Global demand for climate action is reaching a tipping point. Here’s a look back at how we got there.
As the UN climate talks in Paris grow closer, the volume of the media conversation about this historic event is steadily rising from a low murmur into nearly a scream. And unlike in the build-up to past climate talks, this time, the world is watching every development closely. But this story starts long before this month, or even before the latest round of negotiations began.
It starts about five years ago, as the climate movement was just getting back on its feet after a series of significant setbacks. With the breakdown of UN talks in Copenhagen still fresh in the memory and even the most committed supporters searching for reasons for hope, activists fought to keep the world’s attention on the urgency of solving climate change. But they did keep fighting and as events like Superstorm Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan led many to accept the reality of this crisis, the conversation turned to extreme weather, the costs of carbon pollution, and finally, our many reasons for hope that we will solve this crisis, together.
At every step of the way, Climate Reality’s signature broadcast, 24 Hours of Reality, was there to tell the story and rally the world to face the challenge in front of us. This year, 2015, marks the fifth 24 Hours of Reality. On Nov. 13 - 14, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, artists and influencers, and millions across the planet will join together for a global day of action and music to celebrate our progress over these past five years and—with the Paris climate talks on the horizon—send a clear message to world leaders: Take climate action now. But first, let’s take a look at how we got to where we are—and why this year, the entire world is watching 24 Hours of Reality.
1. 24 Hours of Reality: The Beginning
Before the world could face up to the challenge of climate change, we had to remove any sense of doubt in contemporary culture and reveal the deniers trying to spread it. So Vice President Al Gore, Climate Reality and people from every time zone around the world came together to shine a spotlight on the truth—and the tricks that Big Polluters use to prevent climate action.
2. Climate 101 with Bill Nye the Science Guy
Who better to educate the world on climate science than Bill Nye the Science Guy? Class is in session—and in a few short minutes he gave us enough information to know that yes, humans are causing climate change, and yes, we’ll solve it
So why don’t people believe the facts, even when explained by seasoned science educators like Mr. Nye? Doubt exposed the playbook Big Polluters use to instill uncertainty in the face of overwhelming evidence, conveniently borrowed from Big Tobacco.
4. Reality, TX:
The Lone Star state was experiencing climate change in an extreme way in 2011. Extreme drought. Wildfires. (Almost sounds like what the Golden State is seeing today, doesn’t it?)
5. Highlight: Al Gore at 24 Hours of Reality
The founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, Al Gore, shares the signature presentation made famous in An Inconvenient Truth and busts common climate denial myths. The message was clear: climate change is messing with our planet, and unless we act, it’s only going to get worse.
6. 24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report
More dangerous storms and devastating droughts happening more often as we dump more and more carbon pollution into the atmosphere. Is the weather trying to tell us something? 24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report lays out the link between dirty energy and dirty weather—and how people are embracing solutions.
7. Hurricane Sandy: A New Reality
When Superstorm Sandy hit the U.S. East Coast in 2012, it was a wake-up call for many Americans who had believed climate change was a problem for others to deal with. First, we learn what made Sandy so devastating, then we meet some of the people impacted.
8. Hurricane Sandy: The Truth
Who would have seen the devastation of Superstorm Sandy coming? Seven years earlier, An Inconvenient Truth showed how susceptible New York City was to the rising sea.
9. Kids Can See It. Why Can’t We?
“I’m not a scientist.” Well, neither are these kids. You don’t need to be a scientist to see the reality of climate change. So why don’t adults get it?
10. Symphony of Science
Talk about rhythm! Take a break, turn up the volume, and jam out to the sounds of Climate Reality. This catchy number could have us all singing a new tune about climate science..
11. The Cost of Carbon
If seeing the impact of climate change didn’t convince you to take action, 2013’s 24 Hours of Reality: The Cost of Carbon hit you where it really hurt: your wallet. The Cost of Carbon counts the ways extreme weather and climate change is costing all of us, threatening our livelihoods, decimating our infrastructure, and harming our health.
