Emery Kiefer (NR): The Climate Reality Project

It’s very possible that my favorite party trick is to open up about how Al Gore was my boss for the summer. It prompts a rather large range of reactions and it’s quite amusing for my pleasure. The truth is, Al Gore wasn’t really my boss, he was my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, but hey, close enough, right?

This past summer, I was lucky enough to do climate action organizing from campus to the national level with the Climate Reality Project. I was flattered and honored to work for such a prestigious environmental organization, one that had always been one on my list of dream organizations.

The Climate Reality Project is an international nonprofit founded in 2007 by Nobel Laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore. He founded the organization after his Academy Award-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, moved many Americans to act on climate change. He began educating everyday people on the importance and necessity of climate action to let them share the same message with people in their own networks. Climate Reality’s success has allowed them to explore new initiatives such as urging communities that rely on snow for economic growth, like Colorado skiing communities, to move to 100 percent renewable electricity. They also host educational events like a televised 24-hour show, giving updates on climate science and solutions, along with celebrity guests, musicians, scientists, and world leaders. I am part of The Climate Reality Project Campus Corps.

Campus Corps was born after a semester-long campaign in Fall 2015, called Know Tomorrow. The campaign focused on having millennials call upon President Obama and other world leaders to make a strong agreement at the UN Climate Talks in Paris. NC State alone sent more than 5,000 signatures and received a Thank You letter from President Obama. With that overwhelming success, Climate Reality believed that it was time to upgrade from a short, one-semester campaign to a full-blown, active student group.

I moved to Washington, D.C., to begin my work creating a program for students across the United States to combat climate change on their own campuses. Campus Corps’ goal is to build student pressure on university administration to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity by the year 2030. My job was to make a viable plan for campuses, including NC State. I worked closely with my supervisor, who treated me more as an equal rather than an intern. He valued my previous experience in leading an environmental student-led movement on campus and I valued his expertise and openness. Together we were a great team in starting a movement that will impact campuses across the nation.

My job was creating material for campuses to use for executing their campaign. This included writing campaign plans, scripts, how-to guides, trainings, and defining student leader positions. All of this was compiled into a manual of more than 200 pages. Writing a manual may sound dull, and parts of it really were, but it was extremely educational and rewarding. It felt amazing to create something so tangible and to know that students all across the world – all working toward the same goal – would read my words and advice to make the world a better place.

After creating the manual, I focused my time on recruiting. I was sent to Philadelphia to be a speaker at PowerShift, a conference on climate action for millennial-aged students. I made connections across the country and worked to start and train new chapters. At first, it was strange to be a student teaching other students, but it helped me realize exactly how much I’ve learned and that I had truly become an expert on all things Campus Corps.

As enjoyable I found my work to be, my after work hours were often dismal. I had moved to the United States’ seventh largest city where I literally knew no one. It was difficult to meet friends outside of work, and I spent much of my time alone. The isolation was particularly problematic for me as an extrovert. After work, I would spend hours just walking around the city so I wouldn’t have to go home and be alone. I’m sure if I had more than two and a half months, I could have made more friends, but being confined to work hours and a temporary stay, it was hard to meet and make lasting friendships.

After returning from D.C., I implemented all of the materials that I had tirelessly worked on all summer, and at NC State, it was a success. At the very beginning of the year, we met with the Sustainability Office and Chancellor Woodson. Both pretty much said; “it’s impossible.” Now, as we close out the semester with more than 4,200 student signatures, more than 30 professional endorsements, and countless events throughout the year, we have shifted the opinion of the administration to investigating the feasibility of this as an option for NC State. Our work is not done, but we moved the needle from a solid no to a yes-leaning maybe. I am proud of all the work we’ve done.

I’m also proud of the team that has arisen from my organization. I have more than 10 executive teams with an organization of 100+ active members. It has been a delight and an inspiration to see students right here on campus take a stand for climate action and know that I am not alone on this journey.

All and all, I loved my internship experience. It’s shocking to have learned so much in such a short time and I feel confident that I made a lasting impression. In fact, Climate Reality has already asked me to return next summer and continue working for them until I graduate. I have an inkling that they want me to stick around for quite some time, which is so comforting and exciting. I hope to continue my work with environmental nonprofits and hey, maybe someday Al Gore really will be my boss.

To learn more about Campus Corps at NC State’s latest achievement, check out this article in the News and Observer: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article115478613.html