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Field Report: Al Gore's Climate Project

Worldchanging ally Serge de Gheldere was kind enough to share with us this journal of his recent trip to the U.S. to participate in Al Gore's Climate Project.

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DAY 0 (Nov 30, 2006):
I'm on a plane to the U.S. to learn how to give Al Gore's climate slideshow. The air France staff is charming and attentive, and funny, in a Borat kind of way: "Lay-dies and gentlemen, we are delighted to ave you on this Hair France flight to Atlanta..." This must be "Ecological learnings of America for make benefit great nation Belgium.?

I feel lucky to be part of an unprecedented grassroots effort to get the word out on global warming. In this project, called The Climate Project (TCP), a select group of individuals is invited to Nashville, Tennessee, to be trained by Al Gore and a team of renowned scientists and environmental educators. Each trainee takes part in an intensive tutorial about issues surrounding global warming, led by Al Gore. In addition, trainees also receive a technical training to become experienced presenters of a version of Gore’s computer-based slide show, which became the basis of his book and documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth."

Global warming is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and also a unique opportunity for a shared planetary goal few generations before us have known; a shared purpose that crosses political, cultural and geographical barriers. I'm really thrilled to be part of this highly committed group of individuals, so when at customs, the officer of Homeland Security asks about the goal of my visit, I proudly tell him about the training. He goes: “Why that’s a mistake! They will brainwash you! They claim it's all about that carbon dioxide...but do you even know how much carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere?? I do - 380 ppm (parts by million) - but quite frankly, I’m thrown. I get myself together and tell him that there’s a non-controversial correlation between the CO2 levels and the global temperatures averages, and also about how CO2 triggers the atmosphere to take up more water vapor, which in turn also works as a greenhouse gas ... but to no avail. The people in line behind me are stunned, and so am I. I thought I was going to Tennessee, but somehow I landed in the State of Denial. After a full five minutes, I let it slide because I picture myself on a plane back to Brussels, escorted by two tobacco chewing Homeland Security Officers. And that, my friends, would be a waste of CO2.

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DAY 1 (Dec 1, 2006): You're the cavalry!

Nashville Hilton, first session: official kick-off and welcome word by Jenny Clad, director of The Climate Project. "You have no idea how many degrees there are in this group!" she tells the enthusiastic listeners. Loud applause - the ego's are caressed. “No, no - seriously, I mean it.? Two hundred people coming from all fifty US states, from Slovenia, Uganda, Bali, Mexico, Canada and Belgium (supposedly, out of 4500 applicants for that session). The youngest is 14, the oldest must be the mid to late sixties. There are scientists, business-owners, students, editors, post-doc researchers, sales executives, professors, lawyers, architects, engineers, actors, nurses, writers, physicians, ministers, etc. All committed to do something about the climate crisis.

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Stella Artois for everyone at my table in BB Kings that night. "My studio is in the same as Stella Artois in Leuven!" I say. We chat and meet - the buzz is tangible. After a while, Al Gore makes his entrance. He goes on stage to welcome us and is visibly moved and honoured. This is his moment. He tells the crowd about how he has being doing this messenger thing for the last 20 years, holding congressional hearings, presenting slideshows, trying to persuade politicians, companies and individuals to take a look at the facts and start acting on it. His belief at the time was that anyone who saw these trends would just jump-start into action. Yet in all that time, little progress has been made on global warming. He kept thinking: any moment now... and kept looking over his shoulder, hoping that the "cavalry" would come riding over the hill to rescue him and help with his battle. He kept waiting and waiting and nothing happened until now: "Well, you're the cavalry!" he shouts passionately. The crowd goes wild!

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Later that night, I introduce myself (again) to Al Gore (“Bonjour?), and I show him the book Heat, by George Monbiot. In this book, Monbiot defines ‘effective action’ to curb global warming: reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90% by 2030. He also prescribes the least difficult and least painful means to do so. Then I take a deep breath, and hand over a shameless but potentially worldchanging plug in the form of 3 iPhoto booklets I made, describing passivhaus buildings: the technology, the exploding European market, and the emission reduction potential (75 to 85%) if applied to office buildings in Silicon Valley. Gore seems interested, tells me about Oberlin College and promises to look it more in detail in the car.

DAY 2 (Dec 2, 2006): People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Henry has been a professor for 47 years. "Which means he started teaching when he was 3!" Al Gore says during his introduction. Henry Pollack is a sympathetic, somewhat older professor from Michigan. Henry will be Al Gore's right-hand man for the whole day today, available to discuss more technical questions. It’s 8:00 am, we’re in a ballroom in the Nashville Hilton, and today is dedicated entirely to dissecting the presentation on which the movie is based.

