Inside Climate Reality training with Al Gore

Almost 1000 people participated in Climate Reality training, March 1-4 in Denver. Click on photo to enlarge it.

Ten years ago when An Inconvenient Truth came out, I like so many other people became aware of the climate crisis. The movie ended with 10 things each of us could do to help stop global warming, and I did all of them: changed my light bulbs, took shorter showers, started recycling.

Yet now the climate crisis is worse than ever. Each of the last three years has been the hottest on record. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest point since the age of the dinosaurs. Oceans are 30 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution, the fastest chemistry change in 50 million years. Glaciers worldwide are melting, the jet stream is wobbling, and ocean currents are slowing down.

I was lucky to get this pic with Al Gore at the Cedar Rapids airport in May 2015. No he doesn’t fly around on private jets. Photo by Brian Ettling

Clearly individual action is not enough. So two years ago, I attended my first Climate Reality training with Al Gore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to find out what else I could do. There I met hundreds of climate leaders from around the world and started learning about climate in depth.

Here are some mind-blowing facts:

  • The energy trapped by man-made global warming pollution is now equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days a year.
  • Extreme hot days are now 150 times more common than 30 years ago.
  • 2016 was the 40th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average.
  • 93 percent of the extra heat trapped by manmade global warming pollution goes into the oceans.
  • Seven 1,000-year floods have occurred in the United States in the last seven years.
  • A 1ºC mean temperature rise decreases wheat yields by 21 percent.
  • Water scarcity now affects 40 percent of the world’s population.
  • Air pollution kills 6.5 million people worldwide every year.
  • Land-based plant and animal species are moving poleward at a rate of 15 feet per day.
  • We have lost more than half of the world’s wildlife in the last 40 years.

Climate action

My Ohio mentees at Climate Reality training in Denver.

I came out of the Iowa training determined to tackle the problem of climate change in a much more systematic way, through action on the local, state and national level. The first thing I did was join the Sierra Club, which helped me get to the People’s Climate March, testify about the Clean Power Plan, and lobby my state legislators on returning Ohio’s clean energy standards.

In December 2015 I went to Paris for two weeks as part of the Sierra Club delegation during the COP 21 climate conference. At the time, no climate agreement had included developing countries, and no one knew if almost 200 nations would come together to make it happen. But they did, and I came back full of hope that the climate crisis would finally be addressed.

My California mentees at Climate Reality training in Denver.

A year later, after the 2016 election, I knew I had to get back to climate activism. In January, Climate Reality announced a new training in Denver, so I applied to go – this time not as a participant but a mentor. I was thrilled to be accepted and get 20 mentees from Ohio and California.

At mentor training the day before the conference, I learned that 2,700 people had applied for 900 slots. My list of mentees was full of accomplished people – among them, a city councilwoman from Cuyahoga Falls, a county commissioner from San Jose, a staffer for Ohio EPA, a former staffer for Florida Department of Transportation who left for a job at Google after the governor told employees they couldn’t discuss climate change, a doctor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and a high-school student from Marin School of Environmental Leadership.

Day 1

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and Isa Caress performed their new song “Break Free” at Climate Reality conference in Denver. Photo by Jill MacIntyre Witt

On the first day we saw Al Gore give his entire slideshow, “The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions,” based on his presentation from An Inconvenient Truth. Gore updates this slideshow constantly, with many slides containing graphics and videos from recent events. This was followed by a panel discussion on responding to the impacts of climate change, featuring first responders, emergency managers, and community leaders on the front lines in Colorado.

