With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.
Progress almost always involves grassroots mobilization.
Photo: Looking Glass Conference, March, 2014, University of California, Santa Cruz
ATL believes our only potential for a livable future hinges on activating our nation, in concert with the voice and support of our philanthropies, to bring about a US-led climate mobilization at full-on speed, and policies such as a revenue-neutral carbon-fee-and-dividend plan to drive a broad reduction of emissions. We must attain these measures very quickly to attain net zero emissions within a decade.
Thus, it is time to initiate an open, truthful national discussion about our situation. There is no adequate response without a culture-wide understanding that our carbon addiction is a clear and present threat to us all. Public engagement must be shifted through an extensive warning campaign that includes personal dialogue, education, and advocacy.
- GOAL: To build a broad-based movement, in which a sizable segment of the public understands the dangers, demands a society-wide mobilization at full-on speed. A price on carbon and other legislative and policy changes will follow later.
- CAMPAIGN BASIS: As with other effective social movements, public involvement will cause the needed changes. Just a small percentage of dedicated citizens can achieve substantial transformation. [READ MORE...]
- PHILANTHROPIC SUPPORT: Success hinges upon philanthropy providing extraordinary financial support and partnership for the success of the Climate Mobilization Campaign. [READ MORE...]
- MEDIA SATURATION: Philanthropy becomes the "Paul Revere" voice in warning the public and calling for climate action. It alone has the credibility, influence, and resources to fulfill this role by funding an extensive media outreach that includes every available form of cultural persuasion, such as: PSAs, special programming, and media of all types. [READ MORE...]
- EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY PROGRAM: The public must be informed about the encroaching climate crisis, the necessity of an all-out mobilization, a carbon price and its affordability, why the US must lead, and the urgent timeframe for effective action. Greenhouse warming is basic science and can be readily grasped by most. The accompanying curriculum will be riveting, inspiring, and will catalyze action. [READ MORE...]
- GRASSROOTS MOBILIZATION: A campaign of public outreach, direct action, and political advocacy will be mobilized, involving a coordinated network of grassroots groups. Citizens are critical to catalyze the necessary changes to avert climate catastrophe. They will be encouraged to participate in a wide range of roles in the growing movement. [READ MORE...]
- POLITICAL STRATEGY: These efforts must also be supported by an effective political strategy that leads to national policies that drastically reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. [READ MORE...]
- TIMEFRAME: This campaign must succeed within two years, or the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere will make it too late to stay under 2° Celsius. Each year we delay, the required emissions cuts become steeper and more difficult to achieve.
Time is running out for any effective response, yet pushing at Congress right now is a wasted effort, as fossil fuel interests control its decisions. Many people are confused and fail to understand the risk of climate destabilization. With poor media coverage and little mention by leadership, the issue is nearly out of sight and out of mind.
We cannot bypass an open, truthful national discussion and have any hope of stabilizing our climate. If citizens understood the grave risk we face, they would not be complacent.
The People's Climate March, New York City, September 21, 2014 was the largest climate action to date, with over 400,000 participants. The movement's focus must shift from one-off events to sustained movement-building through education and outreach.
Photo: People's Climate March
The basis for ATL's approach is that progress in the US has almost always involved grassroots mobilization. For example, in 1970 we catalyzed dramatic change after the First Earth Day, when one in ten Americans hit the streets, calling for reforms. An entire suite of green policies was enacted as a result. A tiny minority of citizens—even 3.5% of the population—can catalyze change if they are committed, strategic, and organized. Achieving US zero net emissions within ten years will require a major campaign to win the hearts of enough Americans who realize that their lives, their children's lives, and everything they hold dear hinges on decisive action. The needed transformation can be achieved quickly, despite the political deadlock and the massive influence of the fossil fuel industry.
The transformation of our carbon-intensive system can only succeed by raising public support, an effort that must be funded by billions of philanthropic dollars and must be on the scale of a presidential campaign.
What is the point of sitting on this vast sum in a world irredeemably on course for a 6°C temperature rise and beyond? … How would [philanthropists] answer if their children were to ask in 2025, say, in a world staring down the barrel of a runaway greenhouse effect, why they had not thrown their hundreds of billions into the fight when there was still a chance?
—JEREMY LEGGETT, from “The Energy of Nations”
Founder and chairman, Solarcentury, founder and chairman of SolarAid and chairman of the Carbon Tracker Initiative
Effective climate action is the most urgent imperative facing humanity. It overshadows all other national and global challenges. Indeed, all efforts toward improving public health, international security, food security, eradicating poverty, and many other areas will be in vain without climate stabilization.
The primary push for mobilization must come from a grassroots campaign.
The failed attempt at federal climate legislation in 2009-10 (American Clean Energy and Security Act) makes it obvious that a top down, insider-deal, DC Beltway approach simply does not work. However, during the same time period, the grassroots defense of California's climate law, Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) was very successful, in spite of such challenges as the lagging economy and powerful fossil fuel interests.
