Climate Walt talks Climate Change

Monday, April 9, 2007

To say that the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth had an effect on the political landscape would be something of an understatement. The film, based on former US Vice-President Al Gore’s touring power-point presentation about global warming, was not only one of the most successful documentaries of all time, but it’s also at the centre of an attitudinal shift in public reaction to climate change. False praise, you say? Well, just ask Walt Palmer. After seeing An Inconvenient Truth, he decided to get more involved, and at the film’s website he found a way. Gore was out to train 1000 people to travel about and give his presentation, and he was looking for enthusiastic volunteers. Three days of training in Nashville and a dozen separate performances of the presentation later, Mr. Palmer was earned his environmental knighthood as he continues to fight the climate change crusade. He dubs himself “Climate Walt”, and he recently sat down with the Cannon.ca to talk about it.

Adam A. Donaldson: What made you want to get involved with issues around Climate Change?

Climate Walt Palmer: I’ve always been interested in climate issues and social issues; I’m interested in the world’s life. I saw the movie and was very impressed with it. I had done quite a bit of reading on the subject and I thought that [the movie] was the clearest explanation of the issue I’d ever seen. So I went to the website and it turned out there was an opportunity to volunteer for the Climate Project and I put my name in on the online application. I don’t know what criteria they sorted by, but their goal’s been to get a thousand people and initially their organization couldn’t accept applications from Canada. So I pestered them quite a bit by phone and e-mail, and other people had the same problem.

AAD: So is the goal of this project to get a spokesperson in every sort of rough geographic area?

CWP: That I can’t comment on. I don’t know the geographical distribution of the successful applicants or if at a certain point they’re like, “We have enough from California, we need to get more in Texas.” I really don’t know how that played out at all. I do know that there were people from all over the US including Hawaii, and a few people from other places like Mexico and Spain. There were a couple of other Canadians in my course as well.

AAD: What kind of training and course work was involved?

CWP: It was three days, well… about two-and-half days of training. Day one was about half a day of registering and schmoozing and getting to know each other and meeting some of the people in the organization. Then there was a big dinner and Al Gore made an opening speech. The next day was a day-long session with Al Gore, he went through the whole slide show and talked about it end-to-end and then took us through it again, explaining each slide. There were scientific resources there, a lot of big name scientists ready to answer questions. And then the third day was on presentation skills, we spent a day with a guy that helps you develop good presentation skills and doing good presentations.

AAD: So, you actually got the chance to meet Al Gore and learn from him. What were your impressions of him personally?

CWP: I’ve found in the past that he had a reputation for being a very stiff and wooden kind of guy. I had never really thought about it at all, and I was never really that interested in his personality. But what all of us found was that he was remarkably relaxed, very funny, very, very interesting to listen to, and of course he’s totally in command of the material. He’s been to a lot of places and knows a lot of people, obviously, so he has a lot to talk about and he’s a really fun guy to spend time with. The first day, we went from working breakfast through dinner in the evening and there were no boring moments.

AAD: Part of what you do with the presentation is that you customize it to the area you’re performing it in, is that right?

CWP: We all do, even Al Gore does. You customize it from the basic slide deck and you modify it for your own style a little bit and then you select from the slide deck according to the particular audience you’re giving the presentation to and then you create slides and add little things in your commentary. You adjust things for your audience with things that have been going on recently, like if there’s a major news story, you might make reference to that.

AAD: How has it been going so far with the presentations?

CWP: They go very well, they’re very well received. I’m very ambitious about building the audience so I’m working on that. It’s a lot of new knowledge to me about the tools you need to build an audience. I’m trying to figure out ways of attracting requests for presentations while trying to balance the time, because obviously I’m spending a lot of time doing them and now I’m trying to move it in a direction of finding bigger audiences. Even at this lax pace, I’m finding that I’m filling to capacity and obviously I want bigger crowds, so I’m trying to get in touch with people who can put me in front of larger audiences. I also need to figure out how to market the presentation so I can get the maximum number of people I can get. We don’t sell-out though because it’s all volunteer.

AAD: What’s your day job by the way?

CWP: I’m an airline pilot.

AAD: Really?

CWP: It’s interesting because I have to talk about that in the presentation and try to address it.

AAD: Because of carbon footprints and all that.

CWP: Right.

AAD: What about the crowds you’re attracting, is it more than just people who are already knowledgeable about the issue? Is it curiosity seekers who remember the movie?

CWP: In some of the larger crowds I don’t have a good way of knowing who’s there, but during the Q&A’s I would say that I’m getting people who are knowledgeable and people who aren’t very knowledgeable. There’s a lot preaching to the converted and there are some sceptics. Preaching to the converted by the way is not a problem for me because I think one of the issues we’re facing right now is we’re paralyzed with knowledge. Especially in Canada as compared to the US, our knowledge here is higher. We’re not acting any better yet, but our knowledge and our philosophical preparedness to do something is higher. What we don’t have is subtle understanding about what we’re going to do about the problem and how we’ll cope. So when I do the presentation and we’re able to get into Question & Answer about next steps, that’s really when the added value comes in and that’s why I don’t mind having an audience of people in agreement with the prevailing view of the science.

AAD: Is that kind of reaction common; that there’s a great ground swell of people that want to do something, but lack the direction?

CWP: Oh, absolutely! That’s the biggest thing about this and that’s not only at my presentations but in the newspaper. The Canadian public has a very lively interest in this and a very heightened sense of awareness and there’s a substantial void in terms of a well-reasoned general approach as to what we’re going to do about this. So far the reaction from our community and our politicians has sort of been stumbling a little bit.

AAD: I image that’s one of the more common questions you get at the Q&A, people asking what they can do themselves.

CWP: Yeah, and I try and answer that by giving people a few things that they can do to lower their carbon footprint. But then we have to move things to the policy and try and expand the discussion in our community and interest the policy makers with the fact that you have a heightened sense of concern and awareness. So I encourage people to talk to there friends about it frankly, don’t be shy to express your views; write a letter to the editor and talk to your local politicians.

If your interested in hosting Climate Walt you can e-mail him at and mention “Request Slideshow” in the subject line. Look for Climate Walt’s website coming soon.

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