Image: Duncan Noble
There is a crack, a crack, in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Leonard Cohen, Anthem
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.
W.H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
I have been resisting becoming a climate change activist. I can resist no more. My heart is broken by what we are doing to our planet. My head is seething with the injustice of it. And now, I know what to do about it.
Chicago is a magic city for me. It sets off eruptions in my heart that reverberate for a long time. In 1998, I attended a conference there on The Natural Step. I was going through some difficult times. It helped me get unstuck. A speech by Paul Hawken touched me deeply, and helped me find the courage to make some difficult decisions.
Fast forward to 2013. I was in Chicago with more than a thousand people from over 70 countries, and all 50 States. We were there as part of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, being trained to spread the word about the climate crisis, and what to do about it. Al Gore spent the entire day Wednesday going straight through his updated “An Inconvenient Truth” presentation, and then going through it more slowly and in more detail, explaining the transitions between sections, and some of the more complex details. He was a rock star, with an incredible amount of energy and passion. He was also personal and vulnerable, sharing his authentic self. And Gore was only one highlight. There were other incredible speakers, including Jonah Sachs (author of “Winning the Story Wars”), Kim Wasserman (a Chicago community activist who helped shut down a coal fired power plant next to her low income community, and who received the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize), Maggie Fox (President and CEO, The Climate Reality Project) and many others.
We learned a lot about climate change, and we also learned a lot about how to connect and empower others by telling our own stories. It was truly wonderful to be with so many people that are so aligned, despite our superficially diverse origins, backgrounds and experiences. I met some great people, had some interesting conversations, and plan to stay in touch with many of them. The Climate Reality Project is big on social media; we learned how to leverage social media to tell our story. They also have a good social media infrastructure in place to help people stay connected after the training. I have spent several hours doing just that since being in Chicago. It’s a great way to maintain existing relationships, and build new ones. This seems like a really good way to amplify the impact of a conference.
Carla Shatz famously said “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. I don’t know what the equivalent is for humans that share intense experiences, but whatever it is called, it happened in Chicago.
My time in Chicago was a very positive and empowering experience. I came away from the training with a new perspective. I feel more in touch with my heart, and this seems to make everything easier. I am more comfortable going ahead with things are not yet fully developed – this is a good thing, and helps avoid procrastination. I also feel more open to asking others to help. As the African proverb says: If you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together.
So what does it take to become a Climate Leader? It takes knowledge, empathy, courage, convictions, passion, and energy. It takes a rock solid, unshakeable belief that we have the power to change our destiny. We have the power to change our personal destiny and we have the power to change our collective destiny. And, with thanks to The Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps and Chicago, we have the power to get up every day and get it done.
Essential that we change our ways. We must find a new road to the well and see to it that the choice will not further damage, this, our only home. We must persuade ourselves to give up a little comfort, walk or bus rather than drive or fly. Shun processed foods and pay attention when those who are studying the health of Planet Earth broadcast the results of their research.
I totally agree with you Eleanor. There are a lot of things we can do as individuals, communities, companies and economy-wide via policies and regulations. We all need to do our part. In my work, I have often used a tool called the “carbon management hierarchy” that was developed by Forum for the Future in the UK. It is simple and easy to understand, consisting of 4 strategies to reduce carbon footprint: Avoid or reduce activity (e.g., video conference instead of travel, other life style changes); Improve efficiency; Use low carbon energy (e.g., solar or other renewables); and finally Offsets last after you have exhausted these other strategies and still need to reduce to be carbon neutral or reach some other goal. In other words, avoidance (don’t use energy if you don’t need to), efficiency (use what you have to use as efficiently as possible) and greening (make sure that as much as possible of what you’re using comes from renewable energy). I will write a blog post exploring this in more detail.
Sounds like a truly inspiring trip! I’d love to read your thoughts on factory farming/livestock production and GHG emissions. I feel like this is the elephant in the room when it comes to climate change, but no one — or very few — are really giving it serious discussion. Or maybe people are? Admittedly, I’ve only just begun reading about this subject in the past few months, but the data and statistics I’ve uncovered so far have blown me away. Beyond eating local, and employing more sustainable farming practices, why isn’t a shift towards a primarily plant-based agricultural system discussed more? Would be an interesting blog post subject.
Hi Becky: Yes, the trip and training was truly inspiring. From a climate perspective, the worst foods to eat are lamb and beef, because they come from ruminants that produce a lot of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (about 70X carbon dioxide over a 20 year time horizon; 25X over a 100 year time horizon). I think the short answer to your question is “denial”. I’ve copied my review-in-progress of a book about denial below.
Do not underestimate denial. It’s part and parcel of our cognitive heritage. I’m reading an amazing book called Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs and the Origins of the Human Mind. In brief, the author asks why other intelligent animals have not evolved like humans? His answer is that we have crossed a major psychological evolutionary barrier by developing an ability to deny reality, in particular our own mortality. We are not only self-aware, but also aware of the personhood of others, and their mortality, and hence our own mortality (what he calls “Full Theory of Mind”). Since this is such a major drag (!?!), it is likely to lead to serious depression and interfere with our evolutionary “fitness” (i.e., we would put our personal survival ahead of procreation and the survival of the species, which is the only thing that matters from an evolutionary perspective). Our ability to deny reality has allowed us to get beyond this barrier and evolve far beyond the other very smart animals like elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, etc. We crossed the Rubicon by developing full theory of mind and denial of reality at the same time.
Clearly denial of reality has been a useful approach for humans. We get through the day by being optimistic and denying reality. Denial contributes to great human qualities like optimism, bravery and courage. However, it doesn’t always work. For example, if we get it wrong on climate change, it may be too late to change our mind and try to reverse climate change…
I’ve including a link below to a great ~ 20 minute audio interview from CBC radio with one of the book’s co-authors. The other co-author died before the book was finished. That in itself is a very interesting story.
I’m not sure yet how to apply this to my climate change work, but after reading the book (and I’m only part way through) it’s amazing how many examples of reality denial I see around me. It really is endemic to the human condition. I think this book and theory gives us a deeper insight into how hard wired denial is in the human brain. This knowledge can help us develop better frameworks, strategies and tactics to address denial of climate change science.