Al Gore said that the climate movement was growing “more rapidly than any grassroots movement ever.” But what will the movement do?
Eight million people had already tuned into Al Gore’s 24 Hours of Climate Reality before Gore himself took the stage in the 24th hour. During the 24-hour long marathon, Gore’s face had appeared periodically in the (for this viewer, often choppy) video stream to ask participants “Is your voice enough to dwarf established power?” and to promise them that “When enough people join, [the world] will change.” He said that the climate movement was growing “more rapidly than any grassroots movement ever.”
But in Montclair, New Jersey, a commuter town just outside New York City and an EPA Climate Showcase Community, the roughly 30 people that gathered in the town’s fire headquarters to watch the last hour of Gore’s presentation had already been converted to the cause. After all, they had shown up on the first chilly night of fall to sit in an air-conditioned room and watch a presentation they could have seen from their couch. Many of them were already actively pursuing green activities in their spare time: organizing film series, growing organic gardens, heading nonprofits that push for greener lifestyles.
Gore suggested that listeners should “speak up” in order to “win the conversation,” to make better choices about energy consumption, and to remember that “changing laws is more important than changing light bulbs.” Montclair is pushing green initiatives on all levels: with a chunk of federal stimulus money, environmental coordinator Gray Russell has been installing energy-efficient lightbulbs in municipal buildings. The town also has greened its vehicle fleet, undergone an energy audit, and is looking into installing infrastructure for electric vehicles.
But even in environmentally friendly Montclair, it wasn’t until Gore delivered the message in the 24th hour that the impact fully hit home. An ambitious young man in Canada just isn’t as compelling a speaker as the face of American climate change advocacy who convinced almost half of U.S. voters to cast their ballots for him.
The Climate Reality Project, though, depends on the premise that a legion of others can deliver the message that climate change is real and happening now. While the main event used the internet and social media to engage the rapidly growing climate movement, it’s not entirely clear what this participants should do besides listen. Training for presenters focused more on the science behind the presentation than on organizing people to take follow-up actions, one host told me.
At the Montclair watch party, one participant did mention pushing politicians to pass green laws. But participants spoke most passionately about making better choices about the energy the consume in service of their gardens and lawns. (Montclair is, after all, a suburban community in New Jersey.) With the double-punch of PowerPoint and streaming Internet video, the Climate Reality Project has gathered a grassroots group. With its trained climate presenters, it’s prepared to extend its reach further. But with Washington uninterested in climate change legislation, it remains to be seen how much of a difference Gore's troops can make.