During your presentation, there are three budgets you will need to meet!" Gore likes to teach and talks a lot. These are: 1) the time budget; 2) the complexity budget and 3) the 'hope' budget - the balance between hope and despair throughout the presentation.

It is our task, Gore says, to point towards the urgency of the climate crisis and the necessity of conveying that urgency to future slideshow viewers, "while at the same time indicating that there is still hope, provided they become part of the solution." He goes on to say that not everyone is on the same page in terms of hope. If you ask James Lovelock, for instance, "before the end of the century, humanity will be reduced to a few breeding pairs - living at the poles. But don't tell your audience that, because they would lose all hope, and I don't agree with him on that point."

The syllabus is well done. For each slide, there is a description of the context, talking points, additional information, and space for taking notes. After the break we go through the shortened version of the presentation, slide by slide. The interventions of Henry Pollack are quite interesting but not that frequently necessary: Al Gore has an in-depth understanding of this material and knows every single little detail, all sources, details, nuances and links with other studies: "You won't need to use this, but just so you know..."

Step by step, Gore explains what the thinking behind each slide is: What it shows, where it comes from, what point it makes, what purpose it serves in the narrative structure, how heavily it taxes or credits our three budgets, etc. Throughout the day, Al Gore will spice up this walk-through by digressing, opening up, joking, and telling related anecdotes. He talks about self-assembly of shells by means of calcium carbonate in marine water; the digitally added iPod in the '1984' ad; the discussion of the four factors that can curb population explosion in developing countries; and the "scientific prostitutes" paid by Exxon/Mobil to sow doubt. ("You might not want to use that word in your presentations.") At a given moment, there's a slide with a map of the US with Florida completely submerged. A trainee shouts out: "You wouldn't mind that, would you?", to which Gore replies: "I'm not going there!" and everyone starts laughing. "Besides -- I carried Florida." More laughter.

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The organizing staff is nervous with the questions and subsequent delays. We’ve been at work since 8:00 am, and it’s already 5:00 pm. By the time most trainees leave the ballroom, whatever starstruck sense of celebrity attendees arrived with had been replaced by a deep respect for the level of truth, understanding and commitment with which Al Gore has persistently taken on this cause. “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.?

Day 3 (Dec 3, 2006) -- Drastic discount on drowned polar bear rugs

Andy Goodman is a communication consultant and trainer who helps nonprofits, foundations, and educational institutions reach more people more effectively. His book "Why bad presentations happen to good causes" serves as a guide for this part of the training. Andy's explanations are short, relevant and extremely funny. "The fatal five, The three most wanted." The room is set up with round tables, and we do exercises to write and deliver our version of the opening and closing of the presentation. "Hi. My name is Serge, I'm from Belgium, and I have a climate problem." This is a useful exercise and a highly interesting one; as each trainee takes his or her turn, the incredible diversity of the group is highlighted again.

At our table, for instance, someone will present at middle schools, someone else - a lawyer - will mainly present to lawyers and professional associations, another trainee intends to go to the country to present to potato farmers and loggers, and there’s a Canadian who is targeting an audience of venture capitalists, and thereby uses the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change as an added tool. Stern is not your average hippie: he was chief economist at the World Bank between 2000 and 2003. In a nutshell, the report states the following: global warming will cost money: 1% of the GNP to take this seriously now, and start drastically reducing our emissions; or 20% of the GNP if we do too little too late and within some decades have to lick our wounds and clear the rubble. Pay now or pay later.

After a short pause we turn to breakout rooms to take turns, round-robin style, presenting the slideshow. "We're not looking for style points!" The mentors, who have real-life experience with the slideshow, have us go through the more intricate passages of the presentation. They also give tips on what works for them and what doesn’t. For instance, our mentor from Texas says that the slides of the current devastation of New Orleans, one year later, evoke overly strong emotions in the audience. "It's disruptive for the rest or the presentation, so I leave it out."

In the afternoon there is a short session concerning platform skills and another session concerning solutions for greenhouse impact. Overall: in the movie, the book and training, I find this to be the part that I’m least happy with. I think we need to choose our battles very carefully, Monbiot style. (I know there’s a second book in the works - 'solutions' that will address just that.)

Afterwards, the improved collaborative internet site for the climate project is unveiled. Only trainees and presenters have access to the site. On it, trainees find boards, calendars, support material, the presentations in both Keynote and Powerpoint, etc. This is great resource.

