To be clear, reaching a strong international emissions reductions agreement at COP21 in Paris at the end of the year is a critical step forward in halting global climate change. But the truth is that the power to act isn’t an exclusive right reserved by world leaders. People all over the world — in different countries, with different political ideologies and occupying different places in society — are realizing their power and taking action designed to change the politics of climate change and to support the transition to a clean-energy economy.
At the nonprofit Climate Reality Project, we seek to find these great leaders and make them exceptional, transforming them into agents of change with the knowledge, tools and drive to communicate effectively around climate-change impacts and solutions. Our Climate Reality Leaders range from teachers to businesspeople to pastors, but they share a common understanding of the urgency of climate action and a desire to become warriors on the front lines of the fight against climate change. Their work is evident everywhere, from family dinners to international summits.
The Climate Reality Leadership Corps — a dynamic group of thousands of world-changers shaping the climate conversation — began humbly: in 2006, former U.S. Vice President and Climate Reality Chairman Al Gore invited 50 people to join him in the Tennessee countryside to learn how best to explain global warming to their friends, colleagues, and peers. Since then, Climate Reality has honed and refined the model for larger international audiences; today, trainings are intensive two- or three-day programs all over the world that feature a blend of educational presentations, collaborative workshops, and ample networking time for attendees to get to know each other.
To date, Climate Reality has held 27 trainings around the world, training a global network of more than 7,500 activists from 125 countries. Each training focuses on the issues and solutions most relevant to the region: in Rio de Janeiro, indigenous leader Mayalú Kokometi Waurá Txucarramãe shared the devastating effects of deforestation, while in New Delhi, Sanjit Bunker Roy talked about his Barefoot College program, which trains illiterate rural grandmothers to install solar panels. At the upcoming training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, speakers will delve into the impacts of climate change on the U.S. agricultural economy and the public-health implications of climate change, all in the context of the state’s significance in U.S. politics.
Climate Reality Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, with as many reasons for taking action. Former engineer Terry Gallagher — who will be a Climate Reality Mentor at our upcoming Iowa training — is now an ordained minister focused on faith-based social-justice action, advocacy and education, who uses his ministry as a forum for helping people engage in responding to climate change. Carol LeBlanc, an IT manager who works with the U.S. federal government, recognized the immediacy of climate change when her former Colorado Springs neighborhood was swallowed by wildfires in 2012.
Exactly because of their diversity of backgrounds, Climate Reality Leaders find the trainings to be highly personal experiences. This is reinforced in part because trainees work closely with Climate Reality Mentors throughout the process — people who have been through the trainings and use what they have learned to guide the next batch of Climate Reality Leaders.
Learning in this way — through intensive, hands-on experiences that can then be shared — not only encompasses the philosophy of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, it also offers a model for broad and systemic societal change, which is critical to solving the global climate crisis.
This post is part of a Huffington Post What’s Working series on the environment. The series is putting a spotlight on initiatives and solutions that are actually making a difference— whether in the battle against climate change, or tackling pollution or other environmental challenges. To see all the posts in the series, read here.