This article was written by Serge de Gheldere in November 2006. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Field Report: Al Gore's Climate Project is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.
"The Worldchanging comments are meant to be used for further exploration and EVALUATION of the ideas covered in our posts."
Well, since that is the case, here are my two cents worth of constructive disagreement...
"Global Warming" is truly a misnomer. It should be called "Global Fleecing" because that's precisely what it is.
Global Warming is a trend no doubt, a simple natural cycle of nature. But Anthropogenic Global Warming (aka the Al Gore hypothesis) is discredited science at best, intentional fraud at worst, and is being soundly refuted. See:
U.S. Senate Report:
Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007
Senate Report Debunks "Consensus"
Report Released on December 20, 2007
U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
"Over 400 prominent scientists from more than two dozen countries recently voiced significant objections to major aspects of the so-called "consensus" on man-made global warming. These scientists, many of whom are current and former participants in the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), criticized the climate claims made by the UN IPCC and former Vice President Al Gore."
2007 was the watershed year in which scientists, even those from the IPCC committees, completely discredited the IPCC review process, exposed its purely political motivations and machinations, and drove the final nails into the coffin of the Al Gore / Hansen AGW climate change monster. Especially enlightening was the complete discrediting of Mann/Bradley/Hughe "Hockey Stick" graph, a centerpiece of Al Gore's campaign, which has been so thoroughly discredited as inaccurate that even the IPCC had to throw it out long before the current AR-4 report. Not only was the Hockey Stick incorrect, but closer inspection of the data showed that the purported correlation between CO2 emissions and temperature rise were incorrectly reported; CO2 emissions actually lagged temperature rises by 800 years as the effect, not the cause - although Gore et al. would have you believe the reverse to be true since in only that way does it support his thesis.
Climate change fearmongering is now being driven less by science and more by BIG Business which forsees huge "Green Field" markets in peddling "Green" wares to populations preconditioned to respond to the various "global warming" and climate doomsday hysterias. Typically, these are the unscientific masses who don't understand the science, who don't subscribe to Nature or AAAS Science, and who take everything they see or hear on the TV as the gospel truth. AGW and Climate Change are all about PROFITS, not saving the World from a fate which will not occur anyway.
As for motive: Not only does Al Gore have an ego the size of Air Force One which needs to stay in the limelight since it's not parked in the Oval Office, but Al and his cronies stand to profit immensely from his climate change monster. Once government mandates are in place, cash will really begin to flow - directly into bank accounts of "Green" corporations directly from yours - and not just from book sales and DVDs, but as hidden costs on everything you purchase. That's why Gore is now rolling out his PSAs in order to scare you into influencing Congress, and also why he has been asked to join one of the largest venture capital firms in the nation out on Sand Hill working on - wait for it - carbon credit trading.
There are so many other more immediate issues facing the world than "Global Warming." Try cancer, cardiovascular disease, starvation, depletion of pelagic fisheries, water reclamation, ensuring adequate future supplies of food and energy, and curtailing whale hunting. But these issues don't make headlines and don't allow politicians to mandate the massive global redistribution of wealth possible with AGW. Think about it. When was the last time a blockbuster movie was made about the collapse of the wild Slimehead (aka the Orange Roughy) fishery?
Folks, AGW is pure POLITICAL science, NOT hard science. Don't fall for the hysteria. Don't drink the green post-modernist kool-aid.