Climate Crusaders Reunite: Inside Al Gore's Climate Project (Part II)


[Ed. note: This is the second of two guest posts (here's Part I) by Katie Carpenter, a Discovery Hot House producer. Part of the original group trained to give Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' slide show, she recently met up with the other climate crusaders to update their training; this the conclusion to her story of the weekend.]

When we left off yesterday, updating the slideshow was just underway; after new data and graphs, they also give us short videos we can incorporate into our slide presentations, for those hard-to reach skeptics in the back of the room who need a little entertainment to open up their minds. The top box office hits here this weekend are the Blue Man Group's "Earth to Humanity" video, and an independent film produced by someone named Ken Burns III called "Futureflix", a gorgeous little tongue-in-cheek movie about the future, with a running time of four minutes and a logo in the style of Netflix that is universally accepted now as cool.

We have an incredible talk on the current state of Antarctica by a NASA climate modeler named Ken Mankoff, with pictures he took last week while drilling for ice cores, hot off the presses so to speak. Then we listen, rapt, to a report on new findings called "How To Avoid Dangerous Climate Change: A Target for US Emissions Reductions" which is intended to help us navigate the minefield of disparate goals — can we live with a global temperature increase of 5 degrees Fahrenheit, or should we all be more aggressive? Do we have the political will to even accomplish that? Can we set our deadline at 2020, or do we have to look farther out? Can we bring our emissions levels down to the 2000 level by 2080, or to 50% of where we are now by 2100? There are competing bills in Congress, diverse goals kicking around the UN, and very little consensus on this issue. We toss that around in small groups for an hour, agree that it is way too complicated for the likes of us -- "above our pay grade", as Al likes to say -- then go for coffee.

Hey, it is rocket science, and it's hard. For all of us, even the PhD.'s in the room.Next, we get a talk by Jon Isham from Middlebury College on social movement training, with a free copy of a new book that Island Press has just published called Ignition. I only get as far as the introduction by Bill McKibben -- it is breathtaking and I can't wait to read the rest -- but we have to go back into session. It's a briefing on using Google earth and Google maps for our presentations, given by a brilliant young Google rep named Vaughn Tan who flew in all the way from Mountain View to talk with us today. OK, so his carbon footprint leaves something to be desired, but we get great mileage out of him, take him to dinner and Google-mappify with him all evening. iPhones and laptops are glowing and buzzing all around the table as he guides us through the program in some local restaurant, while we try not to spill ketchup on our keyboards. Hey, the Climate Project never knocks off — we're on-duty 24/7!

By dessert, we have a grand scheme to use Google maps to create a global visualization of The Climate Project's reach -- where we have presented and where we need to go next -- overlaid atop regional concerns and solutions. Now, if I go give a presentation in Delaware, I can check into my Google maps climate project (you can, too) and see that southern Delaware suffered massive flooding around Seaford a few years back, and is already reeling from the impacts of sea level rise in Rehobeth. On the solutions side, though, they have a fantastic off-shore wind project near Lewes, proposed by a group called Blue Water Wind, on which we might be able to help spread the word. Armed with these details, we think the slide show in Delaware is going to be much more interesting — for the audience and for us!

At one point, we all stop and take a look at what we are fighting for -- our favorite things that we love and remember from childhood. We are the North East regional group, we come from Portland and Tidewater and Montreal and Brunswick and Wilmington and Buffalo and Oyster Bay and Baltimore and Concord and Jersey City and SoHo and Back Bay. And what will we miss the most? Maple syrup and cranberry juice and fall foliage and sledding in Central Park and Long Island lobster — these and many more regional delights, the things that make us special and keep our economy booming, these are the things that are at risk, and we're just not ready to give them up.

So we head to sleep thinking that there might be hope after all. If we just keep at it, we just keep working, and talking to each other and sharing new information and trying to maintain our composure when attacked in public, which we still often are. Roy told us that Al met with the Secretary General at the UN on Friday, and next week, he's going to meet President Sargozy in Paris. This whole movement is growing globally, and we just have to try to keep it together for one more year.

"In one year and eight days and two hours from now," says Roy to the group, "there will be a new leader in the White House -- and it doesn't matter if he or she is a Democrat or a Republican, there is no way to go but up!" And we're excited: in one year and nine days from now, we can start strategizing on our first ever white House slide show presentation — we hope the big guy will give it himself, and we all want to be there. We can feel the tipping point, it's just around the corner, and we all just got to hang in there.

"This year is the year to get ready for next year", says Roy. "And you will not see Gore shrink into the shadows, while the Presidential campaign takes over the airwaves during the next ten months -- he will continue to pound the table on this issue!"

Then Roy reveals a tantalizing story of how they almost got a two-party Presidential debate specifically dedicated to climate change organized for last December — nearly every candidate on both sides enthusiastically agreed to participate, and a few days before the announcement, only two hold-outs remained. When NBC heard that Guliani and Romney had not committed to participating, they canceled the debate, saying "if we don't have the leaders, we cannot make a broadcast."

If they only had a crystal ball, they would have known that McCain and Huckabee would take the lead shortly, that Guliani and Romney would hardly be missed, and the debate would have been riveting programming for millions of viewers.

We hope they will try again. No one knows better than us -- the thousand climate presenters in the US -- that this issue is grabbing attention in local community centers and schoolyards and church pews like no other. It will outlast the war in Iraq and the economy and every other issue currently on the national agenda. Hey, this is the planet we are talking about. We have already set the climate for our children. Now we want to set the climate for our grandchildren. And we are ceaselessly optimistic. Our weather forecast: seasonable. That's all we ask for. Seasonable. They way we remember it from when we were children. All year long.

"Al is so grateful, you have completely defied expectations," says Jenny Clad, Roy's wife and the director of the Climate Project team in Nashville. "He is looking for ways to make you even more productive and successful. And he wants to thank you and tell you — keep up the fantastic work!"

They encourage us to come up with big ideas to work on over the next year — and so we dream up initiatives that we think we can collaborate on together. One of the climateers wants to make her town the first carbon-neutral town in the state; another wants to launch a green school that better connects school children with nature; a third wants to put windmills on top of his church and take his parish off the grid. The group from New York want to help get Mayor Bloomberg's green PLAN-NYC proposals — congestion pricing, green roof tax abatements, hybrid taxis -- approved in Albany and made into law.

And all of us want to get a hybrid bus and drive across Europe to Poland in December, to the next meeting of the UN Climate Framework negotiators. We want to see if we can help those who are trying to create a plan to take us forward after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, who were so disappointed in Bali when the US would not commit to binding emissions reduction targets. Hey, we laugh, are you on the bus or off the bus?

With our charts and tables organized in our second-hand flash drives, and our clickers and laser pointers in hand, we may be an unlikely army, but we are passionate, full of hope and unwilling to settle down. We are armed and ready for the charge — watch out, Warsaw, here we come. ::The Climate Project

Tags: Al Gore | Carbon Emissions | Carbon Footprint

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