Photo: Communities United Against Dirty Energy Prop 23
Addressing Core Causes
In combating climate change, philanthropy must adjust priorities and focus on root causes rather than symptoms. In this case, the central issue is the perverse, financial incentive towards ruining our common atmosphere. The culture-wide incentive to burn carbon must be removed through a carbon price, as the major US policy needed to drive a broad reduction of emissions.
ATL's Strategic Plan suggests a major shift in climate-related philanthropic funding—from a focus on technological mitigation and top-down deal making to a focus on catalyzing bottom-up social change.
Philanthropy will play a constructive and decisive role by alerting and engaging society on a large scale, to catalyze action and policy change. Philanthropy itself could play an active role in engaging scientists, movement leaders, key societal leaders, and in warning the public in order to catalyze action at the relevant scope, scale, and urgency. A minority of citizens—even a small percentage—can catalyze change if committed, strategic, and organized.
2012 Foundation Center Grant Sample: Climate Change %
All grants of $10,000 or more in a 2012 selection of larger 1000 US private and community foundations. Only 1.2% was directed towards climate change—$266 million out of $22.4 billion for all categories.
Achieving a mobilization quickly will require a multi-faceted campaign: (1) a compelling media warning campaign, (2) an educational program, (3) a major grassroots mobilization, and (4) a political campaign. Such an initiative would require billions of dollars on the scale of a presidential campaign, yet current climate giving is only a tiny sliver of whole charitable pie. Moreover, very little currently goes toward educating and organizing the public, which will be required to avert disaster in time.
Initial funding for the kind of large-scale coordinated effort outlined in our larger plan could come from donors participating in a Climate Coalition Fund.
Philanthropy is the key first responder, given its cultural credibility, legitimacy, and its extensive financial resources. If it could perceive its position and possibility, it might pull out all the stops, as all humanitarian programs will be burned up in the searing heat if we do not meet the climate challenges.
Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, 2014 6th Annual Summit
Photo: Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact
Philanthropy is the cultural agent to fulfill a "Paul Revere" role in shifting the public dialogue by underwriting an extensive media warning campaign. It has the mission to care for humanity as a whole, and it has the tenability and massive resources to fulfill that role. Like Paul Revere warned the Colonial militia of approaching British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord, philanthropy can warn the public through media outreach that climate destabilization is a real and deadly threat to all that we hold dear.
A consortium of philanthropies and foundations can convey the climate threat with broad media exposure similar to what is executed in a presidential campaign, which captures the attention of the entire nation. It is ubiquitous, impossible to ignore, and its reach extends to all demographic groups, to become the cultural conversation.
Philanthropy has the resources to fund a campaign of public service announcements and special programming for all available media. The Media Campaign thus amplifies the scientific findings and the necessity for climate stabilization. It shifts the climate conversation towards the facts and the reality we face. It provides an inescapable drumbeat from all directions, calling people to education and action.
We as a country and as a planet face a fundamental threat. … Until we start with that conversation, it's very hard for me to see how we ultimately lead to the national policies that are going to be required, much less the international policies that are also going to be required.
Director, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication
It is through our web of associations and relationships that we best develop understanding and emotional response—by arriving at a social interpretation of the data. Sociologist Robert Brulle, Drexel University, says that engaging people face-to-face is "the only way to achieve real, lasting change [for the climate]." We are relational creatures, and we get involved when people that we know and respect get involved.
Engaging, Informing, and Galvanizing Americans
A consensus on US Climate Mobilization must come quickly. If achieved within a couple of years, the US can achieve the target of net zero-emissions within a decade. To achieve the degree of transformation required—even including the conservative Congress—we only need 3-4% of the population joining the call for mobilization with us. That means recruiting enough mobilizers through an Climate Emergency Coalition Campaign that provides personal, face-to-face dialogue, and moral conversations.
The initiative galvanizes those most concerned about the climate threat, thus building a decisive climate coalition. Change of this magnitude can only happen through organizing while raising and deepening public awareness.
The curriculum is riveting and inspiring. It is designed to catalyze action and precipitate appropriate responses. Citizens must understand how quickly and effectively we must respond to avert climate chaos. They must appreciate the details of the encroaching climate crisis, the necessity of an all-out mobilization, the advantages of a carbon price and its affordability, climate justice issues, and why the US must lead. We explain the scope, scale and urgency of the crisis; in addition we explain why a coalition is the necessary response to uniquely meet these daunting challenges.
The Yale Project for Climate Change Communications researched Americans' understanding of the subject. The study, "Americans' Knowledge of Climate Change" states that although a solid majority (63 percent) grasped that global warming is happening, many did not know why. The study found that "only 8 percent would have the knowledge equivalent to an A or B, 40 percent would receive a C or D, and 52 percent would get an F." Oddly, Americans are aware of their own lack of information. Only 10 percent said they are "very well informed." Sixty-eight percent would welcome a national program to teach Americans about the issue.
Image: Daily per capita emissions (actual volume of carbon dioxide), www.carbonvisuals.com
The education can take the form of a series of evening events or workshops in civic spaces and congregation social halls, and also as teach-ins at universities.
