2006 Nobel Laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore introduced the world to his Academy award winning film, An Inconvenient Truth. That year he went on to found what became The Climate Reality Project, with a mission to ‘catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society’. Our intern Charlotte Dick attended Climate Reality Leadership Corps. These are her thoughts.
Before attending the Climate Reality Leadership training I hoped to meet like-minded people and learn more about an issue that I am passionate about. I learnt more than I could have possibly imagined and met some amazing and inspirational people along the way. Ultimately, I left with a renewed sense of motivation to take action and inform people about climate change and other issues such as environmental justice.
There are two main takeaways from the training that I would like to share:
- How to educate the public on climate change in a way that motivates people as opposed to discouraging them due to the magnitude of the situation
- How we can solve this issue while also excluding and/or preventing the major injustices that surround climate change while assisting those who are disproportionately affected by it
How to discuss climate change in a way that motivates not discourages
The first day of this training was aimed at educating people about the extent and the urgency of climate change. Often, this can lead to a sense of hopelessness due to the sheer size of the issue. The question of how one individual can make a difference feels overwhelming. While throughout this training course we looked in-depth into the real and devastating effects of climate change, every single person also left feeling inspired and accomplished to act.
This motivational spark was achieved by informing us of the extent of the climate change issue, but then following with optimistic facts explaining the major strides already being accomplished today. The audience was then provided with attainable and tangible ways in which they can help, enabling them to understand how we, personally, can make a difference.
To give an example, in the context of a conversation surrounding air pollution, the following key facts can be used to inform people about the scale of the issue:
- Globally, 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution1.
- A baby born in Warsaw today will inhale the equivalent of 1000 cigarettes in the first year of their life from smog and other air pollution2.
Both facts are extremely effective at communicating the importance of the issue, but they are also incredibly disheartening.
However, following this with the fact that since 2010, the Beyond Coal campaign by the Sierra Club has resulted in over half of the coal plants in the US retiring or proposing to – and combining this with the knowledge that retiring a single coal plant will prevent 25 premature deaths and 408 asthma attacks3,and suddenly the tide feels turnable! This information is more powerful due to the direct human-interest that the statistics provide. By directing people towards a specific campaign, you can inspire them to act upon the information you are giving them because hope will always be a better motivator than fear.
Referring back to the initial two key facts that we used, another key point is highlighted – in order to motivate people, we need to make the issue personal to them. The effect of air pollution on a baby will always provoke more empathy and emotion from an individual than a general statistic about global death rates, due to the lack of visualization and realism the latter provides. Therefore, another key takeaway from this training was that when attempting to motivate people, it is more successful to avoid the use of jargon or statistics. Instead, attempt to use language and facts in a personal way, using humanity and empathy in order to motivate.
People are often preconditioned to empathize with other human beings therefore using tangible facts about the effects that climate change is having on people, and making it location specific to your audience, will always inspire more people than scientific facts and statistics ever will.
How we can solve this issue while preventing the major injustices that surround climate change and helping the people who are disproportionately affected
Another major emphasis of the training was on environmental justice and inequity. Before attending I was ignorant of the scale and importance of this issue. Only now do I feel I can stress the importance of considering injustice in every single debate surrounding how we are going to solve the problem of climate change.
Environmental justice is defined by the EPA as “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This is incredibly important as, globally, the people most affected by climate change are those who cause the least pollution.
For example, in the US, African-Americans cause considerably less pollution than white Americans and yet are three times as likely to die from particulate air pollution than the overall population4. Even worse, the percentage of African-American children suffering from asthma is nearly twice that of white children and their death rate is ten times higher5. Clearly this is not an issue we can ignore.
During the training, we heard Danielle Bailey-Lash speak about her personal experience surrounding environmental injustice and the work she is doing to help this issue. In 2010, she was diagnosed with brain cancer after living by a steam station her entire life – it wasn’t until after her diagnosis that she became aware of the impacts of coal ash on cancer rates. Since then she has become an activist within her community, using her story to educate local people about the real impacts in their area and motivating them to act. Listening to her speak about her story was uplifting. She has taken something essentially devastating and life-changing and used it as a call to action to inspire real change within her community.
The final key point I took away from this training was that when raising awareness of cases of environmental injustice, going into these communities and attempting to speak on their behalf is inadvisable and ineffective – instead, we should be helping amplify the voices of people who have lived through the results of climate change first hand, (such as Danielle Bailey-Lash) as they have the knowledge of the best solutions for their own community.
This is something I am going to try and incorporate into every action I take as a result of this training and will continue to do so in the future when I hope to be a part of solving this growing and urgent issue.
Before this training I believed that I knew a significant amount about climate change – I work in a field aligned with it and have been passionately following it for the last few years. I was left surprised at how little I really knew, but with a renewed sense of optimism about the significant strides being taken today, and with a considerable burst of motivation to educate people and take action.
My main takeaway from this event, and one which I hope to use to inspire people, is that we are no longer individuals making small differences – but a global movement of people all working together to create massive change around the world, as quickly and as effectively as we can!
4. New England Journal of Medicine, June 29, 2017
5. NAACP; Clean Air Task Force