Guest Post – from Janis Bookout
Janis Bookout is an organizer with 2020 or Bust, a nonprofit organization that seeks to end the climate crisis by helping people all over the world reduce their own personal carbon footprint. She is also the Outreach Manager of Earth Day Austin.
Imagine walking into a room full of 1,000 people, all of whom are there to take personal responsibility for the climate crisis. It was as though, after months of labored breath, my lungs had air again. That was my first few minutes of the Climate Reality Leadership Training in Denver, Colorado this past weekend.
Since the election, I have been struggling to find my footing, to find that joy that comes from knowing where you stand. While my commitment has never wavered, and my actions have stayed true to purpose, I experienced what I can only describe as a darkness of the soul. And while I know I am not alone in that experience, I have felt overpowered by forces working against everything I care about.
I almost didn’t go. Earth Day ATX is just around the corner, and 2020 or Bust has a fundraiser Friday, March 10. I have been incredibly busy, and my kids have not seen enough of me lately. It seemed like the worst time possible to take three days to go to a conference. But my gut said “go” and my colleagues and family encouraged me. I am so grateful they did.
After hours of early morning travel, I finally made it to the Denver Convention Center. Walking into the ballroom, I was stunned at the sheer volume of people seated at round tables. My table was filled with other people from Central Texas. Half were already working in environmental work and others were taking it on for the first time. We found out later that 2700 applications were turned away. Within the first hour, Former Vice President Al Gore came to the stage.
I figured that this must be his one cameo appearance. I was wrong. Throughout the rest of the weekend, Mr. Gore would participate in a number of trainings and panels with us. On this first appearance, he spent three hours going through incredible slides about the current impacts of climate change. All of these slides are now available for me to use in my work with 2020 or Bust.
That day we worked with climate scientists, asking them pointed questions and getting in-depth answers. As we were in Colorado, we heard about the specific impacts of climate change in that region, and what leaders in that area were doing about it.
On Friday, Mr. Gore trained us on how to deliver the abbreviated version of the slides. I had no idea what a geek he really is. (I say that with great admiration.) He has spent years putting together the most impactful images and animations available. And he’s constantly creating new slides to show up-to-date impacts from around the world. The effect is mind-blowing. I thought I had a sense of the global impacts of climate change, but when you see images of people suffering in heat waves reaching 123.8° F, pictures of rain bombs, and of photos 1,000 year floods…. it begins to sink in — the global-ness of this crisis.
On this day we also got to hear from atmospheric scientists, Climate Reality regional leaders, and the makers of the soon-to-be-released “Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” We also had breakout sessions on topics like the water/energy nexus and the power of organizing.
Saturday we heard from the folks at I Am Pro Snow and the 100% Committed campaign, which is helping cities and businesses go 100% renewable. We heard from Moab, Utah, which just made the commitment. And Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute shared how cities are busting the myth that yet-undeveloped storage solutions or fossil fuels are required to stabilize grid flow.
Yes, I know I said only 3 days. Those of us who had time to spend got a bonus day on Sunday for supported, focused action
Sunday was “Action Day,” in which we were trained on such subjects as the best ways to get Op/Ed’s published, effective tools for organizing, and best practices for outreach to influencers. You could say it was organizing 101, but the tips and tricks were well planned and very useful.
After all that, you might ask – am I hopeful? I would say no, I am not. We have four years left to impact the emissions trajectory before we lock in the pathway that scientists tell us we should avoid. Our political climate is not helpful, and people are, in general, uneducated about the issue and the urgency. But I am empowered by reality, and I am deeply inspired. It is possible to end this crisis. My work with 2020 or Bust has never been more relevant.
I am walking away with some incredible new tools, a network of 11,000 plus other climate leaders, and a renewed sense of purpose. I am also walking away with some friendships that will last a lifetime because they were forged in a shared experience.
And get this – it was all free—breakfast and lunch included. All I had to do was get there and find a place to stay. I get to keep the slides and use them in my own work. And anytime I need it, the support team is available to help me find statistics or connections that could help me accomplish what I am up to. All they request is that I take actions of leadership, which I am encouraged to do in promotion of my own organization. They even calculated and paid for vetted carbon offsets to cover the environmental cost of our plane travel.
I am deeply grateful for the experience I just had and the resources I am now connected to. I am incredibly moved by the spirit of humanity that was so present in that room and now fills my heart with a new kind of joy – the joy of knowing that as I walk through this world, I am connected to other leaders who walk with me.
If you are inspired to take action, there are lots of ways to participate. The March for Science, Earth Day, and the People’s Climate March are happening April 22 and April 29 respectively. And there are great organizations in town you can participate in. Citizen’s Climate Lobby, ATXEJ, Sierra Club, 350.org, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Climate Buddies, Environment Texas and 2020 or Bust are just a few. And if you would like to have a climate reality leader come train your group, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can’t do it, I can find someone who will.