climate crisis

10 Things I Learned at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training


Last year, I trained to be part of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps and it was, without much exaggeration, a life-changing experience. The knowledge I gained, the connections I made, and the people I met during those three days in Pittsburgh were invaluable.

Here are some of the key takeaways from my time there.


Environmental justice & inclusive action

As we plan and implement strategies for mitigation and adaptation, we need to account for all voices and viewpoints. People who are most at risk are often least likely to wield power and influence. It’s vital that we provide a platform to amplify their voices and ensure that new solutions benefit everyone equitably.

Coalition building

The good news is that there are many national, regional, and local groups focused on the environment. The bad news is that this can lead to overlapping or counterproductive efforts. We have to create and maintain communication channels and build long-term relationships between organizations, teams, and individual stakeholders. Conversations, connections, and common ground should be the foundation of our success.

The science is settled

The consensus on climate change is as strong as for any commonly accepted scientific principle. We need to focus on minimizing and discrediting misinformation rather than engaging in arguments about the validity of climate science.

It’s all about the story

Communicating effectively about the climate crisis is challenging and it’s easy to lose people when discussing a complex topic. The science is very interesting. The statistics can be impressive. But for most people, those are abstractions. To be effective, we need to tell a story that matters to our audience. We need to focus on concrete impacts and outcomes, find personal connections with our audience, take a genuine interest in their concerns, and help them to understand how taking action benefits them.

Skip the grid. Bring power to the people (literally)!

Using cell phone service as a model, how might we skip the electrical grid entirely, particularly in the developing world? It’s often cheaper--both in short-term fixed costs and long-term variable costs--to power homes and commercial buildings directly using solar power and other renewables. Depending on energy production and usage, there could even be opportunities for P2P electricity trading among individuals (think of it as “Uber for electricity”).


Get to them through green or green.
— Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto

Economics, employment, environment, ethics, and national security. These are all part of the system that impacts climate change. We can’t address the climate without thinking about jobs, energy policy, climate refugees, and environmental justice. To do so is to ignore the reality that this is a global problem that no one actor can solve in isolation. The good news is that the UNFCCC, IPCC, and other international bodies are structured to take into account the deep dependencies that affect how we’re able to tackle climate change.

Implementation is key

As we’ve seen with past climate agreements, like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, internationally agreed upon commitments, standards, regulations, and laws are hugely important drivers of change. Though such agreements are always hard-won, the real challenge is in the implementation. Having a big idea is important, but putting it into practice can be an arduous and time-consuming process. Harder still is ensuring measures are in place for long-term success, including adequate funding, reporting, governance, and a willingness to change course if necessary.

Making progress in the age of Trump

Despite seemingly endless bad news for the environment coming out of Washington, there is no excuse not to continue working for change. We can, and should, resist rollbacks of environmental protections at the federal level, and double down on advocacy at the state, county, city, and neighborhood levels. Every positive, lasting change is important, no matter how small it might seem.

The climate crisis is a public health crisis

The negative health impacts of climate change already affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide via increased air and water pollution, longer allergy seasons, the proliferation of infectious diseases, food shortages, extreme storms, and repercussions on mental health. Both the CDC and the American Public Health Association are great sources to learn more about climate change and health.

Create the future

To solve the climate crisis, we can only work from the present moment forward. We need to focus on solutions that lie at the intersection of ambition and feasibility. We need to assess what works well and adopt, replicate, and scale those efforts. We need to engage a wide range of people, listen to them, and understand how they’re affected. We need to come together and continue working to create a future that is equitable and sustainable for all of us.

Looking to get involved? Learn more about the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, locate an upcoming training, and apply today.

Joining the Climate Reality Leadership Corps

I'm a Climate Reality Leader! (Thanks to Keith Bergman for the photo.)

The older I get, the more I’ve come to realize that change almost always starts from within. It begins with a decision. We all decide to do something and then we take action to bring that change to fruition. What often seems like a sudden life-changing event is in actuality the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and a resoluteness in our own decision to change.

