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January 6, 2016 | Convincing Them to Care: How Leaders are Bringing Others to the Green Side

“Just keep it up. You’re doing the Lord’s work, and we’re going to win this thing together,” proclaimed a U.S. Senator in Paris during COP21. Ironic as it may be, these words were not those of a delegate in the COP21 negotiations nor those of a protestor in the streets of the French capitol. They were the words of Oklahoman Senator Jim Inhofe at a "counter-conference" for climate change deniers.

Organized by the vociferous Heartland Institute of Chicago, the not-so-popular event (touting around 30 attendees) took place merely a couple of kilometers away from the official COP21 discussions that, contrastingly, drew in over 20,000 participants. In fact, with 196 countries in attendance, the Paris negotiations constituted the largest gathering of heads of states in the entirety of human history, each of them focused on one singular mission: to tackle the very real issue of climate change.

But despite all of the action and evidence, there are still those that do not believe climate change is a reality. As confirmed by Senator Inhofe’s words, the naysayers continue to say their nays.

Thankfully, their ranks are growing smaller.

“You will still have climate deniers. But that number is shrinking in the face of overwhelming scientific and physical evidence — and that’s a good thing,” commented James Fletcher, the minister for sustainable development, energy, science and technology for Santa Lucia.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, agrees. “I don’t know anyone who is taking [climate change doubters] seriously,” he remarked in Paris.

But as long as outright climate deniers still exist, there will still be those that remain on the fence about actively contributing to the climate change movement. So the question becomes: How do we bring the remaining skeptics to the green side?

Fortunately, the following climate champions have a few ideas.

"Conservation is Conservative"

The State of Texas brings to mind plenty of connotations and images — lawless cowboys, stalwart Republicans — but certainly not tree-hugging environmentalists. That’s precisely why Trammell Crow is targeting it.

For the last four years, Crow has been spearheading a massive exhibition called Earth Day Texas. It’s a free, two-day spectacle in Dallas with activities for both kids and adults. Since he took the reigns in 2011, it has grown to be the largest exhibition of environmental initiatives worldwide, pulling in around 60,000 attendees in recent years. And although everyone is invited, Crow has his target set on a specific audience.

He is aiming to get the farmers and loyal GOP constituents on board with an event they “used to spit at.”

Crow specifically draws in this crowd by inviting large, successful corporations — such as ExxonMobil — to exhibit. “Business guys come to this show because of [companies like] ExxonMobil, and once we've got 'em, then we try to influence them.”

Crow does the same with the event speakers. Instead of just bringing in outspoken environmental campaigners, Crow intentionally invites a number of climate change skeptics each year to the stage. Although this has puzzled many journalists and activists in the past, Crow has his reasons: “We chose [our speakers] on who could attract more people to the show. An argument can be made that the more conservative people we can bring to the show as visitors the better, because those are the people that need to be exposed," he said. “We want to rub off on them."

Not surprisingly, this event is not just a casual hobby for Crow. Each year, it costs nearly $1.5 million to put on, with less than half of that amount covered by sponsorships and booth rentals. His personal pocketbook covers the rest.

Being a republican himself, Crow wants his fellow GOP buddies to remember that the “conservation is conservative” after all. “The fact is, we Republicans want clean air and clean water, too.” And as Crow sees it, Earth Day Texas is his way of reminding his Texan neighbors just that.

Trammell S. Crow speaking
at the World Climate Summit on December 6, 2015

GOOD storytelling

Like Crow, Max Schorr is no stranger to doing good for the climate. In fact, "GOOD" is what he does every day.

Along with a couple friends, Schorr co-founded GOOD in 2006 and has since watched it grow into a massive “collaboration of the people, businesses and non-profits pushing the world forward.” Although originally started as just a magazine, GOOD now encompasses a host of platforms, including a member-driven website, an app for community builders, and an offshoot social impact consultancy. And with such a noble name comes an appropriately noble mission: “to do as much good as possible.”

Naturally, climate change falls squarely into this arena. In fact, leading up to COP21 in Paris, Schorr collaborated with the United Nations Foundation in creating "Earth to Paris," a public engagement campaign and live-streamed summit to encourage world leaders to take bold action for climate change.

