by Paige Miller
In October, I joined more than 1,000 climate activists, nonprofit and business representatives, and community leaders for a climate leadership training with Al Gore in Miami, Florida. The training was organized through the Climate Reality Project – a nonprofit Gore founded a decade ago. As much as it was a training on climate science, communications, and community leadership, it was 72 hours spent learning from and being inspired by people who are committed to fighting climate change.
Al Gore gave an updated version of his classic presentation, moderated panels with environmental leaders and elected officials, and provided commentary on the politics of climate change. His optimism gave me a renewed sense of hope that we can actually do something about climate change. Here are a few things I learned.
- Climate change is hitting Florida hard.
Al Gore showed up late the first day of the training because his suit got wet while he was wading around in the flooded streets of Miami. The seasonal flooding has gotten so bad that at times, residents need to arrange their schedules around it. Florida leads the nation with the highest risk of property damage from climate change and is projected to face the highest death toll due to extreme heat from climate change. Meanwhile, state officials are prohibited from using the terms “climate change” or “global warming” – an unofficial policy that went into effect when Governor Rick Scott took office. Even flooding is termed “nuisance flooding” and cannot be associated with sea level rise. But not everyone in Florida is in denial.
- Climate change is becoming (a little) less partisan.
Enter Florida Tea Partier and solar champion Debbie Dooley. Florida is one of only five states where it is illegal to buy solar from anyone other than a monopoly. With strong belief in free market energy policies, Dooley stated “solar provides freedom and choice for the individual,” adding that solar energy should not be a partisan issue. Dooley is one of the champions of the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative which would allow businesses and property owners to generate solar energy and sell it directly to others. The opposing measure, misleadingly called “Consumers for Smart Solar” is being bankrolled by the Koch Brothers. Dooley criticized the influence that money and big corporations have in politics.Conservative-led efforts for climate action aren’t just happening in Florida. On the final day of the training, Roberta Combs, the head of the Christian Coalition, made the case for extending the solar tax credit in an op-ed in The Hill. Her daughter spearheads Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, “possibly the most impassioned and unexpected messenger on clean energy and climate change the GOP has ever seen.”
- People don’t feel a sense of urgency about the climate crisis.
We must change this.I regularly follow climate change news, but after seeing Gore’s presentation, it became clear that even I was not seeing all of it. Gore showed footage of extreme natural disasters that had happened just weeks and months before the training that I had never heard of. For me, home-made videos made by people (this) resonate the most because they provide a first-person perspective of what it’s like to experience a disaster – they show that climate change is happening now, and it’s urgent.While Americans are starting to consider climate change a human-made problem that we need to address, they still don’t view it as a top priority. Climate change is not yet something that most Americans will change their vote on, and for that reason, our elected officials aren’t inclined to give it the attention that it deserves. This may be the next big challenge in the climate movement – to get people to care about climate change so much that they will change their vote for it.
- Renewable energy is taking off.
Al Gore likes to compare the advancement of renewable energy to the advancement of cellphones. In 1980, an AT&T consultant projected that the world would have 900,000 cellphones by 2000. When the year 2000 came around, the world had 109 million – and now we’re over six billion. Like cell phones, renewable energy is experiencing unprecedented advancement on the market. Thirteen years ago, projections said the solar industry would grow one gigawatt per year by 2010. In reality we increased that by 17 times over. Why did this happen? Costs dropped, quality improved, and developing countries are able to “leapfrog” – skip the landline (or fossil fuel power line) and use the most efficient technology available. Everything really can change in a decade or two.
- We need to do more.
The actions we take to fight climate change in the next ten years could be it. What we do – or don’t do – right now could have impacts for centuries. What you can do:
- If you’re a San Francisco resident, sign up for the 100% renewable option of CleanPowerSF (the program will officially launch next year). It’s the single most powerful action you can take to help the city achieve its climate action goals.
- Tune in to the Climate Reality Project’s “24 hours of Reality” event this Friday. It’s a 24-hour global rally for climate action at the upcoming Paris climate negotiations.
- Vote for politicians according to their stance on climate change. And let them know about it.
- Don’t be silent on this issue. Talk to your neighbors, family, and friends. Be that person who posts about climate change on Facebook and brings it up over Thanksgiving dinner. Let people know why you personally care about climate change. When you talk about climate change, provide people with an outlet to act.
- Attend a Climate Reality training yourself – its free! Sign up here to get an announcement on when and where the next trainings will be held. After the training, you’ll be ready to plan events and give presentations to rally your own community around climate change action.
- Request a Climate Reality presentation for your work, school, or community group.
- Contact me if you have questions, want to get involved, or if you have ideas about how to engage people in the Bay Area with climate action: apaige.miller [at] gmail.com.
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