Climate leaders inspired by Al Gore to mobilize citizens and politicians for action
Oct 02, 2018
The room with over 600 people was silent as never before when Al Gore shared his personal story about how he became passionate about preserving our climate and got to know it was his calling:
It was a sunny afternoon when he walked down the street with his son. He didn’t realise how their hands parted, but he soon saw the child crossing the street. In an instant his son was hit by an oncoming car and he immediately feared the worst. Luckily, a doctor was in the area to provide some medical attention and an ambulance arrived quickly. He stayed in the hospital for weeks waiting for his son to recover, and by then, all of his important agenda items as high level politician became meaningless... Except one: His commitment to climate preservation was transcendent, because he knew that the devastating or positive consequences of climate action or inaction also affected his son’s life if he survived. And fortunately, he did.
The above was paraphrasing Al Gore’s closing speech, held the 28th of June 2018 in front of climate leaders in the Berlin Climate Leadership Corps Training, and the most moving speech I had ever heard in my life. He also shared how fortunate he had been to be educated as early as the 60s by a professor who was knowledgeable about climate change even before the oil crises of the 70s, which marks the main starting point of the environmental movement. As symbols, Greenpeace was created in 1971 and the first car free Sundays happened in this decade.
The speech was filled with empowerment and inspiration, with meaningful topics ranging from the civil rights movements to preserving nature; a few of the most notable takeaways are presented here..
The climate movement faces a headwind. Some of the strongest lobbyists in the world--the fossil fuels companies and the automobile industries--have a lot to lose. And it seems the general population is not aware or does not care enough about stopping climate change.
Even though the Paris Agreement was seen as a great milestone, requiring nations to transparently publish plans, report their emissions and raise the bar as they go, they cannot be forced to reduce emissions. The current plans would increase the temperature by 2.6º, which is more than the 1.5° or 2° needed to prevent the worst consequences; there is a dire urgency to do more. A hope comes from the fact that although Donald Trump has said that the US will withdraw from the Agreement, he cannot do so until the 4th of November 2020, one day after the next American presidential election. This means that if the population is mobilized for climate action and another President is elected the US would stay in the Agreement.
Al Gore has recognized this urgency and has created the Climate Leadership Corps, an NGO where he trains thousands of leaders to take action to make citizens care more about the issue and be vocal to their politicians in order to create effective climate policies.
People will only care if we use empathic communication.
Many sessions during the event addressed the failure in common persuasion campaigns and conversations. Jamie Clarke from Climate Outreach which tries to make sure the impact of climate change is understood, Al Gore himself, as well as the most engaged climate leaders all recommended similar approaches, which included ‘understanding the audience as well as possible: what they care about, what they dislike, what their demographic is?’ etc. Then find arguments, examples, and stories which they can relate to.
Al Gore’s toolkit for the leaders to spread the word.
As one of the highlights of the event, Al Gore presented the famous slideshow from his movies, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize, so that leaders could use it as a tool. He proved in a compelling way that we need to change if we want to avoid climate disasters from happening in an unprecedented frequency all over the world.
Beyond the more known sea level rise, there were several phenomena I didn’t know before that impressed me. For instance, the melting permafrost in Siberia and other regions created the strange grass moving phenomenon; and rain bombs are a phenomenon which create the strong rain events that appear in what seems a clear sky.
Even though the beginning was pretty dire, he shared the positive developments around renewable energy growth which creates optimism that we can transition away from a fossil economy and prevent many of the deleterious consequences.
Even though climate affects and is affected by so many variables, at the center of the panel discussions was the transition from coal, the greening transportation sector and how to address migration as a result of climate change displacement.
The coal industry causes many problems including the largest shares of emissions, however, a fair transition is necessary.
Experts from Germanwatch, the Europe Beyond Coal Campaign (https://beyond-coal.eu/, an excellent website by the way to get coal sector data) and DG Energy of the EU Commission shared their views.
Coal represents 1/3 of the EU electricity generation and it is clear that we need to transition away from it for several reasons. First and foremost because of the large emissions linked to its use. Electricity costs today would be cheaper if we transitioned to renewables. Society also suffers from externalities from toxic coal gases that cause in particular lung cancer. Furthermore, there are plenty of historic villages and nature that have been destroyed by the coal mines, and there are further considerations not mentioned here.