As Jenny Clad said on the first day: “This training is not an end-point but only the beginning of something much larger.? She may be right. Maybe this is what the birth of a movement feels like.

polarrugs.jpg

Then there's the "An Inconvenient Spoof" slideshow by Tom Reilly, (TED humorist and Worldchanging ally): drastic price reductions on drowned polar bear rugs. San Francisco and Canada Burn. Serves them right for legalizing gay marriage. Comic relief. The room is dying laughing. Completely politically incorrect, refreshingly and outrageously funny slides: nothing is sacred and the crowd just loves it. Who would have thought that a training on global warming by Al Gore would include jokes on drowning polar bears, Brazillians, and a spoof on Brokeback Mountain with Tom Reilly and Al Gore in the lead roles. Hilarious!

The trainees clearly don’t feel like leaving.

I think about the Goethe quote Al Gore used to conclude the training: "The moment one commits oneself, then Providence moves, too." There's such a surplus of commitment in this budding community that this looks like a promising start.

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Serge de Gheldere, 39, is a design engineer with lots of personal energy, empathy, and intellectual curiosity. Six years ago Serge founded Futureproof/ed, a studio based on one central thought: mainstreaming sustainability. Serge is constantly looking for the most effective places to intervene in product and interior design, architecture and consultancy, as to reduce CO2 emissions and environmental degradation. Serge owes most of this to the wonderful support of his wife Marie, with whom he has three great kids.

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Comments

I can't thank you enough for posting this. I was very interested in this training program - i am launching a public art project about climate change and know that I will be engaging the public in a similar way. Even the small insights provided here are truly invaluable. Thank you for sharing in depth - just makes me want to be more of a part of it too!


Posted by: esm on 16 Dec 06

Serge, thank you for your comments and insight into the program. I'm greatly looking forward to attending my session in early January and joining the passionate and dedicated in this most urgent challenge.


Posted by: Mike Lin on 16 Dec 06

Serge,

From one who missed out. Congratulations and good luck. The responsibility you now carry is very big. The power of the truth will carry you through.

All the best.


Posted by: Verdurous on 17 Dec 06

Thanks everyone for the nice comments.

I have to say, it's very well received so far in Belgium. It looks like, if I do the lectures as planned so far, I will have reached more than 2000 people by April 2007.

S.


Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 17 Dec 06

Thank you very much for posting this. I am scheduled for the 8 January session and appreciate the perspective.

Admin type questions -- while I'm far from ignorant of the issues, any 'read ahead' you find specifically relevant? (FYI -- AIT, the book, is holiday reading ...)

And, just wondering, did you roll and out leave as soon as the sessions were done, or was their collaborative interaction post the training?


Posted by: A Siegel on 17 Dec 06

Hi:

My list
- The weather makers (Tim Flannery)
- Heat (George Monbiot)
- The party's over (Richard Heinberg)
- The Rough Guide to Climate Change

We stayed over with a group of 20 or so. Most where pretty tired, but it was a great epilogue nontheless.

Enjoy !


Serge


Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 17 Dec 06

For more than one reason, we should, all over the world, grow much more of our food and energy near home. This would help in many areas: global warming, peak oil and also pandemic flu.

I look at your success at mobilizing things with apropriate envy (wish to emulate, they call it), awe, and best wishes.

We at Flu Wiki would like the same awareness and public education to build up. I don't know enough about global warming to know wheather it would be *fast*, but a pandemic certainly would.

So one more reason for you to do what you do.

Thanks for the inspiration!


Posted by: lugon on 17 Dec 06

Lugon,

I couldn't agree more.

The Journal of Industrial Ecology has recently published a special issue on Priorities for Environmental Product Policy. (http://www.mitpressjournals.org/toc/jiec/10/3) The issue provides insight into the life-cycle impacts of what we buy and what we use on the environment.

All surveyed studies derive the same major priorities. The following activities and product groups cause 70 to 80% of the total environmental impacts in society:

- Mobility: automobile and air transport;
- Food: meat and dairy, followed by other types of food; and
- The home, and related energy use: buildings, and heating-, cooling-, and other energy using appliances.

People find it surprising to find 'food' in this category, but I couldn't agree more: getting back in touch with the seasonality, and the locality of food is crucial, and could bring back variety into our lives while drastically reducing the environmental impact of the food chain (ha ha — pun intended).

Best,


Serge


Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 17 Dec 06

Dear Serge,
I much appreciated your comment to my article about Casaclima
http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/005506.html

I have read you wonderful report about the Gore Training this month.

Now I want to connect with you. I am working at something very similar to what you are doing, and the organization I represent has deisgned quite powerful ways to move strategically towards sustainability, and I think we could integrate our experiences.
http://www.worldchanging.com/archives//004677.html

How are you the most effective at mainstreaming sustainability? This is my key question.

