Lessons From The Field – 2014

Climate Access asked a handful of climate leaders to reflect on the most significant developments and important lessons of the past year when it comes to engaging audiences on climate change, as well as their views on the greatest opportunities and challenges in 2015.  Here’s what they told us:

Keya Chatterjee, Executive Director of US Climate Action Network

1. Most significant development?

Recently the climate movement has climbed some amazing hills together. From the People's Climate March to the U.S.-China deal; from tirelessly refusing to allow fossil fuels in communities across the country to beating back the vote on KXL in Washington, DC; from engaging on voting and elections to getting huge institutions to divest – the feeling of momentum is palpable. Together, we have tugged this country to the verge of regulating greenhouse gases. Many efforts worked together to advance climate action.

2. Most important lesson?

I admired and learned a lot from the organization of the People's Climate March. The lesson for me was to put frontline communities in charge and in front, and make the movement open source and open to all. We will need a big tent that includes everyone to win.  

3. Greatest opportunity and challenge in 2015?

It's always hard to predict opportunities for engagement in advance, and we'll need to be ready for opportunities as they arise. That said, we do know some key events are coming.

The UN climate meetings in Paris 2015 will be an important global moment for getting a global infrastructure that can be ratcheted to meet the scale of the global challenge and achieve a just transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
In the U.S. context, we will have the anniversary of the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. Those are opportunities to raise awareness about the injustice of climate change and fossil fuel infrastructure.

The biggest challenge will be the opposition we will face in state houses and the U.S. Congress from climate deniers who put their corporate profits of big oil and big coal ahead of people. We did not have turnout of climate voters this last year, and that will cause a lot of pain next year.

Nancy Hirshberg, Chief Catalyst at Hirshberg Strategic

1. Most significant development?

Climate blossomed in the public dialogue in a big way, culminating with Climate Week. Across the board there has been a much-needed shift in communications sharply away from doom and gloom toward a focus on solutions and the opportunities of climate action. It is a welcome and much-needed shift that will reap benefits.

2. Most important lesson?

You never know who will one day arrive at the table so be ready to engage!

3. Greatest opportunity and challenge in 2015?

The movement is more mature, experienced and well positioned to expand deeper into the populace. There is a greater recognition that we need to reach out to new constituencies beyond the choir and to focus not on the science but on values. There is more and better dialogue. Cities are leading many of these important conversations. The challenges are great as change at the rate and level that is needed is hard and the forces opposing the change are so entrenched. Yet despite emerging bad news on the climate, the recent momentum has made me feel more hopeful now than a year ago that change will come.

Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

1. Most significant development?

The growing, diversifying, and strengthening political movement in the U.S. In 2014, there were nearly 2 million public comments submitted on the EPA’s proposed Clean Power regulations, hundreds of thousands took to the streets at the People’s Climate March in NYC, politically-focused groups like LCV, NextGen Climate, OFA, Environment America, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby grew in strength and sophistication, leaders in Congress and across the nation started talking about climate change again, and the climate movement began building political muscle.
 

2. Most important lesson?

In our research, we’ve found that there are about 40 million Americans who are “Alarmed” about climate change, and of these, nearly 20 million say they already are part of or definitely would join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming. This is an enormous, potential “issue public” – citizens willing to get organized, to mobilize, to demand political change. There are a number of groups working in this space, but they have not yet organized into a large-scale, unified and focused political movement. This is one of the major challenges of 2015 and beyond. Think of the political power of the NRA and related gun rights organizations. There’s no equivalent in the climate movement – yet.

3. Greatest opportunity and challenge in 2015?

Ironically, the greatest challenge and opportunity might be the Republican Congress. IF Republican leaders continue to claim that climate change isn’t happening or a serious threat, aggressively attack the EPA’s efforts to reduce global warming pollution, and the President’s efforts to negotiate an international treaty, they are likely to further unify and strengthen the climate movement, while losing credibility with many independents, the Rising American Electorate, and even some fellow Republicans. A political wave is building – they have to decide whether to surf it or dig their heels into the sand and try to hold it back.


