Prove your humanity

While the Trump administration announced the U.S. would be withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, other countries, and cities, are working on ways to reduce their carbon emissions to be climate leaders. There are luminaries in the fight against global warming, like Angela Merkel and activist Bill McKibben. But what about the rest of us?

Lisa Minetti has been thinking a lot about what she can do. Minetti has been a teacher and a designer of online education programs for universities. But she recently retired.

“I am on a sabbatical of sorts, thinking about what I’d like to do next in my life,” Minetti says.

That’s why she signed up for three days of the Climate Reality Project’s leadership training in Pittsburgh this fall. She joined about 1300 other people looking to convince their friends, neighbors and anyone who will listen, that climate change is real, and that moving away from fossil fuels is the way to stop it.

Fossil fuels were already on Minetti’s radar. She’d moved back to her hometown of Pittsburgh last year, after her career had taken her to Philadelphia and New York. She couldn’t believe the extent that fracking for natural gas had taken hold in the region in the years since she’d left. A tightness in her chest also proved to her that Pittsburgh’s industrial past wasn’t really in the past.

“I didn’t have asthma for 15 years when I lived in Philly and New York. But when I came back to Pittsburgh, I had asthma again,” Minetti says.

LISTEN: “The Making of a Climate Activist”

Minetti isn’t a stranger to activism, either. In her 20s she bought a house in Pittsburgh’s Greenfield neighborhood. When there was talk that a nearby, former industrial site might once again become a working coke plant, she joined the movement to stop it. And they did.

“I remember that feeling like, ‘We won, we won…isn’t this great?’ But then I also realized, ‘Oh my gosh. This really consumes you,’” Minetti says. “And I was a young professional with other things on my mind and I was like, ‘I’m going to stay away from these activists because they’re a little bit crazy.’”

But now Minetti is thinking she might actually be one of those “crazies,” and that climate change could be part of her next chapter.

Before the training, Minetti didn’t feel all that confident talking about climate change. She follows the news, and has seen Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” documentary, and the sequel. But she felt like the language she had to describe the changing climate was lacking in the specifics.

“I’m not able to explain concisely where we are today, what we know, and what the major strategies are for solving this issue,” she admits.

But at the training in October, Minetti says she got a lot of what she was searching for. She was surrounded by the positivity she craved, with all of those activists in the same room. She says she also wanted to meet local people who are already doing good work, and hear from scientists to get those crucial fact and figures about the impacts of climate change.

Al Gore stands with climate activist trainees at the convention center in Pittsburgh. Lisa Minetti is in there somewhere. Photo: Climate Reality Project

And she got a lot out of Al Gore’s famous slide show presentation. The former vice president and Climate Reality Project’s founder and chairman gives a 2-hour talk with PowerPoint.

“He was brilliant. He was exemplary as a speaker,” Minetti says. “He gave so much valuable information that I felt extremely energized by that.”

The original slide show, and a ten-minute version, is available for trainees to learn to give, and even add or take out slides to tailor it to their audiences.

Minetti made a lot of connections, which she talks passionately about, although she says some of that is just how she speaks. Now she’s talking about warming oceans and how the phenomenon creates weather patterns that contribute to stronger storms, like Hurricane Harvey and the rains that devastated Bangladesh. When she learned about a predicted drop in the amount of corn and wheat that could be grown because of global warming, it reinforced a decision she’d already made to work on getting people to eat less meat to reduce greenhouse gases, since so much of those crops go into feeding livestock.

“I’ve devoted my life to education, and now I think that climate change is the biggest issue facing us as a species.”

But Minetti’s not sure how she’ll use what she’s learned. For one thing, as a learning designer, a training consisting of three days of lectures and panels was a little off putting. She says people need to practice what’s been preached, to really synthesize all of the information. And she would have liked more time to talk with other trainees, some of whom travelled to Pittsburgh from other regions and countries.

She’s thinking she’ll focus less on lecturing, and more on experiences, to change people’s minds and get them to act with more urgency. And Minetti and her husband are starting a blog.

“We think we’re going to call it Two Canaries, because that’s what we feel like, and we like birds,” Minetti says with a laugh.

Minetti feels like a canary, and the coal mine is this western Pennsylvania region, which relies on coal and natural gas for energy and economic growth. She says one of the things they’ll do through the blog is provide form letters or postcards that people can use to influence policymakers. Minetti says she’s confident that if Pennsylvania can start investing more in renewable energy, any state or region can. And if it doesn’t change, she’s not sure she wants to keep living in Pittsburgh. The pollution is taking its toll.

But she’s not giving up yet. Minetti is going to an upcoming Allegheny County Health Department meeting to demand better pollution controls at the Clairton Coke Works across the river. And she’s still mulling over ways she can turn her skills into social change.

“I’m thinking about what I want to do with the second half of my life. It’s a classic midlife reflection,” Minetti says. “I’ve devoted my life to education, and ensuring people had the knowledge, skills and tools that they needed to succeed. And now I think that really climate change is the biggest issue facing us as a species.”