Three days, 1,000+ climate activists, and Al Gore

This coming week, I'll be at the Climate Reality Leadership training session in Pittsburgh PA.

Some interesting speakers lined up. Will be great to hear and see more about Pittsburgh's redevelopment over the past few decades from coal & steel central into a rather green and progressive city. And given the opportunity, I would totally take a selfie with Al Gore.

But the primary draw for me is to meet and be immersed for several days with 1,000+ climate activists and professionals from around the world. It's a massive gathering! What are their stories? Where do they struggle, where do they find hope? What tactics and methods can we share? Can I get a bunch of them to join ClimateX :) ?

I think a key part of the program is becoming fluent with the "Al Gore presentation." As far as PowerPoint goes, I think it's a superb piece of work. I wonder how this will go down -- will it feel like telling someone ELSE's version of the story? -- as for the past couple of weeks I've been immersed in Marshall Ganz's intensely personal "story of self/us/now" methods, with videos and readings courtesy of Resistance School. Will be interesting (to me, anyway) to sort this out.

I sense the event won't be quite as global as we'd hope; the session's Facebook group has way too many "visa denied, can't come" messages. That stinks.

I may post occasional updates during the week; or wait for a big recap after it's all over. Or maybe some of both. We shall see.

And yes, I'll be offsetting the emissions from my flight.



Curt Newton's picture

1400 climate activists walked

Here's a trip report, having given the dust a week to settle.

Final tally, over 1400 climate activists walked into a [Platinum LEED certified] convention center, schmoozed, sat and listened, mixed it up. “So, what brought you here?” “What have you been doing, climate-wise?”

For most, the presence of Al Gore was a definite draw; Inconvenient Truth and Inconvenient Sequel do have a visceral impact on people. We would be treated to Mr. Gore's uninterrupted two-hour “long-form” version of this most famous climate presentation, live and in-person, as well as his giving a dramatic short version called “Truth in 10” (as in 10 minutes, chat up your airplane seatmate). The high-level outline is great: Must we change? Can we change? Will we change? 

The cult of personality around Gore is tangible, but if it draws this many energized climate activists, I’m game to check it out. To be clear, most of the 20+ hours of training was not with Mr. Gore. There were panel discussions on justice, policy, the latest science, tips on being a more effective presenter, breakout sessions on how to maximize impact of town hall sessions or being interviewed in the media, and even a petition signature drive out on the streets for those who had enough of the indoors.

The Climate Reality organization works to build and support a growing corps of advocates who will use the presentations as one basis for talking about the climate crisis to all sorts of groups: civic organizations, schools, public libraries, at work... But they’re not looking for slavish adherence, and I was glad to meet several veteran members who’ve dramatically customized and personalized ‘the talk’ into their own, spreading their version of message to many thousands of people. Climate Reality’s theory of change seems to be that community-based presentations and conversations, grounded in “climate reality,” will be an essential contributor to the political and behavior changes needed.

In his long-form presentation, "Professor Gore" spent a lot of time - well over an hour - reflecting on mounting evidence of climate change, especially weather extremes and human disasters. Perhaps some people still need to see and be reminded of these things; personally I could have done with a lot less of that litany, and more time to meet and get to know more participants. But it’s clear that Gore really loves the science, bears witness to the pain of vulnerable communities, is surely frustrated by the slow pace of progress, and is as deeply committed as ever to the fight. He names the fossil fuel industry and their political cronies as the baddest guys in this battle (which they are, mostly, guys), but doesn’t dwell on it.

Participants came with a wide range of backgrounds. For some this was the first direct climate thing they’ve done - maybe they saw Sequel this summer and were motivated to act. Others have been deeply engaged in specific efforts and projects, professionals and veteran activists alike, and this was just another angle to network and explore. I met high schoolers, college students, young professionals, and older folks of all stripes. Many attendees were from the Pittsburgh area, a fairly broad representation from the rest of the US, and a few international folks as well (those who could manage the travel visas). I met university professors and scientists who are preparing to run for elected office; PhD students doing really inspiring research; business leaders who are committed to transforming their work in a sustainable and just direction; a heartening number of young adults whose job is at least partially based in climate and environmental work; and a retiree who shared with pride her story of getting arrested recently at a pipeline protest.

Many attendees came from the Pittsburgh area and western Pennsylvania, where the city and civic groups have been working for decades on a just transition out of their frighteningly polluted past. They’re having some success in the city, demonstrating that transformation is possible; it just takes a powerful resolve and a few decades. The surrounding region, though, is still in the grips of fracking. The first panelist session was a powerful discussion of climate justice and how it’s playing out in the region, featuring people from coal mining communities and Pittsburgh. Taking the stage a couple of times, Mayor Bill Peduto earned a lot of new fans: “We built the country once [with our coal and steel industries] and paid a heavy price.  We won’t go through that again.”

Over 13,000 people from all around the world have gone through Climate Reality Leadership training. The organization runs an active online hub where participants log, share, and discuss different actions they’re taking, as well as discussion forums on topics that are quite active and affirming. From what I can see, it’s a community geared toward mutual support and momentum building. The spirit is more “you do you” than intense debates on ideology (capitalism is alive and well here) or challenging each others’ views on policy alternatives.

I'm glad I went to this event. Definitely a memorable experience, and met my main goal, to connect with a more diverse group of climate advocates; I think a few of them have started checking out ClimateX :) [Welcome you all!]. Having contact with the Pittsburgh and western PA community was a big plus, and also very glad to have some first-hand experience with Al Gore (not filtered through other's opinions or media coverage). 

Rick Shankman's picture

"Blood And Gore – The

"Blood And Gore – The Nickname For Al Gore’s Carbon Trading Firm That Is Poised To Make Billions Of Dollars From Carbon Credits"

Enjoy your "training" in Pittsburgh Curt.

For those curious (and who can bear to sit through it and listen carefully)...

"... don't think like an elephant."

Elephants remember everything and never forget.

See... Resistance School - Lesson 1  (skip to 34:00 in the video for instruction on - social psychology - "trigger words" and "framing" of conversations to shape political debates).