Two years ago—give or take—I realized that I needed to do more with my time and energy and skills. I’d been consulting for about five years, with great success and appreciation for the freedom and flexibility built into my day-to-day life. I’d been fortunate to work with great people, teams, and organizations. But something was missing. I didn’t feel like I was living up to my potential. To be honest, I wasn’t sure (and I’m still not entirely sure) what my true potential looks like. I did know that the only way I’d ever know was to make a decision to do whatever it took to find out. So, I made that decision.

Then, of course, the hard work began. I started making lists of what I was good at, what I wanted to be good at, and what I most cared about. I thought and read and wrote and sketched and meditated. Then, I took action.

I started engaging more with the issues I care about. I began volunteering with organizations that did work on the ground to create immediate positive impacts (like the live blue Service Corps at the New England Aquarium) and to make a long-term impact on policy and regulations (like the ACLU). I looked for ways to apply my skills to work that I care about deeply and that touches on the most important challenges we face today.

About a year into this process, I learned about the Climate Reality Project. Climate Reality was founded by Al Gore in 2006 and has grown into a global force for taking action on solutions to the climate crisis. As I looked into their work, I found out about the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, a group of activists trained to lead the effort to educate people about climate change and to work toward solutions. I knew immediately that this was something I had to be a part of.

I found out in August that there would be a training in October in Pittsburgh, so I applied. I received an acceptance letter soon after and started planning my trip.

On October 16, I flew to Pittsburgh and settled in at a hotel not far from the convention center that would host our training. As I waited for dinner at the restaurant in the lobby, I realized that there were many other Climate Reality Project mentors and leaders-to-be there with me. It was already clear that I’d be among a diverse and committed group of people from around the world.

The tagline for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps is, “Give us three days. We’ll give you the tools to change the world.” They’re not kidding. Each day featured an inspiring mix of science, activism, and talks by leaders in the field. My notes are long and detailed and full of things like, “look into x” and “what’s the potential for y?” but here are some of the highlights.

Al Gore quotes Wallace Stevens to conclude his presentation.

  • Listening to Al Gore speak about the work he’s done and what he hopes to accomplish by expanding the Climate Reality Project into a global force for good. His presentation of “The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions” clocks in at two hours and it felt like less than half that. Hearing him speak and watching him moderate panels of scientists, policymakers, and activists, it’s clear how deeply knowledgeable he is about this issue and how much time he spends considering how he can communicate it to anyone who will listen.
  • Hearing Michael Mann speak so cogently about the science behind climate change and the current state of research in the field. As a Penn State alum, it’s reassuring to know that he’s there preparing the next generation of climate scientists.
  • Learning about some of the environmental issues impacting Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. I grew up on the other side of the state, but our reliance on coal mining and steel milling was similar. Mayor Bill Peduto and other local leaders framed the history, described their current progress, and were frank about the challenges ahead.
  • Attending a dinner focused on environmental justice and hearing from people on the front lines who are giving voice to the needs of marginalized populations.
  • Getting a strategic primer on how to best proceed in a political climate that is hostile to the realities of the climate crisis.
  • Gaining knowledge about mitigation and adaptation strategies, as well as communications tools to influence policy at the local, national, and global levels.

Most of all, though, I valued meeting so many wonderful, committed people from around the world. One of the smartest organizational decisions that CRP leaders made was to seat us by geographic region. While we had many opportunities to interact with other attendees during networking lunches and evening events, forming a deeper bond with people who we can work with regularly in our community was one of the best parts of the training. In fact, the Greater Boston chapter of the Climate Reality Project will have its first meeting next week. I’m so excited to see what we can accomplish together.

This training—this culmination of figuring out where I want to go, identifying the steps I need to take to get there, and then taking a big one—was genuinely life-changing. It has given me the tools I need to move forward and a community with which I can make an impact. The climate crisis can be solved, but it’s going to take a whole lot of people willing to get out there and change minds, change policy, and change the way we live and interact with each other and the world. I’m going to be one of those people and I couldn’t be more proud or excited.