How can I begin to capture what it’s like to spend two and a half days with 2,200 other Climate Reality leaders, trying to take in the deluge of information and absorb the accumulated knowledge and wisdom?
Yep, that’s about right.
Last week I traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the inimitable Al Gore’s training program for the Climate Reality Project. It was the organization’s 39th training session, and was the largest they’ve conducted by far. As of last Thursday there are now more than 17,000 trained leaders across the globe.
This is in no small part due to Mr. Gore’s tireless passion for, and deep knowledge of, the issues around climate change. The presentation he’s developed, with which you may be familiar via his two ‘Inconvenient’ documentaries, is powerful and continuously updated to include the latest data. His ability to synthesize information during a panel discussion and place it in context, or ask the right follow-up, is impressive. And the size of the man’s heart is clearly evident. I imagine some organizations have a founder who’s more of a distant figurehead, but I can assure you that this man rolls up his sleeves, puts on his cowboy boots, and heads into the thick of things every single day.
You need a huge building for an event this size, and the LA Convention Center boasts some titles that made it appropriate for our group. It’s the largest such facility in the U.S. to be LEED-EB Gold re-certified. I was unfamiliar with the ‘EB’ suffix; it means for ‘existing buildings’, and the Center won the first award given in the U.S. for this distinction. The rooftop solar arrays are estimated by the Center to provide ~17% of the energy needed to run it annually. (Hhmm, that number might tick up a bit if it wasn’t so darn cold in there….just sayin’.)
We ate vegetarian/vegan meals off china plates, with metal flatware and cloth napkins, and drank from ceramic cups and glass tumblers. As if you had to ask!
Yes, carbon is pumped into the atmosphere when people travel to such events. While I’m not aware of the details, one of the first speakers informed us that carbon offsetting was arranged by Climate Reality for the entire session, including all travel to and from it.
Each time a training occurs, it’s planned to reflect the unique story of its location. California established itself as a national and global leader on the environmental front a long time ago and continues to build on that, thus panels addressed various topics on this theme such as its leadership history, clean transportation, and innovations in energy production and delivery. We were in LA (swimming pools, movie stars!), so there was a discussion on how climate change is being captured on camera for films and television, and how it might impact discourse on the subject.
Not everything is rainbows and unicorns, of course, so we also heard firefighters speak on the historic and punishing nature of California’s recent, and ongoing, wildfires. And while LA Mayor Eric Garcetti gave a deservedly upbeat speech about the positives his city has accomplished on the sustainability front, we also heard local environmental justice advocates tell compelling stories about how minority communities are enduring oil drilling in close proximity to their homes and their children’s schools, with deleterious health effects. (Not-so-fun fact: did you know that the third largest oil field in the U.S. lies under LA, and that the crude (black gold, Texas tea!) is being pumped out at quantity even while we preach the economic and health benefits of renewable energy?)
Thankfully we also had breakout sessions where experienced Climate Reality leaders gave us real, tactical pointers on how to go about sharing the facts on the accumulating threats of global warming and climate change. Because at the end of the day, we’re not doing this to scare the bejesus out of folks – though the facts are in and of themselves pretty frightening. We’re doing it to let people know that it’s not too late, and that there’s a way to address the mess we’ve created so that nature’s cycles and processes are restored.
It’s safe to say we all left LA feeling our power to take back the narrative and change things. It won’t be easy, but it sure has to be fast. We’ll speak truth to power. We’ll work for change on the critical local level by telling our elected representatives what we want and expect from them. We’ll break through barriers cynically built with corporate money to keep people fearful of the ‘other’ rather than knowing full well the power we have when we work together.
True change needs to come from the roots up, especially now, and I’m really excited to help build that momentum. As my Climate Reality t-shirt says, ‘Fight like your world depends on it’. Because, you know, it does.
I’ll let you know how it’s going.