Late last August, I traveled to Los Angeles for a 3 day training with The Climate Reality Project. Many may not have heard of this non-profit anchored by Vice-President Al Gore. The training is free, but one needs to apply and get accepted to participate. We are also expected to pay for our travel and lodging expenses.
We were told this was the largest Climate Reality training to date, with over 2,200 people from all over the world. About 25% came from Southern California, another 25% came from the State of California, the remaining 49 states brought in 25%. The rest were from outside the US. Tweets from the training have the hashtag #LeadOnClimate. An example:
- 25% from LA, 25% from CA, 25% from rest of US, 25% from rest of world, all 2000 trainees ready to #LeadOnClimate
We were grouped by geographic proximity so I mostly interacted with people from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I ran into people I already knew plus some new ones, notably Tim Mahony (a science professor at Millersville University), Shweta Arya (an environmental educator from Delaware County), Dave Walbert (a grad student at Drexel) and Ankit Agarwal (a Center City Philadelphia resident).
The 3 days with Mr Gore was interspersed with many notables, some very new to me.
So I tell you this not to scare you,
But to prepare you, to dare you
To dream a different reality
And while this is a training,
in sustaining the future of our planet,
There is no rehearsal. The time is
Because the reversal of harm,
And protection of a future so universal
Should be anything but controversial.
So, earth, pale blue dot
We will fail you not.
Because an environmental movement of this size
Is simply another form of an earthrise.
Mr Gore led a question and answer session about “The Climate Crisis & It’s Solutions” with Dr Veerabhadran Ramanathan. Some tidbits from that session:
- The climate crisis is inter-generational, thus the realm of religion and morals. It’s something he can’t bring to scientific discussions
- He sees the cliff, and the shift in colleagues, all wanting to talk about shifting to solutions – working with 25 university collaboration – with demo projects – then bringing in community partners – He’s got no pushback when presenting because all scientists concur that this is an existential threat. This phrase was repeated by many of the presenters.
- no massive public support
- most important message from Dr Ramafor the climate crisis: It’s happening now, there’s an urgency, and we know how to solve it
- Foreign Affairs magazine article referenced here
- The climate crisis will affect the rich as much as the poor
- The climate crisis will get worse if we do nothing
- He is one of the advisors to the Vatican, which included best health experts
- He doesn’t see how CA ag could survive 30 years out
- Future generations don’t deserve what we’re doing to them
- Referred to a climate solutions course at undergrad level, for all UC students – then at community college, to replicate across US, and also at K-12 level, working with DiCaprio Fdn, to build environmental literacy.
- This 73 year old man says… we won’t solve this in his lifetime, but wants to leave by offering solutions to those in their 20s
- The climate crisis is a human tragedy
- Sees 2 degree warming in 7-8 years due to oceans warming
- Reduced oxygen in oceans – due to GHG absorption, also fertilizer runoff – causing dead zone – sustainable ag imp to protect oceans
- transpo sector has BIGGEST emissions
- 40% of food thrown away – bio-digestor – regenerative ag to sequester more carbon in soil (also plants) – put a price, reward farmers – upcoming soil carbon conference in TN
- V. Ramanathan shares $1.33M sustainable development prize with fellow climate science pioneer
- black carbon from diesel – more potent than CO2 – the panel discussion on transportation repeated this message; see below. Must stop diesel combustion, esp in urban areas.
- We must take CO2 out of the air
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined Mr Gore for a discussion on “Inspiring Global Action thru Local Leadership”.
- how to lobby our mayor? – quote from movie ‘lost city of Z’ on Amazon – “reach should always be greater than grasp” – beyond what we think is possible – confront the reality
- ask 4 questions of local leaders
- How do you and stuff get around? how do consumables get to you?
- How do you stay comfortable? physical built environment? heat, cool and power buildings
- How do you turn on the lights? What is the source of electricity? Then push people like him to get it done.
- And then:
- Be ready: Know your stuff better than people sitting with;
- Be specific – green building ordinance;
- Be flexible – get victory, bang it, and move forward. Learn to tie victories, one at a time
- Be inclusive – desegregate, all engaged, labor, women, hunting, too important to get divided
- Be proactive – stop playing defense – the power that you hold – exercise it
- Layout a plan, desegregate sustainability – each of the 37 departments he manages, all have a sustainability component – eg police dept reports on reduced crime, as well as reduced paper usage
- He has a 100 page plan – read it – replicate it – I think this is THE PLAN that he’s referring to.
- LA reduced emissions 11% in a year
- Brother is Mayor of nearby Long Beach, a major port. Their emissions reduction at the ports is 5 years ahead of schedule – clean air standards
- Mayor Garcetti co-founded Climate Mayors w Houston & Philadelphia Mayors when Trump pulled out of Paris, which brought in 100 cities, now 400 cities. If he’s out, we’re in!
