Imagine a room filled with half of Rider’s undergraduate population. That’s approximately the number of people that Melissa Greenberg, Rider’s Sustainability Manager and I recently joined with at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training. A grand total of about 2,000 people were crowded into a conference room in the Georgia World Conference Center last month for three days, focusing on climate change-based issues and, in particular, environmental justice issues facing communities of color, low-income, rural and urban communities.
In 2006, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore released the Academy Award-winning film, “An Inconvenient Truth”and got the world talking about climate change. The Office of Sustainability hosted a screening of it as one of their monthly Green Films in 2011. Later that year, Gore founded The Climate Reality Project to move the conversation forward and turn awareness into action. Fast forward to now and not only did Gore come out with “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” the next chapter of the film, but the Climate Reality Project is a diverse and global group of over 19,000 passionate individuals from all walks of life and countries around the world, with the goal to solve the greatest threat to our generation: climate change.
All of the 200 tables were filled with individuals from all over the world with a desire to learn more information and how to present it. My table was composed of students from other colleges and universities. Five out of the 10 people from my group were from the University of Delaware, ranging in a variety of majors, such as political science, English writing, apparel design and secondary education. I came to learn that this group of students were the board members of their own Climate Reality Project — Campus Corps. Another individual just finished taking her bar exam and was moving back to her hometown in Spain with the plan to become an environmental lawyer.
When asked about why he decided to come to the Climate Reality Training, University of Delaware sophomore Zach Roy said, “I want to be a part of the change that saves our planet for generations to come. I want to be able to tell everyone that I was on the right side of this battle and that I was empowered with the knowledge that was shared by Al Gore.”
After meeting our table mates, we were introduced to the organization: what climate reality stands for, who has been involved and how they have been spreading the word. This training was specifically focused on the impacts of climate change and how climate inaction has systematically affected the most vulnerable in our communities: low-income families, homeless individuals and people of color. The goal of this training was to show leaders how they can empower their own communities to fight these systemic failings and combat climate change. Gore, founder of the Climate Reality Project said, “We want to draw from the strength of civil rights movements and add them to our own climate movements”.
As part of the training, Gore gave a three-hour presentation about how climate change impacts our communities and what people are doing to combat the effects. This particular training was very focused on the complications lower income and communities of color face in terms of pollution. Many of his slides focused on these topics and how these communities have systematically experienced these problems and how little is being done to make it known and make it stop.
A recurring theme was about unity and how to bring people from all religions, genders, sexualities, races, ages and professions together. Throughout the training, it became abundantly clear that climate change impacts everyone.
We experienced several panels that hosted inspiring people from Native American tribes, churches and schools. An 11-year-old boy made an appearance and we learned that he was one of the 21 children currently suing the United States government for climate inaction. Several Native Americans spoke of the environmental racism they face when protecting their waterways and land. When asked what he thought of the young-adult panel, University of Delaware senior education major Edwin Lopez said “This is it. This is why I want to become a teacher. Kids are so inspirational and they don’t even realize it. These kids were really able to get everyone excited and energized, something that the climate movement needs.”
We know the environmental impacts, we know how it can impact human health, but sometimes it’s difficult to see and hear the people who have been directly impacted and affected by pollution and climate change. The Climate Reality Project puts faces to these problems and, last month, Climate Reality empowered 2,000 more people with the knowledge to spread the word, to act and to make a difference. These trainings happen a few times each year and are free. You just need to apply and get accepted. The Climate Reality Project shows that we don’t need a handful of people acting perfectly sustainable, but millions of people doing it imperfectly. With little changes to our daily habits, being active in our own communities, picking up a sustainability studies minor, and spreading the climate word, we can make a difference. If every Rider student made a conscious decision to act sustainably every day, collectively, we can change the world.
For more information about the training, go to www.climaterealityproject.org.