I recently attended the Climate Reality Project Leadership training in Bellevue (Seattle) Washington. It’s a not for profit organisation involved in education and advocacy and all about climate change. It was established in 2011 after the joining of two environmental groups, The Alliance for Climate Protection and The Climate Project, which were both founded in 2006 by Al Gore. Gore was the 45th Vice President of the United States and well known for his work regarding environmental issues and of course An Inconvenient Truth. Along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), they were awarded The Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for their efforts to obtain and disseminate information about the climate challenge.
Hundreds of questions emerged during this three-day event such as; must we change, can we change, and will we change? Perhaps the most confronting were my reasons for being there. When exactly had I become an environmentalist and was I a fraud among these passionate activists and friends of the earth? Oddly, I felt at home and perhaps a little like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. An outsider at the beginning, and feeling more like I was in the right place with family and friends as the days blended together called together for some existential reason. It was easy to talk about how I had been beckoned down this rabbit hole in school as it began with an interest in defining what wilderness is, how we treat each other – humans, animals and other, and how it moved to a broader discussion about climate change and the speed at which it is unfolding and how it is making it increasingly difficult for us to adapt in what some believe is an apocalyptic scenario. Recognizing that it may not matter what wilderness is if we can’t address these issues, there is a growing vulnerability about what to do first and in the “five alarm fire” that Naomi Klein frames in No Is Not Enough, how to effect positive social change while we figure out what to tell our kids and future generations?
Remarkably, Mr. Gore brought this home for me with his closing comment’s. (you can skip to the bottom and hear him)
“As many of you know one of the most appropriate ways to frame this choice now before us is to project ourselves into the future world that we are going to bequeath to the next generation. And when they inherit the earth that we give to them – that we pass on to them, depending on the circumstances in which they find themselves, they will ask one of two questions.
And if they find themselves in a world of steadily diminishing hope and increasing despair with political disruptions, and chaos and billions of climate refugees, threatening governance structures and social cohesion, diminished food supplies, and challenges to the availability of fresh water, deeper droughts, stronger storms, floods and mudslides, rising sea levels, tropical diseases and all of the other horrors that the scientists – who have been right in their predictions of decades ago and are now telling us we must act quickly to avoid much worse.
If they lived in a world that was careening through such catastrophes and destroying hope they would be well-justified looking back at us in this time, and in this place and asking – what were you thinking? How how did you fail to see and feel that we were at risk? How did you fail to do what was necessary, to protect God’s green earth and the conditions that could give us happiness and joy and the lives that you’d told us we deserved.
But there is another alternative if they live in a world with rising hopes with hundreds of millions of good new jobs and occupations held by men and women who are busily transforming our civilisation into a sustainable and prosperous and clean civilisation. If they see that we have turned the corner and even though they face challenges, they know that they are in the process of diminishing and that they can not only survive but continue the work that will go on to safeguard our planet. If they can look into the eyes of their own children and feel with confidence and in their hearts that those children will have better prospects still. I want them to look back through time again and ask a different question: How did you find the moral courage to stand up to change, to work, to join together and to build a future that allows humanity to achieve its destiny”?
Attempting to answer these questions lead to interesting discussions involving science, fake news, eco and social psychology, religion, domestic and foreign policy, centuries of socioeconomic inequalities around the world and a reminder from Thich Nhat Hanh, “…that only love can save us.” So what about future generations? It is not so accidental that I feel called to do whatever I can to make a difference in whatever little ways that I can. I really don’t want my kids or grand kids or yours asking me, “what were you thinking”? We have work to do!
(Al Gores closing comments from the Climate Reality Leadership Conference, Bellevue Washington June 29, 2017)