UKYCC's Sarah Dobson attended Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Training in March, 2019. These are her Top 5 Takeaways...
The Climate Reality Leadership Corps were created by environmental all-star and ex-Vice President Al Gore. They exist to train people to better communicate climate issues and learn to lead environmental campaigns. The training is completely free once you’ve passed the application stage, but you have to fund your own travel and accommodation, which can exclude a lot of people from participating.
The training in Atlanta last week was centred around environmental justice and managed to line up incredibly diverse and mostly gender-balanced panels to teach us all the importance of equity in the environmental movement.
5. Start with the local.
At the start, you don’t even have to use the words ‘climate change’, find the local environmental issues in your community. Perhaps a polluted pond or nasty air pollution. Build a local movement around these issues.
Mobilising people will make them more engaged in the wider environmental issues and help the community to understand environmental problems which affect them on a larger scale. But, you must never lose sight of how fighting these issues will help the local community. Switching to solar might give you more control of your energy bills or retrofitting energy efficiency measures into housing might lift the energy burden on lower-income communities.
Fight like your world depends on it, but start like your neighbourhood depends on it.
4. Don’t just ‘include’ equity and justice into your environmental campaigns.
We are only fighting this climate change issue because of inequity and injustice - a system which has given the biggest fossil fuel companies a monopoly on the energy market. A system which relocates environmentally destructive projects into low-income communities who don’t have the means to fight back. You can’t just ‘include’ equity and environmental justice, they are the foundation the climate change movement rests upon.
This is equally important for the ‘inclusion’ of people of colour. You cannot just ‘include’ the people who make up the majority of the earth’s population. Check your actions and your privilege to stop the movement from being white-centric and remember that ‘inclusion’ is a right of people of colour, not a favour from white movements.
3. Story-telling engages an audience better than data
It’s easy for the environmental movement to spout figures and show charts explaining climate change and assume that these will change the hearts and minds of the people. This is the ‘Curse of Knowledge’ - us forgetting what it was like before we understood climate change, so not being able to relate to those who don’t understand it.
This can lead to the stereotyping of climate deniers, when really these are just people who have been bamboozled by the fossil fuel industry. Don’t insult their intelligence, just frame your argument to meet this target audience. For example, don’t say “97% of scientists believe in climate change” say “If you went to the hospital and the doctor told you to get life-saving surgery, would you get it? What if you went to 100 doctors for a second opinion and 97 told you to get the surgery? Would you get it then?”
Story-telling is the most fundamental method of transferring knowledge in human society. Make yourself more engaging by working on your narrative and giving people something to emotionally connect with. Even better than this, telling your authentic story can never be wrong.
2. Democratic crises are environmental issues
Campaign finance violations are environmental issues. Voter suppression is an environmental issue. Electoral systems which give some communities no power are environmental issues.
These systems allow huge corporations to keep up their environmental racism. They can stop effective resistance to their projects, sweeping them under the rug until everyone but those in the communities forget about their effects. This is why pipelines so often go through indigenous land, but never go through the land of wealthy communities. Who is it easier to suppress?
The reason people manage to create and maintain these awful systems is because they have the audacity to say no to the rights of communities. We need to have that same audacity in fighting these systems of oppression by speaking truth to those in power.
The biggest victories of the environmental movement have been when we take democracy back into our own hands, and the youth are doing that every time we strike for climate. We have to entrench this power into law as Al Gore says “It’s great to change our light bulbs, but it’s better to change our laws”. All of the successes of the environmental movement mean nothing if the people can’t participate.
1. Don’t build that which we will have to tear down later
Fighting climate change is our biggest chance to completely reform our infrastructure, but we must be careful during this transition. If we recreate the same systems of inequity, the same oppression will continue. If fossil fuel companies transition to renewable energy, they will continue to charge high fees to low income communities and pay low wages to maximise profits. Creating local energy cooperatives will allow communities to have their say in how their energy is governed and encourage participation in wider democratic processes.
If we allow power to be taken away from the communities affected by climate change in the name of progress, we are not creating a just transition. We need to do more than fight oppression, we need to uproot it so it can never grow back.
Why build inequitable systems that we will inevitably have to tear down later? Let’s do the hard work now and use environmental solutions to solve the social problems of our communities.
So is it worth going to the training?
There is certainly a ton of valuable information in one place, a load of connections to work with on environmental campaigns and a whole lot more inspiration to be found at the Climate Reality trainings. You’re given mentors with experience to connect with and more resources than you could ever use.
But, they’re very America-centric. All of the Climate Reality chapters and most of the leaders are American, which can make for a slightly alienating training for international participants. There are also a lot of religious links to the environmental movement which, although multi-faith inclusive, can make people quite uncomfortable.
If you can make it to one, I would definitely recommend it. I learnt a lot about practical engagement with climate campaigns and a lot more about the fight for environmental justice. If nothing else, it always helps to meet people from across the world who are fighting for the same things as you, but in completely different contexts. We are not alone in our battle to save the world, “we came to learn and we leave to serve” our communities and our campaigns.