Thursday, September 6, 2012

Al-Gore-Rhythm Day 3

As I sat on the floor of the Grand Hyatt, listening to Kathy Mattea sing the words, “It’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away,” I quickly turned to my friend Joe and said, “I didn’t realize she sang this song!”

Joe turned to me with a look and said, “Only after the Rolling Stones wrote and performed it 35 years ago.”  He had a look on his face that was all too familiar.

It was one that John, a huge Stones fan, would have given me (and did, when I got home).  I begged Joe never to tell him should the two ever meet.

And I suspect they will.  Joe was one of several people with whom I bonded with at the training.

Up to this point, I had spent much of those three days telling my story and hearing theirs.  So it was serendipitous that the third and last day of training focused on storytelling and presentation.

Everyone has a story to tell and if you read this blog regularly, you know I have lots of stories to tell.

During our training, we were asked to tell each other personal stories…the girl who helped her dad find the spot where his brother died in Viet Nam and my friend Emily who helped to rescue an abused pig at a petting zoo so it could enjoy life at a sanctuary.
But there were also stories of what inspired these 1,000 people to want to save the planet.

Some were raised in homes where their parents’ read Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring," the 60's call-to-arms that launched the environmental movement.  Others, like myself, saw "An Inconvenient Truth" and were immediate converts to the cause.

These are the stories that through our presentations, we will share with our audience…our personal connection to climate change and why it’s so important to make a difference now.
Connecting through our stories, I met some of the most amazing people from all over the world who are expressing their stories about climate change by writing plays, teaching children, creating music and finding alternative energy solutions.

I feel so lucky to have these new friends…friends who I know will last a lifetime.  And with all of our stories combined, the solution to climate change is “Just a slideshow away!”
Me and Eve - my dear friend and fellow actor from So Cal! 

Lauren!  My NYC friend and partner in crime!

All my new NYC friends - Gordian, Kathy, Vicky, Lew, Emily, Lauren and Scott!

As a final story…I'd like to give a shout out to the woman who came up with the title for this series - Al-Gore-Rhythm.  She was in our international break-out session where we gathered to find solutions for those who are experiencing climate change first hand with floods, droughts and massive storms.  I don't know her name, but she's clearly a very witty person!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Al-Gore-Rhythm - Day 2

The closest I have come to the feeling I had the night before my training was the one I had the night before I got married.

A bunch of Monarch butterflies poking around my stomach saying, “Is it morning yet?  Can we walk down the aisle already?!”

The Monarchs (I use Monarchs simply because I don’t really know any other butterflies) can also make their appearance right before I’m about to confront the Starbucks barista as she makes my drink in a paper cup and pours it into my reusable one.

These butterflies are not to be confused with first-day-of-school or starting-a-new-job butterflies. Those are more like moths which bring about a sense of worry and nervousness.

In truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Thoughts of a man circled by Secret Service, our table locations being switched around, a tall guy sitting in front of me blocking my sight line…these are just some of the ideas my brain played around with.

But like most things in life, my worries were for nothing as I took the same chair I’d been in the day before, spread out my notebook, poured myself a glass of water and settled in waiting for the day to begin.

When Al Gore walked out on stage, emotion overtook me and I filled up with tears.

Here was the Former Vice President, Nobel Prize winner, and Academy Award winner standing right in front of me.

But it wasn’t just those titles that were getting to me.  I was about to learn about climate change from the master.

Round one was just simply watching the slideshow presentation which runs about 45 minutes.  The presentation consists of slides showing the effects and proof of climate change and is, of course, narrated by Mr. Gore.

We were asked to note how he presents the material, what feelings are evoked, etc.  The slides have been updated since last I saw the film, but the message is still the same.  The facts have gotten worse.  More droughts, floods, melting.  The situation is dire.

When I first started my conversion to a greener lifestyle, I would come home with stories of people taking 4,000 plastic bags at the grocery store or the girl in the bathroom who would leave the water running as she dried her hands.  John would laugh and then follow up with,“You need to write a blog!”

But I was sure that the green movement was not ready for humor.

Obviously I overcame that thought and found my voice.  And one of the things I learned during Mr. Gore’s presentation is that I’m not alone.  Al Gore is funny.

Talking about how Vatican City is one of the most sustainable places, he commented “Well, they have two advantages: they’re small and they have God on their side.”

But he was also serious.

He noted that it’s important to change lightbulbs, but it’s more important to change laws.

The energy radiating off everyone after he finished the presentation could have supplied enough power to light the Empire State Building for an entire decade.

After our break, it was time to get to the nitty gritty – learning the presentation.  Again, not knowing what to expect, I somehow thought Mr. Gore would appear again later in the day and one of the Climate Reality staff would do the teaching.

And once again, I was wrong.

Mr. Gore divided the presentation into three sections, the opening, the scientific proof, and finally, what you can do.  He went through every slide, explaining what it meant and his rationale for using it.  He was up there for almost nine hours with a few breaks in-between sections.  His energy and enthusiasm never waned.