I woul like to skype with you sometime in the next few days - my address below.

Secondly, I would like to take the same training you took (as TNS we already have some good connections with Al Gore), and furthermore, to make it more Relevant for Europe/Southern Europe, or even China and India....What could be the best way to get in?

Finally: the only problem I have with passive houses (I have worked with Amory Lovins, into the (probably) first Passive House Built in the world) is with the name: passive.
Wives, children, friends, automobiles, people, products, homes...who wants passivity?...it just does not sound too sexy (well, it depends on taste, but generally not), it is a matter of semiology. One key of the success at mainstreaming the concept with Casaclima was the different name and simple communication (one liter of diesel/one euro per square meter per year).

Look forward to hearing from you.
Best
Eric

--
Eric Ezechieli
The Natural Step - www.naturalstep.it

E-Mail: eric.eze@naturalstep.it

Valtellina Office: Via V Alpini 50
23017 Morbegno - SO - Italy
Phone: +39 0342 61 35 35


Posted by: eric ezechieli on 17 Dec 06

Serge,
your post is very, very interesting.
What a pity I didn't know about this meeting, otherwise I would have applied instantly and... who knows? Maybe I'd win a chance to be there!!

Please, post here at WC when there are similar events and opportunities.

Good luck!


Posted by: Simone Brunozzi on 17 Dec 06

Serge and all,

I'm not sure how to go about this.

1) There's obviously a lot of synergy in the various aspects of "worldchanging preparedness". Changing how we do things in the face of global warming, pandemic flu, peak oil, and massive inter-regional conflict (global problems) - they all have some things in common. To me, "grow more of your own food and energy locally" (GMOYOFAEL) is the main common issue. Maybe a world alliance around that? A common "why GMOYOFAEL" page that could be linked to by various focused initiatives?

2) On the other hand, closing schools for three months will most likely help, and will likely be done, once the (inevitable) next pandemic starts, but doesn't do much for global warming. :-)

3) Then there's the important aspect of urgency: a pandemic starts in ONE day, and starts disrupting the whole world in a matter of a few days, even without ill people locally. It's been called "anti-Katrina" for a reason: the worse it is, the less help you get from outside, because there's no "outside". We just don't know which day. It's not a slow-mo, "now-here, later-there" thing. More or less deadly (and maybe a second wave more deadly than the first, calling for panic buying and so on), but simultaneous all over the world. This takes a while to sink in.

4) And we all have a lot to lose if worldchangers are affected by a pandemic. Which they/we will. Ouch.

I don't know how many worldchangers realise this two last points! Do you?

(We're discussing these subjects at the link in my username. Thanks for coming over to at least have a look!)


Posted by: lugon on 18 Dec 06

Im happy my God as wake up a real reality that is happining among us . Please I will like to part of your project to spread the word in my country Im from Panama would you like to come to Panama to educated our country. I saw the movie last night and it really imprest me alot please reach me at my cell if is possible or email address 507-6501-4581 samuel_samuels@dell.com or watson97@hotmail.com
Thank you and Im happy to see this continue the good fight,
May God Bless you and family Merry Christmas


Posted by: samuel Samuels on 18 Dec 06

I'd go for GYOFAEL. It's even catchier !

I agree, Lugon, and after having seen Larry Brilliant speak on a TED podcast — of which I'm a huge fan, thank you TED — I was speechless for a couple of hours.

S.


Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 18 Dec 06

Is the Inconvenient Truth slideshow actually posted anywhere yet? After getting bored of searching, I ferreted out a lot of the images used in the film off the web, but it would be so sensible to just put the slideshow + animations out there. I also really want that picture of the Haitian and Dominican border and don't want to have to hunt down that original National Geographic mag. Any info?


Posted by: Cat Laine on 19 Dec 06

Serge,
Thank you so much for your incredible words about Nashville. I was there with you but didn't meet you.I wish I'd met more because the people I did were great, passionate,competent, diverse backgrounds.

I'm going to keep your journal and adopt it as my own. I agree with everything you say. Good Luck!
Sue Roegge, St Paul,MN


Posted by: Sue on 19 Dec 06

Hi Serge,

I was there with you at the Climate Project Training. What a terrific synopsis of the three days!

I am now setting up presentations in New York City, focusing on the financial services industry and its response so far to climate change.

I have also started a foundation to raise money and awareness by getting Americans where they go most - shopping. Turning shoppers nickels, dimes and quarters into the common cents required to save the planet from global warming - a different kind of climate 'change'.

Thanks for this write-up. It's really brilliant.

