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The CLEO Project on Climate: Bridging the Divide Between Science and Society!

Caroline Lewis shares her story about the founding of CLEO Project on Climate.

Caroline LewisCaroline Lewis is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a Community Resilience Leader.

I embraced this goal with tremendous optimism when I created the CLEO Project on Climate. Now, some three years later, things have changed. Almost on a daily basis, I must guard my energy and confidence against being sapped, as I work in earnest along this recklessly slow road to my desired end.  The good news is that thousands of individuals and institutions have this same goal and have invested mightily in education and engagement efforts. The bad news is we still seem to be swimming upstream. It is time to turn this ship. This White House recognition is a tremendous honor, but it is the opportunity to spur meaningful change that truly excites me.

In 2010, we founded the CLEO Institute to promote real change on a big scale. This small but mighty non-profit, based in Pinecrest Gardens in South Florida, advances environmental literacy and civic engagement by developing initiatives that can be scaled and replicated.  We focus on Creative Learning and Engagement Opportunities (hence, CLEO) to promote and celebrate participation by broad audiences. This means providing multiple opportunities for engagement by intergenerational, interdisciplinary, and socially diverse audiences. The CLEO Project on Climate (CPOC) is designed to trigger community conversations within varied social, cultural, economic, academic, religious and political gatherings. It also provides opportunities for deeper learning through basic and advanced climate education and communication training.

Phases I and II of the CPOC encourage participants to find and share their voices on climate change issues. We have already logged well over a thousand written and videotaped Phase I responses to the Project Question: What is climate change all about, and what’s my role? For Phase II, CLEO partners with scientists, educators and communicators to train hundreds of individuals as part of the Empowering Capable Climate Communicators Series. Trainees then join CLEO’s online Phase II Speakers Network and develop their own outreach plans.  Additionally, the CPOC includes climate-related forums, film screenings, science cafes, panel discussions, showcases and contests. Through these related Phases and events, we mobilize schools, colleges, businesses, organizations, and government offices to participate in fact-driven dialogues describing what we know about climate change, the forces that likely affect it, and scalable solutions.

We are proud of the CLEO Project on Climate. It uses the powerful vehicles of both formal and informal education to mainstream climate science and build climate literacy. The CPOC is inclusive and celebratory, and the use of web and social media is a key contributor to motivating very large, diverse audiences.  And the public response has been extraordinary. We work with principals, teachers, college professors, students, elected officials, artists, bankers, doctors, lawyers, civic and community leaders, and concerned citizens.  We believe an educated citizenry is better able to make personal changes and to respond to robust efforts toward climate resilience. In our region, Miami-Dade County’s GreenPrint and the four-county Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact action plan are excellent examples that need support from a more engaged and informed public. Climate science is serious and complicated, and becoming climate-literate is a journey.

I expect climate change will be THE defining issue of this century, and many centuries henceforth, with respect to economic, environmental, and humanitarian vulnerability. Climate science desperately needs honest attention so we can invest in immediate, sweeping, sustained action towards mitigation and adaptation efforts. And we need this YESTERDAY! How do we make this happen? Each of us should embrace our unique power to influence others and to champion change.  I know I blaze through life armed with the surety that we influence and are influenced by others, sometimes when we least expect it. Dare I dream? I must. I believe we will turn this ship, and efforts like the CLEO Project on Climate help us become agents of change. I believe we will influence our leaders and each other.  I believe our leaders, on the right and on the left, together with everyone in between, will steer us in the right direction, not further into harm's way.  I believe this, and I want you to believe this, too.

I accept this honor with the full knowledge that we all stand on the shoulders of other champions.  I am fortunate that so many have shaped, supported and inspired me, and I celebrate them all.

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Caroline Lewis is the founder and executive director of the CLEO Institute at Pinecrest Gardens.