There are already tens of thousands of faith social halls and civic auditoriums ready to host this cultural conversation.
The climate activist movement itself must also be provided with support and resources to better reach the culture. The movement must now win a critical number of motivated citizens who can demand a society-wide mobilization. A comprehensive, effective effort must include local-national coordination, education, direct action, and outreach in order to grow the movement and achieve a national carbon price policy. As the movement expands, we can become as consequential as voters were following the First Earth Day.
A large-scale movement can only be built through a broad coalition of organizations and networks— a climate coalition. A broad coalition builds power and conveys that it represents Americans and their concerns: that we are all at risk from climate disruption. A coalition networks and unifies a large alliance of grassroots groups to raise their collective voice and coordinate national actions, in calling for an all-out mobilization, with US net zero emissions within a decade as the goal. The campaign must convey specifics of what is needed: such as the necessity of a mobilization and of a carbon tax, why the US must lead, and the urgent timeframe for effective action.
Photo: Mark J P / flickr
A wide range of tactics will keep the issue alive before the public:
- Direct outreach, persuasion, recruitment and organizing: Conversations with peers, petitioning, tabling, public speaking, house meetings, leafleting, discussion groups, street speaking, phone banks, door-to-door, and leadership development. These tactics are crucial for expanding the movement.
- Broader persuasion: Rallies, marches, street speaking, street theater, flash mobs, blogging, events, concerts, campus tours, letters to editor, public forums, debates.
- Confrontational direct action: Blockades, disruptions, lockdowns, sit-ins, banner drops, occupations. This includes coordinated action and advocacy at strategic and symbolic sites across the nation, demanding a carbon tax as the goal.
- Political advocacy: As the movement grows to mass scale, tactics for directly pressuring Congress, Obama, and the political system through traditional channels will be emphasized.
Participating groups will organize tactics that reflect their own approach.
The leadership of ATL has the experience to mobilize the campaign—having achieved state and national policy change before, in a three-year timeframe. ATL has the strategy and tactics ready to go now, and has over 10,000 social halls and auditoriums ready to host the education and advocacy parts of the campaign.
Join us in working to achieve climate stabilization and a livable future.
The above efforts must also be supported by an effective political strategy that leads to national policies that drastically reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.
- Galvanize and organize broad public support. Congress follows the public. Once the public understands what must be done, by when, and why—change can quickly happen. A price on carbon is a natural by-product of public understanding, motivation, and organizing.
- Activate and align faith communities for climate advocacy. Congregations can play pivotal roles in hosting moral conversations and public classes in their social halls, and activating their members.
- Activate and align the business community to send a clear message about the need for the pricing of carbon pollution and other policy measures. Growing numbers of businesses, large and small, are increasingly concerned about climate change’s risk to their bottom line.
- Activate and align communities of color for climate advocacy. Latino, African American, and Asian American groups played a pivotal role in the 2010 California’s “No on Prop 23” success. Communities of color are among those most concerned about the climate issue.
- Activate the healthcare community by raising awareness of the public health crisis from fossil fuel use and climate change.
- Connect with key leaders and influencers to reach out to key policy makers and to engage further political support by activating their networks.
Remember that 3.5% of the population can galvanize significant change.
 Political scientist Erica Chenoweth studied nonviolent revolution and found that the active, sustained participation of just 3.5% of citizens could transform the politics of a nation. See: Erica Chenoweth, My Talk at TEDxBoulder: Civil Resistance and the “3.5% Rule,” Rational Insurgent, November 4, 2013.
 Petra Bartosiewicz and Marrisa May, Too Polite Revolution: Why the Recent Campaign to Pass Comprehensive Climate Legislation in the United States Failed, Columbia Journalism School Centennial Report, January 2013.
 Catherine Lerza, A Perfect Storm: Lessons from the Defeat of Proposition 23, Funders Network on Transforming the Global Economy, September 2011.
 Robert Brulle, From Environmental Campaigns to Advancing the Public Dialogue: Environmental Communication for Civic Engagement, Environmental Communications, March 17, 2010, pp. 82-98.
 Andrew Breiner, “Small Business Owners: Climate Action Will Protect Our Livelihoods,” ClimateProgress.com, June 25, 2014. 87 percent of small business owners believe climate change could harm their businesses in the future. 65 percent support government regulation of carbon pollution. Josh Israel, “Major Companies Distance Themselves From US Chamber Campaign Against Obama’s Climate Plan,” June 3, 2014.
 Mark Hertsgaard, “Latinos Are Ready to Fight Climate Change—Are Green Groups Ready for Them?” The Nation, December 24, 2012. Nine-minute film on diversity in “No on 23”: Mark Decena, nine-minute film, “Where We Live: The Changing Face of Climate Activism,” EDGE Funders Alliance, Solidago Foundation and Kontent Films, 2011.
 See Footnote 1.
Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders, by Sarah Hansen, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, February 2012