by Betsy Gross
Editor’s Note: The column is digressing this month and covering a climate conference Betsy attended on March 14, 15 and 16 in Atlanta, Georgia.
“You came to learn; you will leave to serve.” With these words, the March 2019 Atlanta Climate Reality Leadership Corps Conference opened. My friend Jayne Freudenberger and I arrived the evening beforehand, taking the train into downtown Atlanta from the airport after traveling all day from this corner of America to that one.
The conference organizers paid the carbon offsets for our air travel, one action among many throughout this three-day training that sent the message: “We mean it; we are committed in word and deed to saving the earth.”
The Climate Reality Project is Al Gore’s organization, started in 2006 after his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” brought the truth about the catastrophic effects of burning fossil fuels to the world’s attention. The Climate Reality Leadership Corps’ mission is to empower ordinary citizens to be the project’s foot soldiers, influencing their communities to take urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and speed the global shift to renewables. (1)
To date, 19,000 people in over 150 countries have been trained to be Climate Reality Leaders. Almost 2,000 people from all over the world attended this training, including 20 of us from the State of Washington.
What an incredible three days! It was outstanding in every way.
First, the conference was well organized. Attention was paid to the smallest details. They wasted no opportunity to set an example for minimizing carbon choices. We were all told ahead of time to bring our own water bottles. Those who forgot theirs snagged empty coffee cups from breakfast in the foyer and filled them up at water fountains. Meals were served without plastic.
The trainer in me loved the attention the organizers paid to differences in learning styles: a strategy was used for every type of learner. Interspersed between/within the presentations, all sorts of learning activities drove home the message and kept us focused. We met in small groups to share personal stories. We texted our support to the youths in the Washington, D.C., climate march taking place while we were there.
We spent time writing and practicing our “elevator stories” — brief synopses of how we became environmental activists — with one another. Our attentive mentor, a seasoned Al Gore trainee from years past, responded to our questions and facilitated the activities at our state’s two tables.
Main Attraction: Al Gore
And of course, the superb main attraction: Vice President Gore and his slide shows. He presented them twice, the first one two-hours long, containing 584 graphic photos and videos depicting the horrors of climate change and the efforts now underway around the world to combat it.
On the last day of the conference, he presented a stripped-down 10-minute version to demonstrate for us leaders-in-training how to cover the topic in a shorter time. These presentations both broke our hearts and filled us with hope. Earth is now screaming at us to stop carbon emissions. You can get a taste of Mr. Gore’s presentations by watching his 2016 TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/al_gore_the_case_for_optimism_on_climate_change?language=en.
The takeaway message was “urgency plus hope.” A third theme was interwoven throughout: the truth that climate change isn’t just an environmental crisis; it’s also a moral clarion call. There is an urgent need to come together as one people for environmental, racial, economic, and social justice.
The effects of climate change are borne most heavily by those among us who are the most vulnerable and the least responsible for causing it. The foremost bearer of this message was the conference’s second main speaker, Reverend William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and creator of Repairers of the Breach. (2)
Reverend Barber is a towering figure in the Moral Fusion movement, which brings people from varying backgrounds together “…around a five-point agenda which includes economics, education, healthcare, environmental justice, criminal justice reform, and equal protection under the law.” (3)
He created the Forward Together Moral Monday movement in North Carolina in the first decade of this century. It focuses on how to create deep change through moral fusion politics, bringing people of all faiths, ethnicities, and socio-economic groups together as deeply committed citizens moved to overcome the forces of resistance and build the Third Reconstruction Era. The first two Reconstruction Eras in America took place immediately after slavery was abolished, and then again during the Civil Rights era. They had these same characteristics.
Reverend Barber and Climate Activists
Reverend Barber sees climate activists as the trailblazers of the moral fusion movement. The reconstruction concept is inspiring and its truth is obvious. But its power was magnified by the peerless presence of Reverend Barber and his extraordinary oratory skills. He presented several times during the conference and was the key speaker on the evening of the conference’s first day.
We were bused to Ebenezer Baptist Church — hallowed ground indeed! — to attend a service at which Reverend Barber, Vice President Gore, and several faith leaders spoke. It was the most inspirational two hours of my adult life, no exception. We roared out of Ebenezer Baptist Church that night with our hair on fire.
The entire service at Ebenezer Baptist Church is posted on the Climate Reality Project’s Facebook page, and an edited version showing only Reverend Barber’s sermon is posted on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLo1sdK884I.
Mr. Gore closed the conference by reminding us that President Trump’s decision to pull America out of the Paris Climate Agreement doesn’t go into effect until Wednesday, November 4, 2020 — one day after Election Day, November 3, 2020. Gore’s last message to us was that our votes are vital to our endeavor to save the planet.
Our next President’s first act after winning the election could be to announce that America will reinstate its membership in the Paris Agreement. But only if we show up at the polls.
These trainings are free. Jayne and I paid for travel and lodging only. Furthermore, the Climate Reality Corps’ slides, videos, and other materials are available to all attendees on the Climate Reality Hub website, a cornucopia of resources at our fingertips.
The cost of admission is to commit to undertaking acts of climate leadership in our own communities, to spread the word, expand the ripple outward. With this article, I am throwing another stone in the water, creating ripples that hopefully reach right into your hearts. I am also preparing to make presentations for faith communities and elsewhere.
More About The Climate Reality Project
Are you interested in attending one of these trainings? Do you want to know more and have more options in your efforts to make a difference here in Whatcom County? Check it out. Here’s the website: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/.
Betsy Gross is a retired mental health professional. In 2003, she retired from the County of San Diego and moved to Bellingham with her family. She is a grandmother, outdoor enthusiast, and political activist. She has devoted her time to several local causes over the years, primarily to environmental activism.