[Guest Post by Senator Rob Hogg]
The Climate Reality Project training led by former Vice President Al Gore in Cedar Rapids this week reflected the growing public interest in climate change and its solutions. Over 120 Iowans from across the state, and nearly 400 people from around the world, attended the three-day training held at the Doubletree Convention Complex in downtown Cedar Rapids from May 5 to 7.
In a venue that had to be rebuilt after the Flood of 2008, Gore urged Iowans and the others in attendance to make “the climate crisis” a central issue in the coming months to influence both the upcoming climate negotiations that will culminate in Paris in December, 2015, and the U.S. Presidential election in 2016.
I had a chance to attend a similar training that Gore led in Nashville in 2008, and I was struck by Gore’s optimism at this training that the climate problem can soon be solved.
The training involved Gore presenting a slide show, first made famous in his 2006 movie, An Inconvenient Truth. The slide show ran more than two hours on the first day of the training, and Gore devoted the second day to explaining the facts and science behind almost 500 slides.
Unlike the movie and the 2008 training, this training placed a heavy emphasis on the solutions that are already working to slow down the buildup of carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Solutions featured in Gore’s slide show included wind power, solar power, and energy efficiency, including pictures of Iowa’s largest solar array owned by Farmers Electric Coop near Kalona.
Gore compared the current rapid growth of clean energy solutions to the rapid growth of mobile communications technology, showing a photo of him holding a football-sized cell phone from the 1980s.
In describing the growth of solar power, which has grown 62 times faster than was projected in 2002, Gore was especially animated, chanting “go solar, go solar, go solar” as he showed a chart reflecting the rapid growth of solar power in the United States and around the world.
The training also had panels on renewable energy, featuring Warren McKenna, the CEO of Farmers Electric Coop, and on agriculture with Denise O’Brien, the founder of the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network and a former candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.
Gore’s new emphasis on solutions does not mean that he has dropped his efforts to educate the public about the growing dangers of climate change. What Gore can do unlike any other climate advocate I’ve ever seen is assemble videos and other images of extreme events from around the world because of his global access to the best science and information.
On the second day of the training, Gore was joined on stage by Henry Pollack, the Climate Reality Project’s science advisor. In his slide show, Gore relied heavily on assessments by the National Academy of Sciences and the Iowa Climate Statements issued in 2013 and 2014 by 180 scientists and researchers from 36 colleges and universities in Iowa.
Gore highlighted record flood damage in Iowa as just one of numerous examples of extreme weather that is linked to climate change. Other video and photographs included images of record-breaking storms like Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, record-breaking drought from California to Syria, record-breaking flooding and landslides in literally dozens of countries, and numerous other health, environmental, and security impacts of climate change.
Gore showed great humor during his slide show presentation. During one extended video of record-breaking flooding this spring in Chile, Gore waited patiently while the video played, then said in his southern drawl, “Now here comes the barn,” as a barn floated down river in the raging flash flood.
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel moderated by Gore on how citizens could be effective in educating the public about climate change. The panel also included a solar developer from California, an anti-coal export activist from Washington state, and a 21-year-old college student from New York who first attended a training at age 16.
During the panel, my main message was that not everyone has to give a high-tech slide show to be able to educate the public on climate change. Rather, citizens can move this country to the climate action that is so urgently needed by reaching out one-by-one to elected officials, candidates, civic leaders, reporters, businesses, workers, and ordinary citizens. People need to be reminded that this problem must be addressed, and that the solutions work and don’t need to be feared.
I also urged the participants to reach out to people who might be skeptical about climate change, because a “Doubting Thomas” today can be a leader for climate action tomorrow.
Earlier Thursday morning, a Republican presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina, visited Cedar Rapids at a coffee shop less than a block from the convention center, and training participants who attended reported that she was asked about climate change. Fiorina acknowledged that climate change is a serious problem, but then blamed environmentalists for the drought in California.
Iowans attended the training from across the state, including residents of Page County, Woodbury County, Buena Vista County, Hamilton County, and Henry County, among others. Iowans met together to identify organizations in the state already involved in promoting climate action, including Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, the Bakken Pipeline Resistance, 100 Grannies for a Livable Future, I-RENEW, the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association, and the Iowa Wind Energy Association.
For Iowans who would like to attend a Climate Reality Project training, Gore has two more scheduled trainings this year, one in Toronto, Canada, on July 9-10, and one in Miami, Florida, on September 28-30. For more details, visit www.climaterealitytraining.org.
Senator Rob Hogg is a state senator from Cedar Rapids serving his third term after two terms in the Iowa House. Contact him at SenatorRobHogg@gmail.com.