunteered as a lobbyist for the local chapter of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). By the end of the month she flew to New York for a meeting of the group's scientists and publicists. "As I was leaving one woman thanked me and said, 'We need more environmentalists like you,'" Wendy recalls. "I turned around and looked over my shoulder, thinking she was talking to somebody else. I said, 'Me? I'm just someone who cares. I thought you had to be protesting on a raft in the Pacific to be a real environmentalist!'"
But Wendy was a pro. She was soon organizing EDF events in Chicago and going to Washington every month to meet with congressional staffers. Still, she yearned to do more. In 2006 Wendy came up with Cool Globes, a local public art project to raise awareness about climate change. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who's pledged to make his city the greenest in America, endorsed the idea. Wendy headed a committee that solicited proposals from 1,200 artists and selected the finalists. She also helped raise $2 million in corporate sponsorships to pay for art materials and installation.
Last summer 125 colorful and whimsical 5-foot spheres went on display along the Chicago lakefront, each illustrating a single eco-message. One was covered with a giant blue turtleneck sweater, urging people to turn down the thermostat and put on an extra layer of clothing. Another had dozens of tiny automobiles spelling out the word "carpool."
Wendy's children got in on the action too. David, now 15, and Emily, 13, e-mailed family and friends asking kids to send in drawings with their solutions; recipients then forwarded the request around the globe. Emily received pictures from countries as far-flung as France, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Kazakhstan. She and David, along with twin siblings Katie and Jake, now 8, pasted the drawings on their own globe to form continents and covered the oceans with banana paper made by school kids in Costa Rica. "It was really cool to get so many letters from so many places," says Emily. "For kids, it's obvious that we really can fight global warming. But everyone has to help."
Since then, the whole family has become more eco-conscious. They no longer use paper towels or drink bottled water. David takes the bus to school and sometimes carpools to basketball games with his dad, Jim, 46, a medical-supply-firm executive. "Whenever a Hummer drives by, Katie and Jake give it a thumbs-down," Jim says. "They know a gas guzzler when they see one."
These days Wendy is feeling a lot more optimistic than she did seven years ago. "My hope is that my kids will stay passionate about fighting global warming," she says. "And the outpouring of support for Cool Globes gives me faith that if we offer solutions, people everywhere will embrace them."