by John Brosnan, Seattle Audubon Executive Director
With the recent declaration that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s easy to feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us when it comes to action on climate change, which is the single greatest threat to bird populations in our lifetimes. What we can do to counter this inaction, as an organization, has been weighing on my mind and I bet it’s been on yours, too. Fortunately, Seattle Audubon is developing a very thoughtful approach to these issues.
Last year, Seattle Audubon stood alongside a number of our allies like the Sierra Club, the Washington Environmental Council, and the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy in opposition to Initiative 732, Washington’s carbon tax measure. Even though we understood the threat to birds from climate change, Seattle Audubon evaluated I-732 for its likely effectiveness and we found that it did not meet three crucial criteria for success -- broad-based inclusion, comprehensive climate policy, and equitable tax policy. Financing built into I-732 did nothing to help impacted communities adapt to current and future climate change threats and projections showed the initiative would disproportionally harm already strapped social service programs. We believed, and still do, that genuine community organizing takes time to reach consensus – and that was time worth taking. Ultimately, I-732 was not successful at the ballot box, but new, more-inclusive efforts are gaining ground.
At that same time, we told our community that we were exploring the concept of offering our own curriculum on climate-advocacy training, but many wondered about that term – what exactly is climate advocacy?
In late October 2016, Audubon Washington convened nearby chapters to learn more about climate advocacy and Seattle Audubon participated. National Audubon had just publicized an ambitious goal of engaging one million citizens as climate activists within five years. In order to achieve that goal, Audubon recognized that they needed a better understanding of what messages resonate with and best engage the public in climate work. The workshop included an overview of Audubon Washington’s survey work for this purpose, where they tested different messaging to engage conservative-leaning voters in conversations about climate change.
Their survey results found that a politically “conservative” tendency did not correlate with opposition to supporting clean energy and supporting climate change legislation – far from it. Here in Washington, for example, 90% of people who self-identified as “conservative-leaning” also supported community solar energy projects, enforcement of U.S. EPA rules to limit carbon pollution, expansion of renewable energy programs, and putting a price on carbon emissions. It turned out that the most effective messaging to relate to people in these conversations was connecting with their state and local pride – focusing on protecting Washington and the cities they live in – and inspiring action connected to a “moral duty and imperative.”
But one thing this workshop did perfectly was demystifying what it means to engage in climate advocacy. Climate advocacy comes in many forms, including convening people, listening, using personal stories to connect, and taking action. The workshop also offered very specific tools and actions, including a script for calling legislators, how to write an Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor for your local newspaper, and tips for crafting social media posts. In reflection of the day, we quickly realized this was guidance that we could and should pass along to the Seattle Audubon community.
A lot has happened since then. In the wake of the presidential election, we’ve consistently heard from our community that people want more tools to engage in advocacy. To that end, Seattle Audubon will be offering a general class in advocacy as part of our fall class schedule. A recent statement published by the National Audubon Society smartly notes that the United States’ recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, “doesn’t make the U.S. climate movement hopeless; it just means that the onus to reduce U.S. emissions will fall on citizens, states, and local governments without help from the federal government.” This statement struck me on multiple levels and revealed the urgency of equipping our community with advocacy tools. To prepare for that, we’re developing a plan with our partners, including Urban Forest Carbon Registry and the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, to invest more deeply in educating ourselves, in order to provide the best available information to our members and the public.
On that note, I am thrilled to share with you a very exciting opportunity on Seattle Audubon’s horizon. I have been accepted to participate in the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, a three-day training from June 27-29. Even more importantly, this training was developed and is being led by former vice president and climate warrior Al Gore. Yes, you read that right – I will be learning from Vice President Gore himself on how each of us can serve as leaders in advocating for stronger climate change policies. The program provides training in climate science, communications, and organizing, so that participants can “better tell the story of climate change and inspire communities everywhere to take action.” After I complete this training, I will then work with Seattle Audubon staff, volunteers, and partners to define specific next steps for sharing our new knowledge with all of you. Our local and migratory birds depend on our action.
If you had the chance to talk climate with Al Gore, what would you ask him?
John was eager to fill in as guest blogger this month not just to share the big news of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, but to learn what you would do with this opportunity. We want to hear from you! We’ve created a simple online form to gather your feedback so that – given the chance – John can represent the interest and inquiries of our entire community.
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