Susi Moser, Director and Principal Researcher at Susanne Moser Research & Consulting

1. Most significant development?

I always find it difficult to just pin down ONE development or event, as it typically takes more than one thing to increase public engagement on climate change, but the release of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment gave communicators a great opportunity to talk about the increasingly evident reality of climate disruption. Couple that with some outspoken efforts by the Obama administration to put forward initiatives on both mitigation (e.g., EPA clean air rules) and adaptation (collection of resilience-focused initiatives, the Presidential Task Force on Climate Adaptation and Resilience), gives the topic a lot more play in the traditional and social media...

2. Most important lesson?

Climate change is here and people are dealing with it as we speak. People can overcome partisan divides in that practical reality, but need growing support in communicating climate risks and solutions effectively. We overlook this capacity need at our peril.

3. Greatest opportunity and challenge in 2015?

Opportunity? Every next climate crisis.
Challenge? Every next climate crisis.

It's as simple and complex as that.


Tzeporah Berman, environmental activist, strategist and writer (author of This Crazy Time)

1. Most significant development?

In 2014 we saw a dramatic increase in civil society engagement on climate change in North America. Over 2.5 million people wrote into the State Department opposing the Keystone pipeline, 400,000 people marched in New York for the People’s Climate March, hundreds organized against oil by rail facilities on the west coast and protests, town halls and rallies drew record numbers across Canada – from Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia to Cacouna, Quebec. Emerging from these events is a new narrative that connects extreme energy projects and new fossil fuel infrastructure with real world impacts on frontline communities and the inequality and injustice inherent in our energy system. I think that in 2014 we were successful in creating a complex narrative that exposes the undue influence of the fossil fuel sector on our politics, our economy and many people’s daily lives. 
 
2. Most important lesson?

The pipeline campaigns have shown us the importance of tangible projects and focused campaigns to generate interest and engagement in communities that is building a new, stronger climate movement from the ground up. From the ranchers in Nebraska fighting the Keystone pipeline to the indigenous leaders in Alberta taking a stand against tarsands expansion to Union leaders speaking out about the need for cleaner, safer jobs – the pipeline campaigns have provided a clear and present danger, a rallying point and for some an entry point into the climate conversation. 

3. Greatest opportunity and challenge in 2015?

People want to hear about solutions and are desperate to figure out not just what we need to say 'no' to but what we should be saying 'yes' to. The opportunity and challenge in 2015 I believe is the same – we need to build tangible campaigns that help us pivot from the bad stuff to the stuff that will move society in the right direction. Renewable energy projects, public transportation, retrofit programs, electrification, district heating, renewable portfolio standards and clean fuel standards are all solutions that need civil society engagement muscle. How do we use the muscle that we have created through the unprecedented civil society engagement in pipeline campaigns across North America to pivot from the 'bad' to the 'good'? 


Jacqui Patterson, Environmental and Climate Justice Director at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

1. Most significant development?

“Global warming isn’t real because I was cold today. Also great news: Global hunger is over because I just ate.” Quotes like this one from the Colbert Report have grown in prevalence as the dominant memes thanks to the rampant climate denial in Congress. Because of the popularity and influence of late night television, I would pose that the prevalence of climate change mentions and derision of climate denial, combined with the increasing evidence being shared in the media including melting ice caps, increase in severity of storms, and the fact that 2014 may have been the warmest year on record have all resulted in media memes being 2014’s most significant development in engaging the public.

2. Most important lesson?

It’s not a new lesson but it continues to be reinforced: Keep It Simple and Use Illustrative Stories. Those opposing a transition to clean energy have a simple and compelling message, “It will raise your rates.” This is crushing clean energy components because so often the response from clean energy proponents is “That may be but…..” which loses some people after the acknowledgement and still others when their eyes glaze over during the litany of mechanisms for why this transition might be tangentially better for mankind in stemming catastrophic climate change. When we lead with a simple message like in our Just Energy Policies report, “Reduces Pollution, Creates Jobs” combined with illustrative stories, which are concrete in telling the story of the climate impact of pollution on people today as well as stories of new jobs that have been created, raising people out of poverty. This, combined with a blueprint with a straightforward pathway to doing this with statistically backed projections has resulted in a constituency that is stridently in favor.