Only the first half of Gore’s presentation is about the problem of climate change. If it stopped there, we would have been left hopeless, but it didn’t. The second half covered the incredible takeoff of renewable technologies. Here are a few facts:

  • In 2016, $58.6 billion was invested in clean energy in the United States.
  • Wind energy capacity has grown 16 times faster than 2000 projections.
  • The United States now has 75 gigawatts of wind power installed, enough to power 20 million homes.
  • Globally there is enough wind energy to supply electricity consumption 40 times over.
  • Solar energy capacity has grown 77 times faster than 2000 projections.
  • The cost of solar cells has fallen from $79.40 per watt in 1976 to 41 cents per watt now.
  • Solar installation has gone from 4 megawatts in 2000 to 35,800 megawatts now.
  • Enough solar energy hits the earth every hour to fill the world’s energy needs for a year.
  • Renewables accounted for 90 percent of new electricity generation worldwide in 2015.
  • The subsidy-free cost of solar and wind is now less than gas, coal or nuclear.

We also heard from Leah Greenberg, co-author of Indivisible, a guide by former Congressional staffers of best practices for making your elected representatives listen. The day ended with a performance by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and his sister Isa Caress, indigenous hip hop artists. Xiuhtezcatl is also a plaintiff in the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit of 21 children against the federal government for not fulfilling its public trust to protect the climate for future generations.

Day 2

Al Gore’s photo with youth trainees at the Climate Reality conference in Denver.

Day 2 featured an incredible panel of scientists including Kevin Trenberth, climate scientist with NOAA; Henry Pollack, geophysicist at University of Michigan; and Don Henry, director of Climate Reality in Australia.

They talked about the impacts of various types of greenhouse gases, the most prevalent denier claims and how to respond (check out Skeptical Science), political forces aligned against climate action (see Merchants of Doubt), the Montreal Protocol that phased out ozone-destroying CFCs as a model for climate action, how to get coal country on board (clean energy jobs), and the outlook for carbon capture and sequestration (too expensive for coal plants to implement), nuclear (too slow and expensive for our needs), and fracking (methane leakage and risks to water make it untenable, and we should just leapfrog to renewables).

We also heard about best practices for communicating climate change from Ngiste Abebe of Aulenor Consulting, and Jon Shenk and Diane Weyermann of Participant Media, who talked with Al Gore about making An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power, which premieres July 28.

Day 3

The 2017 Denver mentors get their photo with Climate Reality Chairman Al Gore and CEO Ken Berlin.

Day 3 began with a survey of the political landscape after the election of Trump by Ken Berlin, president of the Climate Reality Project. One point Berlin made is that Trump can’t just roll back climate rules or even agency budgets without new rules and action from Congress, and that environmental activists and groups will be fighting his anti-climate agenda every step of the way.

We heard from Director of Engagement Olena Alec about what we as climate leaders could do, with slides of actions by current climate leaders, including two people I had trained with in Iowa, Doug Grandt presenting to a room of fifth-graders and Ina Warren conducting a monarch workshop.

Al Gore recognizes leaders of cities and universities that have committed to going 100% renewable. Photo by Bill Trueit.

Gore then presented awards to representatives of several cities that have recently committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. Climate Reality’s 100% Committed campaign is working with Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign to bring on dozens of new cities by 2018. Stay tuned – this could be coming soon to a city near you.

Next was a presentation by Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, that explained both the technology and economics behind the unstoppable rise of renewable energy over expensive, outdated and polluting fossil fuels, followed by a livestreamed panel of Climate Reality leaders talking with Al Gore about their experiences.

Mentees at the very first training in Al Gore’s barn in 2006 for what was then called the Climate Project. Photo by Keith Bergman.

Over lunch the mentors got to meet Al Gore in person. I had gotten my photo with Gore at the Iowa training in 2015 – purely by luck meeting him at the airport – so this time I took photos for other people. Some of the other first-time mentors were thrilled, while the longtime mentors caught Gore up on their latest news. Two mentors in Denver, Keith Bergman and Bill Bradbury, had been among 50 people at the very first training in 2006 at Gore’s barn in Carthage, Tenn.