12. The Human Impact of Climate Change: Personal Stories from the U.S. and Mexico
In 2013, 24 Hours of Reality: The Cost Of Carbon traveled across six continents and the poles, identifying the specific costs people everywhere are paying for carbon pollution. In the North America segment, we witness the human cost of carbon from Hurricane Sandy, wildfires, floods and drought. We visit Staten Island one year after Sandy to hear from homeowners who survived the storm to find there was no home to come back to. In Manitou Springs, we hear how raging wildfires were just a prelude to devastating floods. In Durango, Mexico, farmers tell of land lost to drought and a community dying.
13. The Human Impact of Climate Change: Personal Stories from Somalia, Ghana and Kenya
Next up, in the Africa segment, we see how Somali refugees affected by drought and famine were forced to flee to Kenya just to survive. In Ghana, rising sea levels are driving residents of coastal villages further and further inland. And in Kenya, a lake that once provided fisherman with their livelihoods is rapidly drying up, driving political instability.
Visit our YouTube channel to see videos bearing witness to the cost of carbon in Asia, South America, Europe and Australia.
14. The Guitar of Reality with Jack Johnson
To spread awareness, singer-songwriter Jack Johnson creates an instrument of change: a guitar created from beetlekill pine—wood from trees eaten alive by bark beetles, which are thriving in the warmer weather brought on by climate change.
15. The Way Forward
While Big Polluters count their profits from fossil fuels, the rest of us count the costs to our planet. So how do we flip the tables? The Way Forward shows the road to a fair solution to climate change and a sustainable future for our planet.
16. Good News
For years, we’ve gotten used to hearing bad news about extreme weather and other climate impacts. With renewable energy and other proven, practical solutions getting more affordable and accessible by the day, it’s time to share the good news (and it is really good).
17. The Next Generation Asks World Leaders at the UN “Why Not Act on Climate Change?”
Young people today see what climate change is doing to the planet—and see how little our leaders are doing to address it. And they have some questions.
18. Town Hall with Mark Ruffalo
“Do you ever feel like releasing the Hulk on climate change deniers?” Learn more about actor and activist Mark Ruffalo’s approach to climate activism and his commitment to living a green lifestyle—even when he’s not on the big screen.
19. Field Report: Interfaith Power and Light
“What’s faith got to do with it?” When it comes to solving climate change, when we have faith, we have hope. And it’s inspiring to see Interfaith Power and Light helping houses of worship and congregations of all denominations install solar PV systems and reduce waste as a means of protecting Creation.
20. Man on the Street with Ian Somerhalder
Ahead of the UN Climate Summit in September 2014, actor and advocate Ian Somerhalder dedicates a day to raising awareness, engaging people on the streets of New York City in candid discussions about climate change, going green, and why they have hope for our future.
21. 24 Seconds of Reality with Tyler Oakley: China Invests in Clean Energy
This will give you #ClimateHope: YouTube superstar Tyler Oakley shines a light on China’s huge investments in renewables, showing how a country that fueled its remarkable growth with coal has started to turn a corner toward a greener future.
22. Al Gore One-on-One with General Russel Honoré
Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honoré led the charge to restore order to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Today, he’s started a new wave of urban activism that stands up against polluters on behalf of some of Louisiana’s poorest communities
23. The UN is Convening Nations
That brings us to the biggest reason for hope, one that rings true even more today: this year, the UN is convening 195 nations to solve the climate crisis. Vice President Gore explains how we can ensure all countries work together for climate action.
24. 24 Hours of Reality: The World is Watching
A strong agreement is in our grasp, but only if our leaders act. 24 Hours of Reality is bringing the world together to make sure they do. It’s the day we change “can” to “will” and truly turn the tide on climate change.
If you’d like to make a difference in the greatest challenge of our lifetimes, simply speak up and demand a strong agreement in Paris. Then make sure to tune in on Nov. 13 - 14 for 24 Hours of Reality: The World Is Watching.
With millions speaking together to demand a strong agreement, world leaders will have to listen and act.
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By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Despite a journey to this moment even more treacherous than expected, Americans now have a fresh opportunity to act, decisively, on climate change.
The authors of the many new books released in just the past few months (or scheduled to be published soon) seem to have anticipated this pivotal moment.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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