There were moments of laughter and moments of passion in explaining the slides.

And there were many moments where we all rallied, encouraging him to show us that extra slide or video despite the wants of the staff to keep us on schedule…something none of us at that point really cared about. How often do you get to have Al Gore show you the SNL sketch “The Yard-a-pult?” (This is where Kevin Nealon plays a homeowner who catapults his trash into his neighbor's yard thereby using the analogy, let it be someone else’s problem.)

Like all good things, the day came to an end too quickly.  Mr. Gore told us that we would prevail and wished us “Godspeed for taking on this endeavor.”

The room flew to its feet and erupted in applause for the man that brought attention to a crisis and started a conversation.

After his presentation, Kathy Mattea and her husband, John Vezner, came back and sang for us. 

She prompted us to “sit down and enjoy the show!” and we all dropped to the floor…including Al Gore who sat with us, in the exact same spot, the entire time.  And no matter how cramped my legs got, if Al wasn’t moving, neither was I.

When the final note was played, the butterflies came back.  But this time I realized that I was really the cocoon keeping them safe and it was time for them to be born and set free.

I had come full circle.  The whole reason I started The Green, The Bad and The Ugly four years ago this month, was because of the emotional reaction I had watching An Inconvenient Truth.  And now I was qualified to present that same slide show and hope to make an impact on others the same way it was made on me.

I was the butterfly about to spread my wings – and the message.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Al-Gore-Rhythm Day 1

My dreams came true two weeks ago as I jetted off to the golden city of San Francisco to train with the guru of green, Al Gore.

The first thing that struck me was that instead of landing on Cloud 9, I actually landed in a bunch of fog.  I had no idea it would take me three days to actually see the Golden Gate Bridge!  However, once it unveiled itself, it was well worth the wait…as was the wait to get to the conference.

The airport shuttle pulled into the driveway of the Hyatt Regency and we were greeted by a group of protesters.  OK…three protesters.  But protesters with picket signs, nonetheless.

I guess I should’ve expected some sort of protest from the climate change deniers telling us that proven science isn’t accurate. However, these protesters were not deniers…they were upset that we weren’t covering “animal ag.”

This threw me…and brought two questions to mind.  The first – what is animal ag?  The second…how did they get their hands on our agenda?  I hadn’t even seen our agenda at this point!

Assuming that animal ag had something to do with the food industry and that is definitely something that affects climate change, I realized that no crusade is easy and that my job wasn’t only to fight the deniers, but to also convince the believers!

I decided to focus my energy on the task at hand – getting registered.

With cardboard notebook and badge in hand, I set out to meet up with my fellow New Yorkers.

The conference was divided into about 100 groups, each with approximately 8 individuals from a region, paired with a mentor. My mentor was the very amazing Gordian.  We all headed out to lunch to discuss how we were going to save the planet.

The bonding was instant and easy – until the conversation really got started and I soon realized that this was not to be one of sharing crazy stories of store owners keeping their doors open with the air-conditioning on (as I was used to telling), but rather with names of climate experts and activists that I did not recognize.

I found myself smiling and nodding my head…a lot…pretending to know what they were talking about.

And then I relaxed, listened and learned.

When it was time for the training to begin, I entered the room and a strange, foreign sensation came over me…I was about to sit down with 1,000 people who recycle and carry reusable bags.  What on earth was I supposed to blog about now?  I had never been in a room with that many people who thought the same way I did.

The energy coming off my fellow trainees and the speakers, including Maggie Fox, the CEO of the Climate Reality Project, was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.  The closest I’ve ever come to electricity like this was when I was a kid and my dad took me to have breakfast with Santa.  A room full of kids waiting for the man in the red suit to appear so we could sit on his lap, tell him what we wanted and get a coloring book.

In this case, the man in the red suit was actually one who wouldn’t appear until the next day, but the anticipation was the same.

The one thing I noticed was that when you have speakers who are passionate about what they’re speaking about with an audience just as passionate about devouring every word, time can get away from you.  So while we all would have loved to hear more about social media and presentation skills, the day had to be keep moving.

Our special treat (the equivalent of Mrs. Claus showing up at the breakfast) was Grammy-Award winning singer, Kathy Mattea.

She is also a trained Climate Reality Presenter and told stories of her eagerness to fight the fight not only against climate change, but the coal industry as well.  Later we would learn how to tell stories to get our points across and finding unique ways to do so. She told her story through her Grammy-nominated album simply titled “Coal.”

One important thing about training in 2012 was the added benefit of media like Facebook.  Prior to training, we were all exchanging ideas and articles on our private page and it was so fun to be able to connect with those people at the conference. 

Excited, exhilarated and exhausted, I headed off to bed with anticipation for the next day where I would be seeing Al Gore!  And excited because I knew the presents he would be delivering were going to be a lot cooler (no pun intended) than the pencil case I got from my breakfast with Santa.