Indeed, an often unknown story is how coal mining forces people to move. This was brilliantly illustrated by a resident from Keyenberg in Germany who was invited to speak and told his moving story to the public. Due to a coal mine expanding, 50% of his neighbors already had to leave. They received an unsatisfactory financial compensation as it does not match the value of their belongings and their attachments to their home. It was moving to hear about his mother, who had lived there all her life and told him she would rather die than moving. To understand the impact on the region here is an impressive drone video of the area and an interview with the resident of Keyenberg.
However, planning the transition away from coal will require consideration for coal miners who want to be given a fair opportunity and who will lose their means of making a living.
The debate to shut down coal plants was currently held in Germany and it could provide an example which can also be extended to other parts of the world.
There are twenty five thousand workers in the coal industry in Germany. They earn relatively well especially compared to jobs which require a similar skill-set in mechanics or transport which is their best choice if coal mining is stopped. Unions want compensation if mining is stopped. To solve this, the EU helps with structural funds to develop the local ecosystem which is more advantageous than directly giving money to workers. As referred to in the article innovation is key and InnoEnergy is seen as a great player.
They also let eleven big European coal regions share best practices as some regions have already successfully transitioned like those in the UK.
Most cities could run on 3% of their fleet with autonomous, shared vehicles.
The director of the think tank called Agora Verkehrswende which tries to depict how a more sustainable transport can be reached, Christian Hochfeld shared his insights around the future of mobility.
Even though boat and flight transportation was seen as an unsolved and gowing issue, he decided to concentrate on car transport, which along with trucks represent 74% of the transport-related emissions and is seen as solvable.
Many cities want to lower emissions, have more space in cities, less traffic and better air and autonomous, shared and electric vehicles are seen as a great solution.
He showed a future with shared and electric mobility specifically basing his words on an International transport Forum study of the city of Lisbon which was well received worldwide. With a shared mobility concept consisting of shared "taxis", taxi-buses and high capacity public transport, Lisbon could have a working sustainable solution with only 3% of the current vehicle fleet.
But the development needs to be steered correctly by policy makers as completely different and less sustainable scenarios could occur. For example: given their convenience, being able to do anything in the car instead of driving, autonomous vehicles could lead to more private car ownership, which would create more space consumption, travelled distances, vehicles ownership and emissions.
Even with autonomous and shared fleet electrification is key. What struck me was that only 20 cities accounted for 40% of the EV sales worldwide. And to further break down it consists in only 4 countries: China, US, Norway, The Netherlands; and 4 additional cities: London, Paris, Stockholm, Tokyo. A push for global EVs is key as it is not a local issue.
Climate change forces people to migrate outside of their home countries.
To prevent a massive migration of not millions, like in the last years but even tens of millions as suggested by many, help needs to be brought to improve local ecosystems to ensure people are not moving away from due to uninhabitable conditions. A moving story was told by Grammenos Mastrojeni an expert on migration working for the development cooperation of an Italian Ministry. Agriculture and general life in Sub-Saharan Africa is heavily affected by climate change. He mentioned in the worst case, no crops will survive, and no humans will be able to survive more than 3 hours outside.
What do we do?
Beyond the focus areas mentioned, I believe--and others believe too--that a more holistic approach on a macroeconomic level must be taken. It is evident that a fast way to cut emissions is to consume less. Even beyond emissions, if we want to safeguard nature and to be fair to the 6 billion human beings still striving to cover their basic human needs to live an equivalent lifestyle of a Western middle class, we are better off consuming less.
The civil rights and gender equality movements led by passionate activists also faced much resistance, and yet, they managed to make tremendous progress. Women and certain ethnicities could not even vote in the beginning of the 20th century--unimaginable today. Of course, so much more still needs to be done.
Therefore, what is needed is climate activism. Leaders who use effective communication and actions to mobilize people to push politicians to create effective policies. Don't wait to spread the word in any way you can, present, hold an event, mentor, write a blog post, meet an influencer and so much more!
If you want to do so with innovation in sustainable energy, you are welcome to engage in the InnoEnergy CommUnity.