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Reflections on a Virtual Earth Week

With last week’s 50th anniversary of Earth Day, there were many ways to explore new climate-related information provided by some of the world’s environmental leaders. After absorbing many of these talks and the accompanying information, I wanted to share some observations and common themes.

Collective Considerations

First off, the current virus crisis has opened the door to greater collective consideration and awareness of the climate crisis. As a result, the overall tone of the talks and related media had a heightened clarity and passion.

Our collective vulnerability has been exposed and our inter-dependence has been reinforced.

Many are seeing the substantial flaws in our pre-COVID existence and are committed to not going back to how it was.

As Joel Makower asked in his blog on March 30 in response to some naysayers – can we still talk about the climate? The answer is a resounding yes: this is exactly the time to be talking about climate change.

Build Back Better

#Buildbackbetter is the hashtag of our times. We simply can’t go back to the way it was – especially when it comes to the environment or social and economic justice. This includes improving the lives of women and girls on a global scale.

  • In order to drastically reduce carbon output, we have to urgently focus on our largest needs, primarily institutional adaptation and wide-scale government and corporate innovation. One only needs to look at the melting icecaps to see the immediacy of the crisis.
  • Furthermore, it’s not enough to get carbon neutral – we need to get carbon negative and aggressively remove carbon from the atmosphere. This movement is gaining momentum with corporate leaders like Microsoft and Intuit. They are taking an innovative approach to removing more carbon than each has put into the ecosystem over their decades of corporate existence.
  • The need for this institutional change was the bottom line of David Wallace Wells’ seminal work An Uninhabitable Earth. As much as our individual “greening” efforts are well-intentioned and helpful at some level, the problem is so massive that we need large-scale global change. And it needs to happen soon or we simply won’t be able to avoid all of the worst outcomes of climate change.

Commitment to Changes

Government and corporate entities can inform and motivate people to accept the challenge and make the necessary changes through massive communication efforts focus on wide-scale, committed change.

  • This can be done in a way that would gain acceptance by 80+ percent of American citizens – as is the case with support of COVID-driven restrictions. We just need government and corporate leaders to come together in a full-throated, unequivocal climate-saving campaign.
  • Notice how fast the corporate system has pivoted on COVID-19. It’s amazing how many commercials have been produced to reflect our new world in the appropriate tone, just weeks after the crisis really began. We now need to show the same urgency and amplification with our shared climate emergency.

My biggest takeaway was that there was a great deal of inspiring and hope-generating content shared last week. It now needs amplification to the masses, though this won’t happen until we get through our current health crisis

Earth Week Standouts:

Project Drawdown – This think tank provides an expansive array of solutions to our largest climate challenges. As a result, they are primed for collaboration and institutional engagement to help drive the massive change that’s needed.

Ocean-Climate Trust – A rather new NGO that seeks to take an integrated approach to improving ocean health. The Trust seeks to amplify the role of the oceans in climate stabilization through scaled climate initiatives, including decarbonization, carbon drawdown, and ecosystem life support.

EarthX – A huge Dallas-based event that impressively pivoted and went virtual. This organization had to be massively disappointed given the scope and breadth of their planned multi-week program. They had an extremely impressive platform and content and were able to shift over to presenting much online over the past several days. It’s inspiring to see this activity taking place in the epicenter of the US petroleum industry.

Bill McKibben – This environmental legend continues to focus on the need for financial institutions to divest from petroleum. And the recent crude oil price plunge might just help give this movement a boost. Bill calls out specific culprits while highlighting the work being done by divestiture leaders such as BNP Paribas and its subsidiary Bank of the West.

The Climate Group – The international consortium of corporations collaborating with NGOs and government to advance learning, policy, practice and to channel climate-related actions. It was gratifying to hear the sustainability leads from Clif, Ikea and Mars share stories and show their mutual alignment, facilitated by the savvy leaders of the Climate Group.

Blue Planet Foundation – Renewable energy pioneer Henk Rogers’ work has led to taking large parts of Hawaii off the grid. He is now seeking to make the islands self-sufficient with food and waste management and suggested teaming up with Project Drawdown to advance their interests.

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) – This longtime leader in sustainable planning and technology started using the term Build Back Better in association with its work in developing new energy systems on hurricane ravaged islands (as featured on 60 Minutes). The Islands Energy Program is a model for how communities can become energy independent to life local economies and create a resilient future for residents and businesses.

You may be wondering what is happening with Grounded, the organization I have been supporting over the past year. The young organization started by Julia Jackson was poised to make a big impact this spring when their climate change summit was cancelled a week prior to the shutdown. The Grounded team has reset and is working on a plan for virtual activities to take place leading up to Climate Week in September. The hope is to have a significant platform in place by that time and to re-assert a role in driving action to solve our shared climate crisis. Stay tuned!

Kevin Bartram