The afternoon was filled with breakout sessions on topics like public lands, the water/energy nexus, putting on sustainable events, but after an intensive four days of training, I took a couple of hours for myself before commencement at which I gave certificates and Green Rings to my mentees. I’ll be following up with them throughout the year, hoping to arrange a meetup for the Ohio mentees this summer. We now have at least a dozen Climate Reality leaders in the state.

Moral challenge

The last day of Climate Reality training in Denver. My tables were in the back of the room that day.

Al Gore’s closing remarks to the conference summed up why I’m in the climate movement. Climate change, he said, is a moral challenge in the tradition of other moral issues of our time such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, civil rights, apartheid, and most recently gay marriage. These movements encounter roadblock after roadblock, until finally they succeed.

“When any great moral challenge is resolved into a binary choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is foreordained because of who we are as human beings,” Gore said. “That is where we are now, and that is why we are going to win this. We have everything we need. Some still doubt we have the will to act, but I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource.”

The Climate Reality Project has now held 35 trainings for over 11,000 climate leaders from around the world, and they are still going strong. This is a unique opportunity to learn about the most pressing crisis facing the planet, and how to make change even in a hostile political environment. It’s also a chance to meet some amazing people you will be in contact with for years. If you are concerned about climate change, this is a program you won’t want to miss.

This article appeared in the April 2017 newsletter for Sierra Club Central Ohio Group.

Saturday, December 5 – ADP, People’s Climate Summit, Sierra Club dinner

This morning the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) released its draft negotiating text. This text is basically what last year’s negotiators in Durban are handing off to this year’s negotiators in Paris for finalizing a climate agreement that starts in 2020. The text started with a lot of alternatives in brackets — for example [1.5C] or [well below 2C] — and it was the job this week of the Durban committee to wheedle those brackets down before handing the text off to Paris . They got about half the brackets decided, but many others including the choices on temperature target remain.

One controversy arose in the wake of the new negotiating text: the rights of indigenous people, which had been mentioned in Article 2.2, were removed and put into the preamble. Even worse, this was done at the request of Norway and the United States.  Indigenous groups were furious because they are among the people most affected by climate change.  Article 2 is important because it explains the purpose of the agreement and how it will be implemented.

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network discussed this with my Citizens Voice colleague Jeremy Lent:

Here is how Article 2.2 looked going into the negotiations:

[This Agreement shall be implemented on the basis of equity and science, in [full] accordance with the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities[, in the light of national circumstances] [the principles and provisions of the Convention], while ensuring the integrity and resilience of natural ecosystems, [the integrity of Mother Earth, the protection of health, a just transition of the workforce and creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities] and the respect, protection, promotion and fulfillment of human rights for all, including indigenous peoples, including the right to health and sustainable development, [including the right of people under occupation] and to ensure gender equality and the full and equal participation of women, [and intergenerational equity].]

And here is how it looked coming out of the ADP:

[This Agreement shall be implemented on the basis of equity and science, and in accordance with the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances, and on the basis of respect for human rights and the promotion of gender equality [and the right of peoples under occupation].]

Rockstrom's original nine planetary boundaries.

Rockstrom’s original nine planetary boundaries.

Today was Action Day at COP 21.  Inside the Blue Zone, negotiators got to hear from people like Al Gore, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Johan Rockstrom, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, whose pivotal 2009 paper in Nature established the idea of planetary boundaries.  Outside the Blue Zone – in fact, outside the entire planet – astronauts aboard the International Space Station sent a message to negotiators.

Meanwhile I decided to visit the People’s Climate Summit and Global Village of Alternatives, a two-day festival in the Montreuil suburb of Paris sponsored by Climate Coalition 21.  For people from Columbus, imagine a version of Comfest in which everything centers around climate and environment — then translate it all into French.  There were sections on agriculture, energy, education, industry, culture, economy, biodiversity, and more covering about 12 city blocks.

This tree was held hundreds of ribbons expressing what people did not want to lose to climate disruption.

This tree was held hundreds of ribbons expressing what people did not want to lose to climate disruption.

