Fighting climate change, with crowd funding and Google Hangouts

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Lauren Wood is a climate change activist who was selected as a fellow for Hero Hatchery.

A young San Francisco couple, Ryan Kushner and Amanda Ravenhill, are trying out a new approach to climate change activism that they hope will ultimately reach thousands of people via online videos and interactive web-based trainings.

Called Hero Hatchery, the ambitious project launched earlier this week. Celebrity-status environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, head of 350.org, and Tim DeChristopher, who made headlines for throwing a monkey wrench into a Bureau of Land Management auction, will lead free weekly online trainings on climate change, administered via Google Hangout, as part of the effort.

Concurrently with the massive open online training, they’re hoping to generate wind in the sails of a queer climate activist, Lauren Wood, who worked alongside other climate activists to start an organization called Peaceful Uprising in Southern Utah and has been designated as a Hero Hatchery fellow. When not working as a restaurant server to make ends meet, Wood spends her days organizing against the expansion of mining operations in Southern Utah. She got started through support work for DeChristopher, who spent two years in prison for derailing a federal land auction by bidding on parcels that were about to be opened up to mining.

An underlying goal of Hero Hatchery, Kushner said in a recent phone interview, is to reframe a debate that’s all-too-often controlled by PR strategists hired by corporate oil and gas interests. To this end, the plan is to use crowd funding to generate enough money for the fellowship, and to hire their very own professional-grade PR machine.

Kushner and Ravenhill met at the Presidio Graduate School, a San Francisco institution, where they earned MBAs in sustainable business. They traveled to Washington, D.C. last year and got arrested at the Keystone XL pipeline protests outside the White House, alongside activists from 350.org.

Their approach to activism seems to be less about staying at a public hearing till the wee hours to try and halt a mining permit from being issued, and more about using laptops to generate a buzz that can be converted into a form of popular pressure. There are thousands of environmental organizations doing grassroots organizing nationwide; rather than honing in on a specific issue, the Hero Hatchery team seeks to position itself as a kind of megaphone to amplify existing work. Kushner likes to use the word “elevate” when describing how Hero Hatchery will lend assistance to Wood, whom he hopes will be the first of many fellows.

Wood is the daughter of two river guides, and grew up rafting in Southern Utah, where she spent five years as a river guide in her own right. Now, her organization is focused on challenging open pit mining operations that have broken ground at PR Springs on the Tavaputs Plateau, which sits near the top of the drainage to the Green and Colorado river systems.

“The Green River and the Colorado River: they’re the front lines,” she told us, speaking by phone from Salt Lake City, where she was born and raised. Her connection to the rivers brought “this climate change problem into my heart and my gut,” she said.

She said she’d seen river-rafting companies that could no longer operate because the water is running so low, due to drought conditions. Mining operations will only consume more water, making the problem worse.

But as a Hero Hatchery fellow, Wood has bigger plans than just telling the story of what's happening in her own backyard. She wants to get the word out about a wide variety of campaigns focused on climate change as a way to help support a more cohesive national climate movement.

“I think what I’m most excited about with this project is acting as the veins in a body, and acting as the interconnection between people who want to get involved and don’t know how,” she said.  “This movement is increasingly interconnected. I want to be able to go around the country and talk to different communities about what it’s going to take to build a national movement.”

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