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Becoming a climate leader


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Editor's note: Rhetoric & Reason columnist Andrew Christie, Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter director, hands the typewriter to the vice chair of the Santa Lucia Chapter for this month's column

Must we change? Can we change? Will we change? These three questions framed the core of the Climate Reality Leadership Training I attended this summer in Minneapolis.

In 2018, I was hit hard by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stating that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. In other dire climate news, the ice in the Arctic is melting at rates more accelerated than scientists predicted, the hottest recorded temperatures have occurred in the last five years, and extreme fires are ravaging Northern California.

As a parent of 19- and 21-year-olds and an elementary school teacher, I can't idly sit by when the future of our children is at stake. When my concerned 19-year-old daughter suggested that we attend the Climate Reality training led by former Vice President Al Gore, it was an easy, emphatic yes.

Becoming a Climate Reality leader starts with attending a free three-day training. To date, more than 19,000 people worldwide have heeded the call. The premise of the training is simple: You want to change the world; we'll show you how.

The first day started at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the room abuzz with 1,200 participants. We introduced ourselves to our mentor, a community organizer from Oakland. As we settled in, we got to know our eclectic group—about 20 of us from SLO, the Bay Area, Monterey, and Santa Barbara. Members ranged from an architect born in Puerto Rico to an Irish tech executive, an attorney, teachers, a college professor, a wine industry executive, a biologist, an engineer, a stay-at-home mom, and a pastor.

The lights soon dimmed and Gore welcomed us to the training, which focused on seven key areas: the science of climate change, how climate change is disrupting communities around the world, the solutions, the power of storytelling, media engagement strategies, grassroots organizing, and building momentum for worldwide solutions.

Must we change? Scientific truths of the climate crisis, its causes and solutions were presented through workshops and panel discussions. Scientists in the fields of geophysics, soil, water, climate, and meteorology spoke, as well as the governor of Minnesota, the mayors of the Twin Cities, labor and environmental leaders, and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

On that first day, Gore gave his slideshow from An Inconvenient Truth, the movie that sparked a global movement. (Trainees are given complete access to the slideshow for their own presentations.) The slideshow starts off simply with a photo taken from space of Earth, a sobering reminder of the beautiful, fragile planet we inhabit. Next, we were taken on a roller coaster ride of information starting with the fact that humans are pumping 110 million tons of C02 into the atmosphere every 24 hours. The energy trapped by manmade warming pollution is equivalent to 500,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day.

A graph going back 800,000 years showed Earth temperatures and C02 levels going up and down in natural cycles, until now. Suddenly, the temperature line shoots straight up following the upward trend of C02 on a frightening trajectory of global warming. Next, slides showed the effects of climate change: worldwide extreme record temperatures, melting glaciers, ocean warming, droughts, hurricanes, refugee migrations, fires, sea level rise, medical emergencies, and the risk of losing 50 percent of all land-based species.

Can we change? Just when most of us were ready to dive for cover, the presentation made a U-turn to solutions. Across party lines, 69 percent of Americans think the U.S. should take aggressive action on climate change. Wind and solar energy are growing exponentially, auto manufacturers are shifting to electric vehicles, countries worldwide are committing to phasing out fossil fuels, and U.S. states and cities are committing to being carbon free by 2045. "Solar installer" is forecast to be the fastest-growing job category in the U.S. through 2026. Wind turbine service technician is second. In breakout workshops, we learned presentation skills, how to tell our climate stories, how to live sustainably, and how to share about the climate crisis on social media.

Will we change? We have the solutions, but will we act? Change is up to us. It takes all of us doing everything we can do right now to stop this crisis. Gore ended his slide show with the imperative to use your voice, your choice, and your vote, and a quote from Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

For more info, attend the Sierra Club and Climate Reality SLO's event, The ABCs of Climate Action, What YOU Can Do, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 7 to 9 p.m. The presentation will be in the third floor auditorium of the of the Copeland Pavilion at French Medical Center. Δ

Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club and Jennifer Burton Bauer is his boss. Send comments through the editor at [email protected].


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