When a massive chunk of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica breaks off and reminds us that the Earth’s poles are currently undergoing huge changes. When the president of the world’s largest economy announces the country will begin the process of exiting the Paris Agreement. When the leader of the government agency tasked with solving environmental problems like the climate crisis won’t even acknowledge its true cause.
As climate activists, we’re inundated with how bad the climate crisis is – how horrible the future could be, how many people and living things will suffer, how much the damage will cost. When the news gets this bad, it’s only natural to feel afraid, even when you know these headlines are just one side of the story and the solutions we need are in our hands today.
So the question is: how do you get past this fear and start fighting like your world depends on it?
At our recent Climate Leadership Training in Seattle, four Climate Reality Leaders shared their stories with former US Vice President Al Gore. And along the way, they also shared these four tips for breaking out of a gloomy slump and turning despair into meaningful action.
TIP #1 FIND INSPIRATION IN THE NEXT GENERATION
Laura Tucker has worked in science education her entire career. Initially trained as a wildlife biologist, she went on to found a nonprofit summer camp and resident outdoor school that focused on environmental education and served 60,000 students. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in San Francisco in 2012. Here’s her story:
“In college, my professors were all preaching doom and gloom… I was studying to be a wildlife biologist, and so I thought the way to manage that was I thought I’ll go study a species I respect – wolves – in the middle of nowhere until we all die. Those professors were really effective at terrifying me. I was in a deep state of despair.
“But then I got a job as an actualist at an outdoor school teaching kids and they gave me hope. They could see through the stupidity. They had a vision for the future. They gave me so much hope another teacher and I started our own little nonprofit – we started a summer camp at an outdoor school. Fifteen years and 60,000 students went by, some of the happiest years of my life.
“Then in 2011 I was again in a deep state of despair again due to the climate change issue. So I began working on a climate change curriculum, and out of that curriculum came a student-led group called Students for Sustainability. And I felt like I came full circle: they gave me hope again. They’ve done amazing things. They won the President’s Environmental Youth Award from the EPA in 2013. And now they’re writing a bottle bill for the state of Washington.”
#2: SHARE YOUR STORY. CAUSE A RIPPLE EFFECT.
Steve Richard is the founder and former president of Sustainable Lafayette, a grassroots sustainability non-profit offering a wide array of programs for the local community. He was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in Miami in 2015. Here’s his advice:
“The trigger for me came from trying to be a good father. I was in the car with my wife and two sons, on the way home from An Inconvenient Truth. And the car was totally silent. And I thought ‘This could be a teaching moment.’ And what I was really thinking was, I need to show them how to turn concern into action. So I finally said ‘Look. We are going to cut our carbon footprint in half for our family in a year.’ And we actually all high-fived in the car. The energy in the car changed completely, from being pretty low to excited.
“A few months later after we put solar panels on our roof and a whole host of other things, I was with a friend and we thought, I wonder if we can inspire our neighbors and the rest of our community by posting our stories about what we had done at home on a website. Long story short, is that little website turned into one of the most prominent nonprofits in our community with programs for climate action, waste reduction, greening our schools, local foods. And we’ve worked on hundreds of things over the past 10 years.
“What I’m really excited about now is that our town has become one of the first in the area to join a community choice energy program that offers 100 percent renewable energy to every one of our residents. And just this spring our county supervisors voted to join the same program. So my story goes from trying to be a good dad to seeing ripple effects across the whole county. For any action that anyone can take, you can start a ripple effect like that.”
#3 MOVE FORWARD WITH LOVE
Belinda Chin works for the City of Seattle Parks and Recreation Department as the recreation program coordinator for sustainable operations, overseeing the Good Food Program. She trained with Climate Reality in Denver in 2017. Here’s her story:
“I am the daughter of immigrants. And my parents were forced out of their homelands. They fled and eventually came to the United States.
“They entered a land which was stolen, and was worked by stolen and enslaved people, and informed by institutionalized racism and discrimination. They came with every expectation to be welcomed and were met with tolerance, and became invisible. In the time when I grew up, there was a lot of war. And to be safe, to not be mistaken as the other or the enemy, we drove everywhere. It was not safe to take public transportation or to walk. So we drove.
“What kept them going was access to their native foods. That was their connection to their homelands and to the generations of people that lifted them up and the connection to the plants, the animals, and shared their love by helping them survive. To give hope to myself and my sister my parents made sure we had access to our native foods which shared the connection to our earth.
“So over the years, we went through a lot of cars, and my parents swallowed a lot of hate. My father died before retirement – his heart gave out. I’ve thought often about how this hate affected my father in his heart. And my mother passed away due to cancer that originated in her throat. Her voice had been stifled for so long.
“Hate has a carbon footprint. I do this work to honor my parents and ancestors and the ancient ones. And to do this work with love. And I also think of the babies now and their future. I move forward with love.
“A few years ago with that in mind, I co-founded a chapter of the Environmental Professionals of Color. A program of the center for diversity in the environment. And that is to make sure that the heart my father lost can be manifest now in the babies now and moving forward; and that my mother’s voice grows in the professionals to be. To save ourselves and to save the earth.”
#4 CONNECT WITH FELLOW ACTIVISTS
Kenneth Lans practiced medicine as a general practitioner for eight years, before going to work as the communications manager and magazine editor of The Mountaineers, a 15,000 member conservation and outdoor activity nonprofit based in Seattle. Ken trained with Climate Reality in Chicago in 2013.
“When I was involved in helping form Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). I spent several years talking to people about the danger of nuclear war and the health impacts. But then I sort of dropped out onto the sidelines for about 20 years.
“Although I was concerned about the environment I wasn’t doing anything about it. Until one night about four years ago, I was at dinner with some people. And one of the people at the table said, “Climate change is a hoax.” And I just sort of looked at him and tried to do what I could to rebut him. But then he started talking about hockey sticks and East Anglia and I just didn’t have the tools to talk to him and answer him.
“So, being a doctor, I wanted to know what I was talking about and went home and started to read about climate change. A couple weeks later I was at a morning coffee at my son’s middle school. There was a dad there with a badge on about stopping coal. That was Michael Foster, a trained Climate Reality Leader. He told me about The Climate Reality Project. I signed up, went to the Chicago training a couple months later. And when I returned to my home in Washington I found out that the Seattle chapter of PSR had taken climate change as one of their main focuses. And now I am involved in looking at the health impacts of climate change.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
These are just four stories of how normal people like you have faced down despair and started meaningful efforts to fight climate change. What will your story be? Here are some ways you can begin today and start the ripple effect:
1. Learn about climate change basics. Download our free e-book: Climate Crisis 101 and learn the basic science behind climate change.
2. Attend a presentation from a trained Climate Reality Leader like Belinda, Kenneth, Laura, and Steve. You’ll not only learn about what the climate crisis means for our planet. You’ll also hear what it means for you personally and your own community.
3. Learn more about becoming a Climate Reality Leader! As seen in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, you’ll learn from former US Vice President Al Gore and renowned climate scientists and communicators about what’s happening to our planet and how to inspire audiences to take action.