[Ed. note: This is the first of two guest posts 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 is her story of the weekend.]
Nearly a hundred climate crusaders from Al Gore's advocacy group, The Climate Project, gathered over the weekend in a suburb of Washington, DC, for two days of meetings designed to reconnect and retrain them for the climate battles ahead.
They represent the first wave of the "climate cavalry", trained in Nashville a year ago by Mr. Gore and scientists from The Climate Institute. They are now working across the North East and Mid-Atlantic region, presenting various versions of Al Gore's slide show to schools, churches, conferences and community centers from Maryland to Maine. I am lucky enough to be one of them.
"We are very proud of you," said Roy Neel, Al Gore's Chief of Staff who flew in to deliver the welcoming remarks to the group gathered in the Chevy Chase Village Hall on this unseasonably warm January morning. "You have given more presentations that Al and I ever thought possible — to date, more than a million people have seen that slide show, personally delivered around the world!"More than a million served. It seems like an amazing statistic to the group, who are stunned to hear that there are now 1,700 trained presenters working in a dozen countries — over a thousand in the U.S. alone — and that the next big training session is scheduled for India in March.
This all seems kind of unreal. When we applied for this gig, on an unassuming little web site set up by The Climate Project and Participant Productions after the release of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth", it seemed like a quixotic dream that might appeal to only a few hard-cord activists. Al Gore wanted to train a thousand people to be communicators for the climate crusade. Most of us thought he'd have to paper the house.
But as it turned out, they received nearly ten times that many applications, and those of us who got to go to Nashville a year ago for the climatology boot camp are now considered the lucky few. We were trained by the Gore-acle himself — two hours through the slide show the first night, twelve hours through it the next day. He explained the provenance of each and every slide, and the science behind every fact. Then we spent two days honing presenting skills, working in small groups into the night to customize intros and outros to specific audiences, and learning how to politely deflect contrarians and skeptics.
New data that strengthens the slideshow is being compiled and released constantly; now we have some of it for our shows.
Now we're at the first-ever regional trainees reunion, and the all-stars are here to bring us up to date, teach us the new science, offer locally specific solutions slides, show us how to use Google maps and data from the Web site of new science partners like the Union of Concerned Scientists. And not a moment too soon -- a recent article in the Washington Post stating that 2007 has just been determined to have been the second-warmest year on record. Ever.
It's been a daunting year, frankly -- the news has been nothing but bad. Extreme weather, increasing fires and droughts, disappearing species. They know that we need to be re-energized, so they offer us a new science adviser, Jeremy Richardson, a freshly minted PhD., who will give us the new information we need so badly. Many of our audiences get impatient and clamor for solutions — Jeremy is here to explain the options to us, and also to make sure we are all on track in terms of accuracy every time we give the slide show.
We are not scientists. We are priests and teachers and mayors and professional athletes and country-western singers and software programmers and just plain folks, and the science can get pretty deep out there in the trenches when the nay-sayers jump up in the back of the room and scream that Antarctica is actually cooling, so global warming must be a hoax perpetrated by liberals!
So Jeremy and the other science advisors to The Climate Project are here with the data to re-focus us and make sure we get the story right — fearlessly and confidently, without backing down.
"We know you guys are modifying and updating the slide show — we know you have to," says Roy with a smile. "People don't want to see the movie over and over again, they need the new information and they need the solutions-based slides, we know, and we thank you for your resourcefulness. But as you know, you cannot just grab anything off the Web and put it in your slide show, make sure you get it right." So this retraining session is a critical opportunity for us — we can share our new solutions-based slides, update them and fact-check them, and The Climate Project scientists have new, peer-reviewed information to share with us. And we have a couple of amazing mentors — called District Managers — who guide us through the technical bits.
So as we pass our flash drives from laptop to laptop, exchanging PowerPoint presentations and Keynote slides and individual images of glaciers calving and storms raging, and new graphs showing how much we are still emitting huge quantities of carbon even though it seems like progress is being made. There's a slide from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report which is now famous among presenters as the "burning embers" slide — a graph that shows how public opinion on this is slowly but finally changing, but probably not fast enough. It's a call to action — we've all got to work harder, faster, go farther, now!
Katie will be back tomorrow with the conclusion of her weekend of climate presentation training; stay tuned!