- Global network of Mayors – C40 – the mega cities – playbook includes bus electrification – local communities setting agenda for big countries!
- Cannot be paralyzed by magnitude we face – we’re in the post NOW era – the post carbon era is now – the post ICE (internal combustion engine) is now – picture this – will realize the power we have – truth wins out
- I wish I were a mirror – so you could see what I see – your power – we’re the writers of history – let us make history together! Really revved us up!! (and I rarely use double exclamation points)
Though we were excited, energized and exhausted, Mr Gore kept going. Next up was a conversation with Hal Harvey on “Getting Real about Rapid Decarbonization”. This is Hal Harvey of energyinnovation.org – has an upcoming book – see Climate: How to Win – spoke of the 4 zeros for rapid decarbonization:
- Zero-carbon grid
- Zero-emission vehicles
- Zero-net energy buildings
- Zero-waste manufacturing
Zero-carbon grid – electric utilities are biggest emitters on planet – 80% of our problem is from energy sys – solar and wind cheaper than operating capital of plant – who chooses whether we get brown or green electricity? small number of policies and small number of people – In the US, the PUC decides – 50 states x 5 commissioners = 250 people. If we exclude smaller states, and 3-2 vote is enough, only need to convince 90 people. We were promised an analysis of all 50 PUCs so we could pressure ours. Was told Advanced Energy Economy has research on each PUC, that we need to work with multi local corps (versus multi—national corps) – to show util how to make money, and they’ll come along – 2/3 of all wind and solar in US is in red states – TX, WY, IA – story about NV flipped PUC
Zero-carbon vehicles – zero grid enables others – Americans keep cars for 14 years – keep pressure on both clean cars and EVs
Zero-net energy buildings – Santa Monica zoning – insulated well, almost zero – CA has best building code – CA split to 16 weather zones – if tech pays for itself within 7 years, it’s in the code – written by Governor Brown in 1978. We expect seat belts to work, we expect air bags to work, why don’t we expect buildings to work? utils don’t make money selling electricity – they make money building power plants, then passing the cost to base rates – change incentive – performance based regulation – people want affordable, safe, reliable, clean electricity – give util 5 years, thy’ll get…?
Zero-waste manufacturing – China 70% of emissions from industry – substitute design for material – example of 3D printing to reduce concrete used in new construction – lets unleash our minds – hi value jobs – rethinking materials – SOlivia – carbon? DOE 90% of budget for nuclear – list 5 to 10 most energy intensive industries – study them – circular economy – bottle bill on steroids – manufacturer buy back
Mr Harvey’s advice? Be precise when we speak; we can’t afford to be fuzzy. He ended with a sermon on our levels of consumption. The we need to triage – ethos, pathos, logos – the ethics, the stories, the logic.
There was a California specific discussion titled “California’s Roadmap for Climate Leadership“. Again, with Mr Gore moderating.
- Al Gore’s quotes from this session
- We must electrify the transportation sector
- 100% committed campaigns, re-educators (an organized effort) leads to advocacy
- Kept asking – Must we? Can we? Will we change?
- We learned of monthly coordination amongst the many agencies within California. A collaboration on people working on air quality, electricity generation, with the Community Choice Aggregation team working together with the Investor Owned Utility.
A discussion titled “Fighting for Healthy Communities” was led by groups local to Los Angeles. The PSR-LA (Physicians for Social Responsibility chapter in Los Angeles) team spoke of capturing vapor and VOC (volatile organic compounds) when tankers were unloaded. The California Environmental Justice Alliance, Communities for a Better Environment wanted to get 1 million EV’s on the road. They spoke of SB350, a bill to get to 50% renewables by 2040. They brought young people in yellow shirts, saying these urban youth were the canaries in our current coal mines — the drilling within the City of Los Angeles. Their demand – Stop Drilling Where We’re Living, and asked why their human rights were not valued. These groups together asked that the city’s land use policy must be tied to proximity to fossil fuel infrastructure.
Dr Ramanathan was brought back for a discussion on “The Climate Crisis & It’s Solution” with with Al Gore and Don Henry. Some notes:
- We need to wake people up, and also give them hope.
- There’s been noisy denial. During the last 3 presidential campaigns, there was not one question about the climate crisis.
- We need to develop innovative partnerships
- Mr Gore working in collaboration with William Barber.
- Most effective messengers are us – willingness to shoulder the burden – topic complicated – communicate to neighbors – once we reveal what’s right and wrong – there’s the opportunity to do right – massive GOTV (get out the vote) effort.
- Legacy businesses want to extend their business plans & manipulating the system, tamping down concerns.
- For climate justice, we need to move from transactional to transitional movement. I remember Judy Wicks saying much the same thing years ago when talking about building the local living economy.
- We need to be multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and cross religions
- University of California intends to be carbon neutral in 10-15 years
- Mr Gore spoke of the necessity for a Sustainable Revolution, one with the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution and the speed of the Digital Revolution.
