Episode 42: Climate Advocacy with Brady Walkinshaw (Grist) and Varshini Prakash (Sunrise Movement)
In every episode, we make sure to include how you, dear listener, can put the concept we discuss into action. Well, with this episode on climate advocacy, we spotlight the ways you can get involved and share tips on how to be most effective. We need you out there explaining the urgent need for action (listening to this podcast earns you partial credit)! Our expert guests, Brady Walkinshaw, CEO of Grist, and Varshini Prakash, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sunrise Movement, explain how they got involved in climate advocacy, ways to effectively spark action, and how you can take part in the efforts of their organizations. Power to the listeners!
Episode Intro Notes
What We’ll cover
What is climate advocacy?
Why is climate advocacy important?
Strategies for successful climate advocacy
Top organizations working on climate advocacy
How listeners can engage in climate advocacy
Our guests: Brady Walkinshaw, CEO of Grist, and Varshini Prakash, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sunrise Movement
What is climate advocacy?
So what is advocacy? At its most basic level, advocacy is the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal. Forms of advocacy include organized marches, petitions, or donation campaigns. You could even call us advocates for bad jokes, even though we don’t do much campaigning for it.
Specifically, climate advocacy is the act of advocating on local and national levels to build political will and support for initiatives dedicated to preventing climate change. Bold assumption here: we’re guessing that you as listeners are interested in some level of climate advocacy by listening to our show in the very first place.
Climate advocacy has been around as long as we have been aware of climate change, though organizations specifically dedicated to the topic were largely founded in the early 2000s.
One of the first major global movements occurred in October 2009 where climate advocacy group 350.org helped to organize international demonstrations. The intention was to "inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis" prior to the first UNFCCC summit in December 2009. Over 5400 rallies were scheduled worldwide leading up to the summit which culminated in a march in Copenhagen on December 12th with approximately 60,000 to 100,000 participants.
Since then other notable movements have included the People’s Climate Marches in 2014 and 2017, each attracting over 300,000 participants in a single city and many more associated movements in other locations globally.
Most recently, in 2018, the Fridays for Future movement was launched and led by 15 year old - yes 15 years - Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Greta Thunberg. Fridays for Future helps organize climate strikes for school aged advocates across the globe who are fighting for a sustainable future. Greta sat in front of the Swedish parliament every schoolday for three weeks, to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. She posted what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter and it soon went viral. As of May 2019, they are up to 131 striking countries. What were you up to when you were 15 years old?
why is climate advocacy important?
Simply put, advocacy helps our elected representatives know what’s important to us. To that end, climate advocacy has been having some effect:
A new study out by Reuters showed that “Climate change is rising up the list of voter concerns in the United States with nearly 40% saying the issue will be crucial in how they cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election”
Another recent poll found that three in four American voters want to see the government step in to limit carbon emissions — including a majority of Republicans.
While climate advocacy has raised the issue’s profile, one study finds that we have less than a 5% chance of limiting the average temperature increase to 2 degrees by 2100. Business as usual is expected to cause irreversible damage to the planet, which is why we need as many voices as possible to advocate for change.
strategies for successful climate advocacy
We’ll get into some first-hand examples of climate advocacy tactics with our guests coming up. As a primer, let’s review EcoAmerica’s “5 Simple Rules for Climate Advocacy”. Going down the line:
Lead by Example: People are inspired when they see others taking action. Show them that climate action can come with a spectrum of benefits. This can come in the form of switching to clean energy, voting, and plenty more.
Be Human, Relevant, Positive, Supportive, and Solutions Oriented: The goal of climate advocacy is to inspire others to take action. Connect with people personally, and highlight shared values and common ground.
Stick to the Basics: When it comes to climate advocacy — keep it simple and clear.
Location Matters: When you’re talking about climate, start local. Talk about how climate and pollution affects family and friends, neighborhood, work environment, and community.
Offer Concrete Action to Solve the Problem
top organizations working on climate advocacy
We already mentioned leaders like 350.org and Fridays for Future. Let’s review some others. Perhaps the most notable organization is the Citizens Climate Lobby with 528 active chapters globally. CCL uses the idea of shared values to build nonpartisan support for local and global climate initiatives. It empowers advocates to address issues in their local communities. The main solution it is pushing for is a carbon fee and dividend.
Another organization, the Climate Alliance maintains a powerful presence within the EU with over 1741 municipal members and 26 country members.
Al Gore’s group, the Climate Reality Project has a mission to make urgent action a necessity. It has nearly 100 local chapters across the U.S. in communities and on campuses. You can also do as Scott did and do their three day, no-cost Climate Reality Leadership Corps training that Al Gore leads several times a year. Close to 20,000 people from more than 150 countries have gone through the training.
To me, the best part of the training was engaging with people of all ages and many backgrounds from so many different places. There were also helpful sessions on how to best tell your personal story and give your version of Al Gore’s presentation. Yes, you get access to all of his slides!
We also found a bunch of great resources on the Climate Reality Lab’s website including a state data map and a guide on how to talk about the science of climate change.
Now also seems like a good time to introduce the Sunrise movement, a US based organization that is “building an army of young people” who are dedicated to climate advocacy. Started in 2017, the Sunrise movement has organized actions on both the local and national level. Later in this episode we will hear from Varshini Prakash, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sunrise Movement so stay tuned.
how listeners can engage with climate advocacy
Whether you’ve had a bar/bat mitzvah or quinceanera, everyone can and should be active in this fight. There are several categories of ways that listeners can get involved including direct advocacy, local participation, and purchasing behavior.
First, all of the climate advocacy organizations we listed would welcome your involvement. Pick one, pick all! Often collective impact carries a greater impact than any individual advocacy initiatives so find your team, get educated, and start talking. Those in need of specific direction can complete the Citizens Climate Lobby advocacy training. CCL offers two live trainings a month and you can also watch a pre-recorded version on demand. From there, you can volunteer at local chapter events or even establish a new chapter if one doesn’t exist near you.
Listeners can also take local, everyday actions, such as simply writing a letter or signing a petition, to advocate for a stable climate. It may sound trivial, but according to EDF Action, nearly 9 of 10 Congressional staffers say that a personal email from a constituent can influence how undecided representatives choose to vote.
Individuals can also advocate for climate change directly by employing a conscious consumer approach to the brands they choose and purchases they make. Research your favorite companies to understand what they are doing to directly control their scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions and speak up if you think they need to do more. Customers are often the most important stakeholder of a business so a collective, vocal group of customers could inspire a business to act.
Also look to see if a business is going beyond having a nice sustainability report and is actively advocating for climate action. For example, in May 2019 more than 75 major companies lobbied Congress for a price on carbon. The companies involved included Mars, Pepsi, Nike, Gap, and Microsoft.
You know what else listeners can do? Keep on listenin’ cause our esteemed guests are going to provide some ideas of their own.
Brady Walkinshaw, CEO of Grist
Brady is a former politician who served in the Washington State House of Representatives from 2013-2017. He now leads Grist, an independent, irreverent news outlet and network of innovators working toward a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck.
Varshini Prakash, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sunrise Movement
As we mentioned before, the Sunrise Movement states that it’s building an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. Sounds good to us!