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My Three Days With Al Gore

"Must we change? Can we change? Will we change?"

Welcoming sign in the LA Convention Center

When I heard that a Climate Reality Project leadership training was going to be held this summer in Los Angeles, I immediately filled out an application. After all, this was the program featured in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Sequel.” My daughter was trained in the Bellevue, Washington session in June 2017, and said she found the experience “inspiring.”

In essence, the program is meant to promote activism regarding the environment at the grassroots level. As someone who’s involved in the fight to shut down Aliso Canyon’s gas storage facility, I felt I could learn some tips in getting more members in my community engaged.

Initially I heard that the number of participants would be 1,000 (there were about 800 in my daughter’s “class.”). On the Facebook page created especially for the Los Angeles event, there was talk that the number would be 2,000. I thought that would be impossible. Are they going to use one of the exhibition halls?

Noteworthy was that many who were accepted to the program couldn’t attend as their visas were denied. This included residents of Afghanistan, Haiti, Burkina Faso, India, and Senegal. Even though it was mentioned several times that the training needs to be conducted in person, after my personal experience, it seems that offering video training for those who are being denied visas for traveling for this reason may be beneficial for them and for the environment.

When I arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the line was long and unmoving due to a computer glitch. But once that was resolved, the line moved quickly, and soon I was given my official manual and lanyard. In the cavernous West Hall I found table #60, with which I would share with two others from my community, another from the Valley, and others from communities in the Santa Clarita and San Gabriel Valleys.

Because of the check in problem, the event started an hour late, beginning with a welcome from a woman who moved her family from polluted China to Utah just about a year ago. She explained how the venue was selected, and how sustainable the event would be, from the manuals and lanyards that were made from recycled materials to the carbon offsets purchased for those who had traveled to LA. She was followed by the director of engagement from the Climate Reality Project who led the tables in an icebreaker exercise.

The president and CEO of the CRP, Ken Berlin, explained that this was the 39th training and that some 2,200 trainees were present from approximately 40 countries. At the end of the three day training, there will be 17,000 Climate Reality Leaders altogether. He explained that the goal of the training is to learn how to give effective presentations in one’s community with an emphasis on local issues, to understand the impacts of climate change, and the importance of a just and equitable transition to a clean energy economy. He did warn that the fossil fuel industry has been trying to slow down efforts to protect our environment.

After a welcome speech by former vice president Al Gore, who founded the Climate Reality Project in 2006, Amanda Gorman, the Youth Poet laureate of the US, performed a poem she had written for the occasion.

Then the meat of the training began. Gore moderated a panel entitled “California’s Roadmap for Climate Leadership,” which included Veronica Garibay, from the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, J.R. DeShazo, who’s the director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA, and former state senator Fran Pavley, who’s now the Environmental Director of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute.

I was looking forward to Pavley’s appearance as she had been my state senator and passed SB-380, which placed a moratorium on Aliso Canyon, until the gas storage site could be determined to be safe to reopen. She discussed a goal of 100% sustainability in California by 2045, and that we’re close to 50% at the current time.

After a vegetarian lunch, Al Gore presented the slide show presentation he is famous for. It demonstrated many of the effects of manmade pollution on our climate. He included many examples of record high temperatures being recorded in the last few months alone, as well as some of the wildfires, hurricanes, insect-borne diseases, and other results of the extreme climate conditions. And with a shift of temperatures, there’s an effect on the food supply worldwide that often threatens the stability of many countries. I was surprised that he did not mention the fact that the worst release of gas in US history occurred less than three years ago in the county of Los Angeles, and undoubtedly contributed much greenhouse gas into the LA basin, which could be a contributing factor in Southern California’s recent extreme temperatures.

Gore emphasized the three questions that everyone’s presentations should address: Must we change? Can we change? Will we change?

The first two of four breakout sessions for the trainees were held the first day. All the tables from the Los Angeles County participants were in the “gold” group and attended the breakouts together. In the panel entitled, “What’s Next: Take Action and Create Change,” we were given suggestions on how to connect to the public when talking about the environment. We were also told of the resources that will be made available through a special website for leaders. Besides holding presentations, we were encouraged to help people register to vote in time for the November midterm elections.

The next breakout for the Gold group was entitled, “Communicating Climate Change.” The leaders told us how to construct our message through emotionally compelling stories that utilize our values, cultures, and beliefs. Deciding what and how to frame our message, and then move the audience from common ground to action.