- An example of speed – Google has largest server farm in world; leading artificial intelligence company (Deep Mind’s Mustafa Saleyman) analyze and within 30 minutes had a recommendation for 40% electricity reduction; with a reiteration of the algorithm, they achieved a 56% reduction. Just with smarter management. Stories like this are our Call to Arms!
- There was a question about CCS (carbon capture and sequestration), nuclear, and methane (also known as natural gas) in helping solve the climate crisis. The advice?
- NO CCS – It’s expensive, 30% of current generation would be needed to run CCS.
- NO nuclear – no engineering firm in US would even design a nuclear plant now.
- NO methane –
- It’s 86 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over 20 years
- 34 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over 100 years
- and has 50% less CO2 emissions than coal
- It’s NOT our bridge to the future
Since wildfires were raging throughout California last summer, Mr Gore brought local experts to talk about “Facing Reality: Firefighters on the Climate Frontlines“. Some notes:
- Ken Pimlot, Director of CA Dept of Forestry & Fire Protection said
- things are different now
- they’ve never seen a fire last as long as 13 days.
- 100,000 acre fire was rare, now common
- They’re experiencing fires of 2700 degrees F!
- They’re experiencing a year-round fire season, even in December with weeks and months of deployment, away from home. The life of firefighters is much like soldiers, facing greater risk than they ever stepped up for.
- Asked us to talk to the politicians!
- things are different now
- Martha Karsten of Chief Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade said
- The whole state of CA is a tinderbox
- Their fire station used to run 6 months, now 9 months
- Ken Thompson, Former Deputy Fire Chief, New South Wale in Australia said
- It’s exactly the same in Australia.
- In Melbourne, 1st responders to fire – gonna be 1st responders to global warming!
- new level of fire code: catastrophic
- it really is a tinderbox out there
- Each of them said – Name them – call out the politicians
On a session on “Clean Transportation: Moving Beyond Carbon”, Mr Gore led discussions with people from LA Clean Tech Incubator, CARB (the California Air Resources Board), Proterra and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
We learned from Ryan Popple of Proterra Buses that a diesel bus uses 10,000 gallons annually. This is our tax dollars.
The NRDC speaker shared that diesel accounts for more than 70% of carcinogenic effect of emissions. That diesel for transportation is like coal for electricity generation. We need community based policy. There was a belief that consumers will do the right thing when given options. One out of 12 Americans live in Southern California. Don’t underestimate the purchasing power of a City or County. Not a dollar more for fossil fuels.
In a discussion about the Paris agreement, there was an excited discussion about we are still in, even if President Trump has walked away.
Being in Los Angeles and proximity to Hollywood, there was a discussion about “Climate Crisis on camera” with Alan Horn. We learned that Alan is also on the NRDC board, with wife Cindy Horn on the Climate Reality board. This one couple paid for the venue for over 2200 people.
In closing, some take-away quotes from Mr Gore:
- Climate change is not a political issue, it’s a personal issue
- “95% of time spent persuading people to do something when they damn well knew they should do it in their own self interest” – Al Gore quoting President Harry Truman
- We’re an army of activists that won’t go away
- Each month less than 1 American hears about climate change from a trusted source. We need to present to family, schools, civics
- Policy doesn’t match public opinion – amplify voices of others
- 65% population get urgent need to act on climate, yet the climate crisis doesn’t make list of top 10 issues in US. In Germany, the climate crisis is #1, terrorism is #2.
- important to change light bulbs, more important to change the laws and policy
- we’re working with 3 budgets
- time budget – complete presentation in allotted time
- complexity budget – don’t overtax people
- hope budget – this is a problem from hell, leave the audience with hope
- Politicians see uncertainly as an opportunity to delay.
- CA decision by cities and towns to go 100% RE – things change when you make commitment – yeah!
- Georgetown TX example – red state, mayor was CPA and numbers made sense
- Colorado State – student pressure
- GDP up, population up, emissions down – Both CA and Sweden show that economy can be decoupled from fossil fuel emissions
- In response to a question about energy storage other than Lithium Ion, there’s compressed gas storage, flywheels, flo batteries (?), and… 90% of storage in world is pumped hydro.
- Paris agreement agreed not only on voluntary targets, but also transparency on the info. Our governments are obligated to review and ratchet commitments. My translation – we can demand more transparency from PHL.
The Climate Reality Project has focused on training presenters. In 2017, they tried forming chapters, many across the globe. Of note is that the Pittsburgh chapter has 500 members. And a Mayor who is on-board with the transition. The Southeastern PA chapter, which would include Philadelphia, is gearing up.
See this post from another attendee: THREE MOVING MOMENTS FROM CLIMATE REALITY’S TRAINING IN LOS ANGELES.
I’m now a member of the Climate Reality Corps, able to give presentations on climate science, and able to customize for audience and geography.