June 2015: Our Hottest On Record

“Confidence continues to grow that this El Niño will be one of the stronger El Niños over the past 50 years.”
—Brett Anderson, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist

Last week NASA reported that last month tied for the hottest June we’ve ever recorded matching the record set in 1998. Now that 2015 is half over, with no many broken records this year already it’s pretty much a given that we’re currently in what will be the hottest year ever. Why so certain? Because the El Niño our planet is experiencing is one of the strongest we’ve seen in a half century, adding to an existing trend of global warming, and is only getting stronger.

It turns out there’s more than an 85 percent chance that this current El Niño we’re in will last until next May because they usually peak somewhere between December and February. If so, 2016 may in fact well beat the 2015 record-breaker we’re headed towards.

And you can already predict what will happen when this El Niño ends and this annual record-breaking Hottest Year Ever trend is over: deniers will start to claim that global warming is over and that the mini-ice age some are predicting is starting.

But you and I won’t be fooled when that happens.

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Polar Bears On the Move

A polar bear strolling the streets of a city centre….its only refuge after losing its natural habitat following the devastating effects of Arctic drilling. You may have seen images like this before because polar bears are often the mascot of a warming planet and a melting Arctic ice cap. But I bet you’ve never heard a polar bear speak with the voice of Rachel McAdams. I found this video inspiring. It was released a couple of weeks ago by Greenpeace to mark the official opening of Shell’s window to drill in the Arctic Ocean off the Alaskan shore.

You can get involved by signing the petition http://savethearctic.org. We need action. We need you.

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Climate Change: The Story is the Thing

“Numbers numb, stories sell.”
—Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication

It’s well known that to reach an audience, telling them a story is much better than presenting them with facts and figures. This point was made clear recently at the White House Public Health and Climate Change Summit. As Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication put it:

We don’t deal well with numbers, it tends to suspend our sense of emotion, but we respond very, very well to stories. Individual stories will almost always trump a litany of statistics.

People like myself who try to educate the public about climate change often wrestle with this very question: How do we use the data that already exist to help people care about climate change? The panel consistently came to the same answer: Make the message as personal as possible. One of the panelists put it this way:

At the end of the day, it does come down to people. It does come down to being able to make that connection to the fact that it’s about, in many ways, the children, the people that are vulnerable, and the impact on them. It’s a big challenge, just like there may be no one climate solution silver bullet, there may be no one messaging bullet either.

The panelists also thought that addressing public health was an important component to this approach. Sadly, climate change has become a highly polarized and politicized issue in many countries around the world, but health has not. Given the recent Lancet Commission report on the impacts of climate change on human health, stories won’t be too hard to come by. If you knew that in the U.S. alone, 57,000 deaths could be prevented in the year 2100 if the world was able to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, that might only seem like a distant statistic. But if you think about your children, and their children. And how maybe the floods, droughts, hurricanes, and loss of crops could be mitigated so that some of your own descendants were among those who’s lives could be spared, maybe you’ll think just a little bit more about it.

More than ever, health care providers such as myself need to speak out about climate change. And we have to do it with stories.

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Climate Reality Leadership Corps: Toronto, July 2015

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

Again my apologies for not getting something much posted last week. That’s the first time in a long time that I went so long without a blog. But the training with Al Gore and the Climate Reality staff was long and intense, and the networking every evening went well into the late night hours, so in short there simply wasn’t the free time to allow me to get things prepared. But now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I can tell you all about it.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Toronto was the 29th such training session that Mr. Gore and his staff have done. There are now over 8000 such trained individuals from about 140 countries all over the world. We had two intense days with our “mentees” and us mentors had to arrive a day early for another six-hour session to prepare us for the busy two days ahead.

The first sessions described the state of the planet in general and Canada in particular. One particularly eye-opening session provided the insurance data from all of the claims that have been made in the last few decades. It was interesting and scary to see how claims related to earthquakes and volcanoes have remained very stable, but that claims related to floods and droughts are on a very steady increase. The insurance industry itself attributes this rise in claims to the effects of climate change.

We also spent part of the first day getting the attendees to craft their own story about why they were interested in being a part of Climate Reality, because it’s important to connect with an audience when giving a presentation. As one person so aptly put it, “I don’t care how much you know, until I know how much you care.”

The rest of the first day was spent with Mr. Gore. He gave the full two-plus-hour version of his updated slide show that included images from events that had happened just days before. Despite its length, the entire room was riveted. Every trainee now has access to all of those slides along with all future updates.

The second morning provided a 40-minute session with Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario. She had many positive things to say about our group, and updated everyone about what Ontario is doing to fight climate change. For example, my province of Ontario was the first jurisdiction in all of North America to completely phase out coal. Along with Quebec and California, Ontario has also participated in a cap-and-trade system for reducing emissions. As a result of Canada’s two largest provinces being involved, more than 75% of Canadians are under this system. It’s obvious there is a lot of mutual respect between Mr. Gore and Ms. Wynne, and that they’re on the same page.

Most of the rest of day two was spent with Mr. Gore. He provided a shortened version of his talk meant to fit within the time constraints of what most requests for a presentation will allow. This was followed up with a Q&A of Mr. Gore and his science advisor.

The very last sessions were dedicated to teaching everyone how to become active and how to get others engaged. As part of this, a “Day of Action” was planned for the following day. All over Toronto, newly-trained Climate Reality leaders were getting signatures for a petition that will encourage the Canadian government to become part of the solution and commit to real change in Paris this coming December. This led to a grand total of 3,675 signatures, quite a feat for one day!

I’ve left Toronto reinvigorated in my passion to tackle this issue. And I have more than a dozen new Climate Reality leaders under my wing as my mentoring duties don’t stop just because the formal training is done. I’ve already received a number of inquiries from them as they channel their enthusiasm into real plans of action and I’m doing my best to guide them in their continuing journey.

Margaret Mead had it right: together we are all making a difference.

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Climate Reality Training with Al Gore in Toronto

“Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, ‘What were our parents thinking? Why didn’t they wake up when they had a chance?’ We have to hear that question from them, now.”
Al Gore

Last week I was in Toronto and unable to post any blogs, so my apologies. For two days, Al Gore and the The Climate Reality Project provided training to skilled and motivated people who can serve as agents of change and try to make a real difference in this world. They are now members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps. I got to go but this time as a mentor. In all there were 30 of us for about 600 trainees. I went through a similar training session in San Francisco back in August 2012 so I was excited for what these eager folks were able to experience. (I’ll post a blog tomorrow outlining the training in a little more detail.)

Mr. Gore has provided training sessions all over the world. Prior to Toronto there had been 7,826 Climate Leaders hailing from 126 different nations ranging in age from nine to 87. I was very excited because this was only the second time that training had been done in Canada, the first having taken place a number in April 2008 in Montreal. And I was especially excited that my 12-year-old son Jamie was also one of the trainees this time around.

Some might ask: why have a training session in Canada? Well, it came here for good reason. My country is a top emitter in the world, both for total emissions and per capita. Canada has a key role to play in in the anticipated emissions reduction agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference this coming December in Paris. So far, Canada has been significantly behind many of its peers including the U.S. and the E.U. Without strong federal government commitments, it’s been left to Canadian provinces and municipal governments to take action. (This is precisely the focus of David Suzuki’s Blue Dot campaign.)

I was at a half-day session with the other mentors before the formal training sessions began. On July 9 and 10, our trainees were exposed to a number of experts who discussed provincial initiatives that could help provide a model for a stronger federal plan. They also discussed how Canada can—and should—play a major role in moving toward a clean energy, low-carbon economy. Here are some reasons why Canada should care: Continue reading

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