Andrew J McKeon


Posted by: Andrew J McKeon on 19 Dec 06

Excellent read Serge! After seeing Al Gore's film I've been wanting to get more information on what else he is doing to energize change. It's wonderful to see that there is so much depth behind the film, and not just talk.

Good news.


Posted by: Willi on 19 Dec 06

Thank you everyone — kind words !

You know what: it's my birthday, today. I'm 39.

By 2030, I want to look back and be able to say: We committed ourselves there in '06, in Nashville, and providence started to move.

The key will this:
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Best y'all.


Serge


Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 19 Dec 06

Happy birthday!

And I'm talking about 2030. :-)


Posted by: lugon on 20 Dec 06

Thanks, Serge, for writing this up. I was also there with you, and appreciate that you are finding one more way to get the word out via WorldChanging!
Happy Birthday.
Ainslie Kincross
Sheridan, Wyoming


Posted by: Ainslie on 20 Dec 06

BREAKING NEWS — Ok, this just in from America's finest news source, and I'm afraid its bad news for The Climate Project.

"Dozens of eyewitness reports indicated that former vice president Al Gore deliberately attempted to raise the earth's temperature in order to boost box office receipts for An Inconvenient Truth, his documentary film about global warming that was released in May."

The article further states that former vice president Al Gore took "a flamethrower to the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica to boost weekend ticket sales for An Inconvenient Truth."

Oh my.

See for yourselves:

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/56631


Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 20 Dec 06

Hi Serge -

I'm another December trainee who didn't have the pleasure of speaking with you. Thank you for your comments -- it is indeed an honor to be included among those who have taken on this mission to mobilize America and world.

Last year I went to New Orleans with the Red Cross to aid in disaster relief efforts after Katrina. The scale of the human and ecological devastation was and remains beyond description. It was only then that I realized what we faced as a society.

It's a scary thought but the challenge of global warming is ripe with opportunities.... to unite the world, to create a cleaner and healthier society, and to profit.

My work here is Wisconsin will focus on leveraging the resources of the private sector to improve all our lives. And from the very first conversations I've had with business leaders, academics and activists, Wisconsin is up to the challenge.

Thankfully, we know that thousands of people all over the world are working along side us.

Happy birthday, Serge. And, again, thank you.


Posted by: Raj on 21 Dec 06

Hi Serge,
Thanks for a wonderful account. (& happy belated birthday!)
I am off to the January 8th session and am extremely excited. I am particularly interested in the solutions side and how to motivate people. I am well versed in the science behind accelerated climate change and pretty comfortable explaining it to people. What I find most challenging is getting people to understand the importance of taking action. How small individual steps can have a big impact. I've met a lot of people who intellectually understand the problem but seem to have a difficult time translating that knowledge into action.
I also need to get my technical french up to date so I can give this presentation in France as well when I am next there visiting family.
A. Siegel - if you are still following the thread, I'll see you on the 8th!
Coco (Brooklyn, NY)


Posted by: Coco Lindgren on 21 Dec 06

Serge,
I will be in Session 5. Have been surfing the TCP bulletin board and read your journal Wednesday evening. You have written a very descriptive and inspirational piece -- I read it twice more on my commute to work yesterday and today. It makes me chuckle, LOL, and swell with emotion for having the privilege and responsibility of being part of this -- it is poignant and hits home the important of this endeavor. Thank you for sharing ... and Happy Birthday!
Doug Grandt
Hayward, CA


Posted by: Doug on 22 Dec 06

Hai,

I begin to address this issue since last week, when I saw the movie "An Unconvenient Truth". It is realy shocking about the fact you guys presented. I am Environmental Engineer, but not major in this area, instead of water treatment. However, I keep following the development for this project.

I am Indonesian, but currently in Taiwan pursuing master degree for Environmental Engineering study. I notice that there is participant from Bali. Did I mistakenly see it? Do you mean Bali-Indonesia? If it is, I would be really envy for that person, since he/she is taking part in saving our climate. I whish I could be there too

Anyway, I found this site very inspiring. Hope, someday, I can catch the spirit this team has.

Regards
Arie Dipareza Syafei

dipareza@enviro.its.ac.id
r94541134@ntu.edu.tw


Posted by: Arie Dipareza Syafei on 30 Dec 06

Hello,

Happy 2007 to everyone and thank you for all the kind comments.

Doing this (TCP) — presenting and blogging and writing about climate change and solutions are of value *only* if they inspire action.

I hope will be able to look back on 2007 and say that this is where we started to cut emissions drastically, in a way compatible with our industrial society. I'm arguing for one such leverage point in another post on this site: http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/005674.html

Best y'all,


Serge


Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 1 Jan 07



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