The reality behind the Climate Reality Project

Climate Reality Project

Globalization creates winners and losers. It’s an incontrovertible, if inconvenient truth, and the same could be said for global climate change. Helping countries win the battle to lower emissions is the animating force behind "24 Hours of Reality," a global event being hosted today by Nobel Laureate and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

The worldwide event kicked off Monday evening and has focused on one country every hour, with an aim to reach 100 countries and 275 million people. (You can be among them by tuning in via Facebook Live, Telemundo and, depending on your location).

"What we’re doing is we have 24 one-hour segments on each of the largest carbon-emitting countries in the world," Ken Berlin, CEO of the Climate Reality Project, told me Monday, minutes before the event began.

"The format starts with Al Gore’s presentation on that country and its commitment on the climate change agreement. We’re also emphasizing business solutions such as the need to transition to a clean energy economy."

Broadcasting live from New York, "Reality" began with a focus on Argentina. During the first hour, viewers in Buenos Aires got a bird’s-eye perspective on the consequences that the coastal capital may incur with sea-level rise, as well as solutions the country can deploy to adapt.

By the 14th hour, the spotlight had moved to Saudi Arabia’s transition to a post-carbon economy and ways that residents of Riyadh, Dhahran and Mecca might survive untenable temps, which are projected to exceed the threshold for human adaptability by the end of the century.

In the 23rd hour, Brazilians will learn about the politics of overcoming deforestation in the Amazon Basin. And in the final hour, Americans will learn how the U.S. can move towards a low-carbon economy — with or without the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and regardless of the country’s upcoming change in leadership.

Bridging the gap

A global event where "scientists and policy makers join forces with artists and thought leaders" to galvanize collective action around a highly politicized issue sounds great. But the eco-glitterati, philanthropic community, NGOs and all those millennials who participate still won’t be sufficient to pull this movement off without also pulling in more of the mainstream population.

I made a similar observation this time last year at in Paris where I covered the COP21 event from inside the green zone, the area next to where the dignitaries hammered out and ultimately signed the Paris Agreement. If the divide between those who want to do good and the people in power felt big then, it feels even bigger today. That’s another point in favor of the Climate Reality Project.

"We live in a global society now, so you have to take a global focus now because there is no actual enforcer to the Paris agreement," said Berlin. "This is what we call a 'bottoms up' agreement. Groups like ours want to help people understand what the agreement is and what the solutions are."

In the current media landscape, the job of filtering, contextualizing and amplifying the climate challenge isn’t being tackled adequately. At the same time, there’s a lot to be said for rallying the troops. Understanding this, this organization uses a word-of-mouth approach combined with social media and personal training with global climate leaders, including Gore. The result is a cross-cultural conversation and collaboration that ends up feeling like its own global village.

The Climate Reality Project isn’t the only one taking on climate education, but the platform’s success in boosting climate-related engagement offers lessons that any company or organization can use for amplifying its own climate messages.

Tweets heard 'round the world

Environmental leaders often lament the difficulty of getting their message to the grassroots levels, so this event was designed to do just that. Striving for a wide circulation across all stakeholder groups, including the business community, the Climate Reality Project is using three communication methods:

  • a global livestream
  • broadcast through media stations around the world in over 100 countries with a reach of 275 million people
  • sharing via social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter

Social media is indispensable, and the primary vehicle for spreading the message. Even Twitter haters cannot deny the power of the medium after the U.S. presidential election. Meanwhile, the project’s 311,000 Twitter followers have been sharing news from the Climate Reality Project since it launched its account in 2008. The group’s digital footprint is a powerful vehicle for influencing people to reduce their ecological footprint.

When the world comes together, there is no challenge we cannot overcome. Tune into #24HoursofReality today at 6 PM ET! #TheRoadForward

— Climate Reality (@ClimateReality) December 5, 2016

This event’s communication collateral helps participants spread the message to friends, family and business colleagues while amplifying their voice in the policy realm as well. (The link to the website gave me instant access to a form. With the completion of a few fields and a click, I had a direct line to the White House. The process was replete with an automated tweet that I shared with my own followers.)

The global-local format helps to contextualize climate change in a way that is endemic to specific regions, which helps viewers see the urgency in a highly politicized issue. Finally and perhaps most important, the Climate Reality project begets climate leaders.

Community and corporate engagement begins with activated individuals, and no group has been more focused on building an army. Getting people to understand the issue and why it matters — and why they matter in it — is critical to igniting action. With branch offices in 10 countries, the Climate Reality Project trains climate reality leaders in three-day training sessions held around the world. In 2016, these took place in the Philippines; Shenzhen, China; and Houston.

"In each of these training sessions, we trained 500 to 800 people to speak about the climate and learn how to use social media to spread the message," said Berlin.

The media and the message

Amplification of the message grows exponentially once others can imagine their own success in furthering the mission. For example, event sponsor Intelsat is known for enabling events that connect the global community. The company is using four of its 50 satellites to collect live content from remote locations and distribute it to the world. From space, the satellites provide broadband to the world's populated regions without digging a single trench or cutting down a single tree.

Climate Reality Project
"We supported the Live Earth project in 2007 — the first global high-definition televised event — and we are proud to be a sponsor of Climate Reality in 2016," said a company representative. "The event allows us to support a cause that is important to our global customer community, while highlighting what we do best."

The same might be said for the climate leaders that take on the task during the other 364 days of the year.

"The entire principle of the Climate Reality Project is getting the word out to teachers, doctors, plumbers, mathematicians and mothers in their communities," said Mike Nicholus, a Chicago-based Climate Reality Leader who completed the training in Houston in August.

Since then, Nicholus has guest lectured at universities, spoken to families and friends and conducted an internal broadcast in his company on this topic.

"Sometimes greenhouse gases and reduction coefficients have all the interest of watching paint dry, but this organization really makes it fun by turning education into eco-tainment," said Nicholus. "Imagine real climate science eco-facts served with a side order of Bon Jovi."

While in New York, Nicholus attended another event hosted by the CDP, so you could say he’s working multiple fronts on behalf of his company.

"Whether expressing corporate commitment through carbon disclosure or by engaging employees, we’re seeing more corporates put a stake in the ground over this issue," he said.

Environmental sustainability and economic sustainability are increasingly aligned. Some states are plunging ahead faster than national governments. By making this event available for free, Climate Reality is bringing a lot of extra horsepower to the movement.

"In working with people around the world, the commonality that everyone shares is that people everywhere recognize that this is a really critical issue affecting future generations as well as some of them right now," said Berlin. "Everyone is looking to understand the solutions. We hope to use this event to energize and excite tens of millions of people around the world."