3. Greatest opportunity and challenge in 2015?

Given the current configuration of Congress and the new infusion of people who actively deny the existence of climate change much less any role of humans in driving climate change, 2015 must be the year of raising people’s voices and the visibility of people’s experiences/stories in order to advance a reality based narrative on climate change impacts and actions.

The Pope is planning to release an encyclical on climate change, which promises to lay out a moral framework and analysis on climate change. Other faith groups are planning a Moral March on Climate, which firmly frames climate change and the action that needs to be taken as moral issues. In 2015, it’s time for the next PowerShift convening of youth leaders in the U.S. which is an excellent forum for youth mobilization. In the lead-up to the UN Talks that are supposed to lead to the “Paris Treaty”, people’s actions are being planned nationwide. These initiatives will provide focal points for mobilization and for social and traditional media focus. If accompanied by clear action agenda and entry points for engagement of anyone and everyone, these activities will provide excellent opportunities.

The biggest challenge will be the continued failure of the climate advocates to craft clear and simple pathways to action for people’s engagement. But I feel hopeful that advocates have learned about the necessity of doing this and we will improve in our ability to provide a straightforward action agenda.

Renee Lertzman, Director of Insight, Brand Cool

1. Most significant development?

Incredible evidence of public engagement through demonstrations and mobilizations, and through digital advocacy. 

2. Most important lesson?

We must connect with people on a personal, intimate basis, in order to provide the adequate support in facing these challenges as individuals and collectives.
 

3. Greatest opportunity and challenge in 2015?

Conducting innovative research and practicing compassionate outreach strategies, to help us understand where people feel most stuck – to access the anxieties, ambivalences and aspirations that can either impede or facilitate profound mobilization. We must recognize these are emotional, very charged issues. We need to partner more effectively with psychological professionals who can collaborate and inform our best practices.


Merran Smith, Director of Clean Energy Canada

1. Most significant development?


Renewables moved from ‘boutique’ to big business, and the case for an energy transformation away from fossil fuels became impossible to ignore. Specifically, evidence piled up showing that climate solutions are both cost-effective and ready for prime time. Solar panel prices have dropped 83 percent in the past five years, and wind energy has dropped by 35 percent. Last year, around the world investors moved $207 billion into clean energy projects—a figure that is approaching the amount invested in fossil-fuel power generation. The United States and China are the top investors, and China is putting up a new windmill every hour. Renewable energy, a key climate solution, is where the puck is going and in many parts of the world, governments and businesses are already paying attention. Seeing climate solutions, like windmills and solar panels, creates hope. And hope is powerful.

2. Most important lesson?

This was the year that some of the world’s largest financial institutions—represented by fund managers and CEOs—climbed down off the fence and supported carbon pricing in big numbers. We have primarily engaged business and governments on climate leadership, and the lessons we’ve learned is that when the business case is strong, the case for political leadership is strong, as well. Things are tipping in the right direction. The time is right!

3. Greatest opportunity and challenge in 2015?
 
The road to Paris provides the opportunity to amplify messages – taking action to avoid climate disruption is do-able, and the evidence shows it can be done cost-effectively. These messages need to get to both the public and policy makers and leaders.

In 2015, world leaders will focus on achieving a global climate agreement. It's clear that clean energy will be a central solution, helping avoid the worst impacts of climate change while creating new opportunities for economic prosperity. These solutions are tangible and iconic, and they’ve entered the mainstream.

Our challenge is to make sure that the agreements coming out of Paris are meaningful, ambitious and inspirational so that there is a global commitment from governments and businesses to follow through.


You can read last year’s Lessons From The Field roundup here: http://www.climateaccess.org/blog/lessons-field-takeaways-2013-and-challenges-lie-ahead