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Last month, I applied and was accepted to attend a leadership training program conducted by an organization called the Climate Reality Project. I was lucky to receive a scholarship to offset the costs of travel and lodging for my trip. I was also pleased to learn that the organization also offsets the carbon dioxide emissions of air travel for its attendees. The conference food was all vegan and the venue used only sustainable products and supplies: no plastic was available.
This group empowers ordinary citizens to become climate leaders by providing them with the tools needed to network and fight against the climate crisis we are facing. The training took place August 2 through August 5 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The program, started in 2006, was inspired by the Academy Award winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth, narrated by former Vice President and Nobel Laureate, Al Gore. This movie got the world discussing what was happening to our planet’s climate. I showed this movie countless times to my students because it presented such a compelling argument on taking action against the powerful fossil fuel industry’s misleading narrative on climate change.
The Climate Reality Project was born out of an urgency to act on the compelling scientific evidence that our planet’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were accelerating from man-made activities.
The session that I attended had more than 1100 attendees from more than 30 countries. It was a far cry from the first conference which took place at Al Gore’s family’s barn. There were about fifty attendees at that session. Today more than 20,000 people from over 150 countries have attended a training session in some part of the world.
It had been a long time since I visited Minnesota and even longer since I had last visited the Twin Cities area. My husband’s late parents both called Minnesota home; growing up in the small towns of Little Falls and Foley, Minnesota.
I was surprised to see how much the region had grown and even more surprised to learn about the many environmental projects and innovations that were now being brought into the state, and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Minnesota has felt the effects of climate change along with the rest of the world. Data on the state’s weather shows that the average annual temperature has warmed 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit between 1895 and 2017, and the average annual rainfall has increased 3.4 inches. In 2018, Harmony, Minnesota set state record of 60.21 inches of rain.
Minnesota has stepped up to address these effects. During the three-day program, Melvin Carter, Mayor of St. Paul and Jacob Frey, Mayor of Minneapolis, participated in a discussion of issues and solutions on Sunday morning. Chief Meteorologist for Minnesota’s Public Radio, Paul Huttner, acted as moderator for this session. The session was not only factual but also fun, as the two Mayors took part in a friendly rivalry between their two cities.
Both cities won the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge in 2018 for their climate plans to reduce air pollution and emissions citywide. Minneapolis is one of 19 cities world-wide that has joined the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, and St. Paul has implemented 476 energy efficiency projects, which have saved the city a total of 1.3 million dollars.
The highlight of the weekend for me was being able to see Al Gore deliver his fantastic slide show presentation about climate change and to shake his hand. It was of course very sobering to hear the scientific data detailing the dramatic weather events and changes in the planet’s weather patterns from anthropocentric increases in greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Much of the recent weather events and deaths from these events are not reported in the mainstream media. Therefore, people in the United States often dismiss the seriousness of the climate crisis. Just this past month, there were almost seventy forest fires burning in Alaska. Because of climate change, the fire season in the western states has increased by 105 days since 1970.
Scientists have discovered that for every degree Celsius of warming, lightning strikes increase by 10-12 percent. In 2018, there were eight wildfires above the Arctic Circle. In 2010, fires killed 55,000 people in Russia. Four months later, Russia halted grain exports and Ukraine restricted grain exports. This caused world food prices to reach record highs.
Between 2006 and 2010, Syria saw fertile land become desert land as it experienced the worst drought in the country’s history. This caused the deaths of 80 percent of the cattle and drove 1.5 million rural residents out of the countryside to seek refuge in Syria’s already crowded cities.
The mass immigration from Central America has been fueled in part by climate change. The Central American region has been experiencing droughts which have been especially severe in the country of Honduras. It was ranked number one on the Global Climate Risk Index which stated that “for the period from 1998 to 2017, Puerto Rico, Honduras and Myanmar rank highest for weather related loss events.” Because there have been drastic drops in food production, climate refugees are leaving their homes in search of jobs in the northern regions of the Americas.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the region and the rural poor depend on agriculture for their livelihood as well as for their families’ food. However, this region, dubbed the Dry Corridor, is extremely susceptible to hurricanes, flooding, droughts and tropical storms.
Most of us who drink coffee on a daily basis are unaware that the Honduras coffee crop is especially affected by changes in weather. While climate change is not the only reason for the mass migration of many coffee growers, it is predicted that the land suitable for coffee cultivation in Central American will drop by 40 percent by 2050 and the number of coffee growers will decline from 12,000 to 9,000.
Don’t start hoarding coffee, however; the news isn’t all bad. The slide show also laid out the framework and possibilities to write a different narrative for the future of our planet. There are many success stories all over the world and in the United States. Unfortunately, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky’s political landscapes are making it difficult for these states to move ahead into the green future.
Bloomberg’s New Energy Outlook for 2019 stated that “today more than two-thirds of the global population lives in countries where solar and wind are the cheapest sources of new bulk generation.” Minnesota, the state where this conference was held and where my husband’s parents grew up is using renewables for 25 percent of its electricity generation.
Texas, a state known for oil production, has the most wind installations with over 23 thousand megawatts installed by 2018. Kansas uses wind turbines to generate over 36 percent of its electricity. In some cases, wind turbines have saved family farms by providing extra incomes for farmers.
The cost of solar crystalline silicon cell modules has dropped dramatically to twenty-five cents per watt. Nevada’s NV Energy signed an agreement to purchase solar electricity at 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour last year. This is the lowest price paid in the USA.
In Australia, one in five homes now have solar panels on their roofs. In China, more than 53 percent of new energy capacity comes from renewable resources and China has the largest solar array in the world.
An attendee at the Climate Reality asked Mr. Gore what actions he would suggest people take to turn this climate crisis around. His reply was, use your voice, talk about this crisis to everyone even people who do not agree. Use your choice. Chose green products and green energy. Finally, use your vote, vote for politicians who support efforts to halt climate change. Vote for the planet.