Reflections from Global Climate Action Week

Thoughts on what makes an impactful event, the intersection of health and climate, leaders’ motives, and alternative economic models.

[Read my Privilege Statement]

I had the privilege of participating in a few activities for the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS). Here’s a recap.

San Francisco Climate Braintrust

The Circle of Trust opening session at the SF Climate Braintrust.

I kicked off the week co-leading the San Francisco Climate Braintrust on behalf of the SF Hub of the Global Shapers, along with a great team. We hosted at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the beautiful Presidio neighborhood of SF.

We gathered 10 young climate entrepreneurs with 60 climate and business experts for a day of trust building and problem solving. Each entrepreneur presented their primary challenge to a curated braintrust made up of 6–10 advisers, followed by facilitated discussion and brainstorming.

I was nervous to co-lead this event; I have major impostor syndrome in the climate space because I am not fluent in the mechanics of renewable energy or biological processes. But, I learn best by doing, so I jumped in.

The event was fun and energizing, especially the braintrusts. I facilitated braintrusts for the founders of EVMatch (an EV charger sharing app) and Shiftworks (interactive art and installations for climate change education).

Facilitating a braintrust session for Johanna Hoffman of Shiftworks.

We received constructive feedback, including suggestions to lengthen braintrust sessions, integrate entrepreneurs into each other’s braintrusts, and better design workshops for the collective needs of the entrepreneurs.

We got really positive feedback, too, from both the entrepreneurs and advisers. One entrepreneur said:

“I’ve come away from the Braintrust with a mountain of ideas and invaluable advice that you collectively shared. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve left inspired by the altruism in this like-mined community — which you’ve chosen to be a part of. Thank you , deeply, for committing your time and effort.”

This event reinforced my belief that it’s useful to bring together diverse groups of people around a challenge, especially when oriented towards amplifying the work of someone dedicating their life to a cause. It was a great way to start off the week.

Global Climate Talking Summit

I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to attend GCAS through the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of WEF to get leaders under 30 years old a seat at the table. My goal was to learn more about what healthcare companies are doing at the intersection of climate and health, specifically looking for examples and cases that I could bring back to my employer.

I was not sure what to expect, but I was hoping for something incredible to offset my discomfort due to the carbon footprint from all the travel to the conference and the hypocrisies of Governor Jerry Brown’s own climate policies. The protests outside of the conference resonated with me, so I wore a pin inside to show my solidarity.

For an ‘action summit’, there was a whole lot of talking. The sessions were almost all in panel format, with no opportunities for Q&A.

I’m thrilled that business and government leaders announced their bold, ambitious goals and targets for transitioning to renewable energy and achieving zero carbon emissions, but did we really need 4,000+ people to fly to San Francisco for that? We missed an opportunity to truly strategize and act collaboratively.

I shared most of these feelings in a quick interview at the Summit. I have no idea where this video was posted. I never signed a consent form, so maybe they were just pretending to film?

Nevertheless, I did learn a few things. Many leaders mentioned health as a reason for getting into the climate change fight, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Chef José Andrés, American Federation of Labor President Richard Trumka, and Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Benioff added that his millennial employees were demanding that he and the company take action — a phenomenon mentioned in a previous post that I plan to dig into more.

I enjoyed hearing Bernard Tyson discuss Kaiser Permanente’s stance on climate change, focusing on the direct impact on health and health systems.

“I am down with Mother Earth!”

— Bernard Tyson, Kaiser Permanente

I attended the “Health: Where Climate Change Hits Home” session, where I learned more about how health systems are partnering to reduce their environmental footprint, through organizations like Health Care Without Harm.

Dr. Maria Neira from the World Health Organization (WHO) linked the health and financial burden of climate change when she said,

“The cost of climate change is paid by our lungs, brains, and hearts.”

— Dr. Maria Neira, WHO

She meant it literally. WHO estimates that 7 million people died from air pollution alone in 2012. Morbidity estimates are even greater, and health systems and payers are footing the bill.

I was most inspired by the indigenous leaders at GCAS — like Francisca Oliveira de Lima Costa and Eriel Deranger — who emphasized that the health sector’s conclusions on the impact of climate on health and social determinants align with their native culture and teachings. Deranger stressed the importance of taking an equity lens, and specifically investigating how colonization and forced assimilation eroded the health of communities. I’m confident that we will find solutions through understanding indigenous beliefs and practices.

I found a lot of value in attending GCAS with my fellow Global Shapers — they are doing amazing things around the world, and a few were featured on the main stage and breakout sessions. Their leadership makes me feel more optimistic about the future.

Global Shapers crew at GCAS.

EQ Sprint

Founded by environmentalists, designers, and large-scale concert producers, EQ is taking a bold approach to climate innovation, which weaves ideation workshops with immersive experiences.

The day started with a few speakers, most notably Amanda Ravenill from the Buckminster Fuller Institute who talked about Planetary Thinking — a practice which essentially means systems thinking for the entire system. It reminded me that while many of us in the social impact space use human-centered design, we really need to practice earth-centered design. One of my favorite quotes:

“Earth has done 3.5 billion years of R&D”.

— Amanda Ravenhill, Buckminster Fuller Institute

After a fresh and local picnic lunch in Alamo Square, we broke out into our workshop groups: Water, Space, Waste, Biodiversity, and Energy (which I facilitated). Similar to the Braintrust event, the groups were made up of brilliant folks from all walks of life and work. However, we started from a place of greater ambiguity as we had to create our own “how might we” questions and get to our refined concepts within a couple of hours. Our final concept focused on how to change individual energy use behavior and how to make access to clean energy more equitable.

The exercise was fun, and I did learn a lot about the current state of the energy sector through our conversation, but the concepts were not as informed as they could’ve been. Maybe that’s a good thing, and maybe that’s the point.

Robert Suarez of EQ kicking off final concept pitches.

We finished the night with dinner and a musical performance. This event incorporated all of our senses and empowered our creativity.

My take

This week reinforced that many of us learn better and are energized by highly interactive and collaborative events, even if we are utterly exhausted afterwards. These events are made better with cross-generational, multi-sector, getting-your-hands-dirty type of work, especially for the purpose of amplifying existing entrepreneurial endeavors.

The announcements and commitments made this week inspired a newfound hope for the role of businesses in addressing climate change. Many leaders stated their own relationships to nature as a major reason for the urgency behind their actions.

I also made a commitment: to educate myself about alternative economic models to degenerative capitalism. I’ve been hesitant to do so because these models are often labeled as alternative, radical, or unrealistic. However, there is a growing movement of business leaders, elected representatives, and communities who are starting to map out practical and purposeful approaches. Danone is becoming a B Corporation, Patagonia already is one and is continuing to lead the charge in regenerative business models.

I’m furthering my education by reading Doughnut Economics, which posits that the goal of our economy is to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems.

The Doughnut. Source: Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth.

The end :)

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