But even to Schorr — a de facto expert in making others care — climate change is a particularly tough challenge. How exactly can you reach out to people who do not yet prioritize environmentalism in their daily lives?

“That question is the great question,” Schorr replies. “So many people care about [climate change], but how do we get them to pay attention? How do you find the sweet spot between making it easy enough to get engaged but also not watering it down too much?”

Schorr believes great storytelling may hold the answer.

From music and art to journalism and filmmaking, Schorr sees storytelling as an “important piece” in making climate change “viscerally engaging, but also real and not sensational.”

“You go to creative and storytellers and you let them do their magic. With an issue like [climate change], you find that the great musicians and great artists care so much about this issue that it really challenges them to do their best work.”

And GOOD sees itself as the perfect medium for disseminating that best work.

Through their various divisions and projects, GOOD works with artists, writers, and entrepreneurs to narrate their stories to the world. The most recent of these projects is a set of videos that Schorr and GOOD helped produce for the Earth to Paris summit during COP21. “We helped create the ‘Earth to Paris Anthem’ video that over 8 million people have seen … and now a new video that shows responses across the world.”

Thanks in part to these videos and the Earth to Paris summit itself, which featured an international lineup of presenters, Schorr has been able to use storytelling to bring people together. “We have participation from six continents and it’s really unified,” Schorr remarked.

And although it “never gets easier” to discover and share these great stories, Schorr is certain of their importance. “That’s what it takes with an issue like this: some of the most talented storytellers, people from all over the world, being honest with why this issue is so important to them—and then channeling that energy into a message that can resonate.”

Max Schorr (C) with a few of Conergy’s Future Solar Leaders
at the Earth to Paris Summit on December 7, 2015

"Mental Resiliency" through Art

One man who makes these messages resonate is Ryan Camero, a 2015 Brower Youth Award winner and resident of Stockholm, California. He believes stories expressed through art can raise a very visceral awareness of climate change.

“I think the power of storytelling in general has been very profound,” Camero remarked. “But the challenge now is how to tell those stories in a way that gets people to have conversations that are inherently difficult to have: how climate change as a theoretical concept actually interacts with communities and tangibly impacts people. And I think art is the way to do that.”

Through a variety of projects both in his hometown and at the negotiations in Paris, Camero has been harnessing the power of art to engage people who don’t prioritize climate change.

“A big hit here in Paris has been performing a piece [by fellow activist Rachel Schragis], a beautiful art scroll that spans 93 feet of different environmental and social injustices,” said Camero. By involving all participants in singing a song around the scroll, “[the piece] really shows a sense of unity across these issues that we all experience in different ways. And it’s been really healing for a lot of people.”

Through this art piece and many other projects back in California, Camero has watched his neighbors gradually take these climate issues to heart. “My hometown already has a host of other struggles that it faces: economic crisis, gang culture, and drug abuse. It’s hard for people to engage with the climate issue," he says. “But these projects have been an effective tool to generate conversations at home. I’m hearing from people that what I’m doing really opens up the perspective of how these struggles are inherently connected with our social and economic injustices.”

And Camero hopes that as these conversations continue, “people will build the mental resiliency” to tackle climate change issues. “Trying to solve all of these problems at the same time can be overwhelming — but also empowering.”

Ryan Camero led many art-as-activism projects in Paris during COP21

With the success of the COP21 negotiations, it will be harder for climate change doubters to continue their absurd tirades. Coupled with the efforts of these three advocates and thousands of others like them, "climate change skeptic" may not exist in the English lexicon for much longer. Instead, those who remain indifferent to the climate change issue will be spurred to take real action.

But as we all know, we do not live in a world of unanimity: There will always be a few that remain on the other side of any issue, irrefutable as it may be.

So, although we may never get Senator Jim Inhofe to concede, these changemakers may very well be able to reduce the attendance of the next Heartland Institute "counter-conference" to only Jim himself.



Zach Bielak is one of Conergy's Future Solar Leaders. Zach is a social sustainability research fellow who was graduated from Rice University in Houston, Texas.