I just got back from Nashville, where I was a trainee in Session 3 of Al Gore's Climate Project - an amazing, amazing few days. To anyone who has considered, is considering or might someday consider joining the project, I've got one piece of advice: do it.
As some of you may know, Gore is training a thousand people to give the climate change presentation made famous by An Inconvenient Truth. The trainees have committed to fan out across the country and give their personalized, updated version of the presentation to at least 10 audiences over the coming year, in the hope of reaching hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people. In the few months since Gore began the program, his trainees have given as many presentations as he has in the past 15 years. And if you apply, there's no reason why the cavalry of a thousand can't turn into ten thousand, or even a hundred thousand.
Gore and his team did an outstanding job. The lectures and group discussions were terrific. Gore spent a day and a half taking us through an updated version of the lecture slide-by-slide, fielding questions and digging into background science and personal anecdotes. Other lecturers focused on attitudinal research around climate change (sobering), a discussion of solutions (inspiring) and a whole series of practice runs and exercises to help us give our presentations (invigorating - and, yes, a bit scary).
And the attendees were extraordinary. The group's energy and enthusiasm was unlike anything I've ever experienced (as one trainee put it: "it feels like Freshman week -- times ten."). And the collective intelligence in the room was quite something. Every time an audience member raised a tricky, esoteric question that Gore and his science team couldn't answer, another audience member would stand up and say, "Well, actually I run a team at NASA studying that issue, and what we've found is ..." Trainees came from all fifty states and beyond. Ages ranged from a startlingly mature 14-year old to a startlingly youthful 92-year old. From die-hard Democrat to die-hard Republican. Scientists, teachers, students, professors, religious leaders of all stripes, activists, philanthropists, government officials, artists, home-makers, consultants - you name it. And yes, a smattering of celebrities, including John Doerr and Cameron Diaz. As one attendee put it: "I feel like everyone I speak to is the most interesting person I've ever spoken to." Walk up to someone during a break and it turns out that they're an author and playwright and founding member of the Interfaith Alliance for Environmental Stewardship who retired recently as the sports psychologist for the Boston Red Sox. A composer whose climate-change inspired oratorio (with text from James Lovelock) premiered at Lincoln Center. Bill Bradbury, Oregon's secretary of state. An artist and activist who was the voice for the cartoon character, "Captain Planet". An ad executive and Texas Republican who helped put Bush in the White House. Claire Gianotti, a 15-year old High School student who had the gumption to get her school - and then all the schools in her area - to start recycling. And I was happy to see that Gore and Doerr and Cameron Diaz helped foster a sense of mission by actively engaging for the whole three days -- asking questions, participating in group exercises and hanging out for the evening events (Nashville - so expect world-class live music).
So let me reiterate: apply (here). I promise that it'll be one of the most inspiring experiences of your life. Yes: humanity is accelerating towards a bottleneck. Yes: it's January in New York and my thermometer just read 72 degrees. Yes: hundreds of millions of petrodollars go to campaigns to mislead the public on the climate crisis. Yes: "what's at stake is the question of whether or not an opposable thumb and a prefrontal cortex are a viable combination on this planet." But with the talent, enthusiasm and commitment in that room, it felt like there was hope. It felt like humanity might just rise to the challenge.
p.s. Don't be daunted by the site's statement that "Applications for current sessions are no longer being accepted." The Project's sponsors have said that they intend to extend the program. And by applying, you'll give them even more inspiration to do so.