The Don’ts included not focusing on statistics, giving blame, nor injecting fear. The Do’s were to focus on solutions that everyone can take, be optimistic, and use friendly body language.

During the second day of the training, many of the Californians in the audience were keeping tabs on the voting for SB-100 in the state Assembly in Sacramento. Even during the course of the morning panel, “The Climate Crisis and its Solutions: Question and Answer Session,” Gore was giving updates.

Through presubmitted questions from the tables, various topics were answered by this panel. The importance of building a coalition of science, religious, industry, and health leaders along with policy makers was discussed. This would have been a great time to mention the Brown’s Last Chance Coalition, in my opinion.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD, said that we “need innovative ways to engage the press.” This is something I can definitely see as a problem: that we need to get more articles and stories about the environment. One tip for presenters when asked by community members for what action people can take, is to suggest little things such as changing the light bulbs they use and utilizing more public transportation.

He added that “Companies are hearing from customers and employees to be better,” and “It’s important to change the lightbulb, but more important to change the laws.” And the time to get top down policy change done is “now.” He added that the American democracy had been hacked long before the Russian did” through lobbyists, campaign contributions, and the corrupting infusion of huge amounts of money. But for individuals, the best message to bring up to community members is about individual suffering, how each of us is going to get hurt.

Of particular interest to him is the ocean, where climate change is affecting marine life by acidization and raising temperatures that interfere with the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide. The congealing process needed to make shells is interfered with, affecting many sea creatures.

Speaking on the topic of “Inspiring Global Action through Local Leadership,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti talked about three issues to consider when discussing sustainability: how do you move around, how do you stay comfortable at work and home, and how do you power your devices. He said he expects the departments at the city to work on hitting goals toward sustainability. He advised those in the audience to be specific and flexible when working on a plan directed at local officials, as well as talk about “bread and butter issues.”

The other two breakout sessions and lunch came next.

The Gold group’s third breakout was entitled, “Mastering the Presentation.” As a primary focus of the Climate Reality Project is getting leaders to bring presentations to local groups, schools, and local clubs, trainees were instructed as to how to use the available slides as well as tips for constructing their talks, including knowing and involving the group they are addressing, and including solutions.

Then the breakout that I thought would be the most relevant to me as someone living in an area hit hard by a disaster: “Fighting for Healthy Communities.” Even though the leaders of this breakout were most concerned with the environmental justice angle, the health conditions that affect Wilmington, Carson, and downtown LA are the same as those in the swath of communities hit hard by the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility. And with the San Fernando Valley, these areas had to contend with uncaring agencies such as the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the California Public Utilities Commission. In those areas discussed by the panel, the drilling and refinery sites are literally next to homes, with a mere fence separating a well from a residence. The Communities for a Better Environment and organizers hired lawyers to sue the regulatory agencies to get justice for the neighborhoods. Stand-LA and coalition groups are currently urging the LA City Council to pass a law to establish a 2,500 foot health and safety buffer zone.

At this session was the first mention of Brown’s Last Chance at an official panel during the training. John Fleming, a scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity explained the initiative signed by more than 800 community, faith, and environmentalist organizations worldwide to urge California governor Jerry Brown to take actions such as ban fracking, stop any more drilling sites from being approved, and shutting down hazardous sites such as Wilmington and Aliso Canyon.

The panel also urged those in the room to seek out a Rise for Climate march on September 8.

Back in the main hall with all groups present, three more panels were conducted, including a look at last year’s wildfires, technological solutions to evoke rapid decarbonization, and alternatives way to fuel transportation needs.

On the final day of the training, Berlin gave his wrap-up and talked about the 24 Hours of Reality, an online program that will be held on December 3 and 4. The remaining part of the three day program included Al Gore’s demonstration of how to give a ten minute presentation when time is limited, and panels on how movies and television can impart messages about the importance of taking on climate change, how social justice communities can fight for policies that can benefit them, and how some Climate Reality Leaders have been working on their own “acts of leadership.”

It was an intensive three days, interacting with enthusiastic and motivated mentors and trainees. I think the message came through that individuals can work toward getting their own communities to take action on climate change. I hope in the future more people can avail themselves for future trainings, especially in other parts of the world that are suffering from the effects of an ever increasingly extreme climate.