On entering the festival, I was greeted by a large wooden tree with hundreds of ribbons in all colors hanging from its branches.  The idea was to write something close to your heart that you did not want to lose to climate disruption  on a blank ribbon. Then you would tie that ribbon somewhere on the tree and take a ribbon that someone else had left that connected with you.  My ribbon said “The creeks, mountains, and forests of Northwest Arkansas,” where I grew up and first learned to love nature. The one I took said “Sequoia National Park and all the beautiful trees in California.”

Some of the alternative living arrangements on display included styrofoam packaging that had been refashioned to grow plants, hanging art made from plastic bottles and other trash, and composting toilets that used sawdust rather than flushing with water. There were lots of food booths, lots of book booths, and lots of art.  One particularly memorable piece of art was a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty with steam coming out of her lantern and the words “Freedom to Pollute” on her tablet.

Hanging art made from trash

Hanging art made from trash

There were also interesting actions.  People on a bicycle built for four pedaled through the crowds.  The Greenpeace polar bear wandered about, at one point with little kids trying to pull his tail.  At another point, several people in mock hazmat suits and hardhats came through the streets pushing large barrels marked as containing oil.  They would try to get people in the crowd to drink the oil, proclaiming it perfectly safe and pretending to drink it themselves, but then spitting it out.

Unfortunately for me, even though the website for the summit was in English, pretty much all the displays were in French so I couldn’t get a deep understanding of what a lot of them were about.  However, there was no misunderstanding one woman who ran after me after I took a photo at her booth.  For the second time on this trip, someone did not want me to take their picture – but in this case she was worried that I might be police or some sort of spy.  When it became clear that I was just a tourist she lightened up, but told me that I needed to ask permission before taking any more photos.

This Statue of Liberty proclaims Freedom to Pollute.

This Statue of Liberty proclaims Freedom to Pollute.

After that I was not sure what to do.  In the United States, this would be considered a public event and I would have a constitutional right to take photos.  But now I was in another country that was on edge having just been through a terrorist attack.  I walked around without taking photos for awhile, then saw a woman with a nice DSL camera.  I asked her if she spoke English, and she did, so then I told her what happened and asked if I really needed to ask permission to take photos in a setting like this.  “Absolutely not,” she said, apologizing for how I had been treated.  I didn’t need the apology, but was relieved to find out the problem was one irritated person, not French law.  I ended up talking with the photographer, whose name is Chris Dyn, for about half an hour about climate, environment, agriculture, and diet, and we became Facebook friends.

summit poster

By then it was closing in on 5 p.m., and I needed to be at a dinner for the Sierra Club delegation at 6 p.m., so I started off. While riding the train back to the central part of Paris, I was checking social media only to find a post about an event that had started at 4 p.m. at the summit I had just left: Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein were holding a mock trial of Exxon in which they were calling a number of important people as witnesses, including the climate scientist Jason Box.  How had I not seen or heard about that??  I would have gone if I had known, but it was not on the event lists for either Sierra Club or Citizens Climate Lobby.

Later I found out that the mock trial had been announced through the CAN email list, but since it literally takes two to three hours to go through all that email each day, I had not seen it.  Fortunately there are a number of news accounts from Desmog Blog, Climate Home,  National Observer, Santa Barbara Independent and World Report Now. also posted a video with highlights from the event.

The Sierra Club held its Saturday dinner at a restaurant near Generator Hostel in Paris.

The Sierra Club held its Saturday dinner at a restaurant near Generator Hostel in Paris.

Once back in Paris, I went to the Sierra Club dinner at a restaurant near Generator Hostel, where most people in the Sierra Student Coalition were staying.  I had invited my Climate Reality colleague John Davis to attend, and he was able to make some connections with people in the Sierra Club.  After dinner I talked with the producer and director of a new film about fracking called Groundswell Rising.  It turned out they were staying at Place to B, so we all ended up catching a cab ride back there together.