Quick, name all the heroes of the climate change movement. If you pay even just a little bit of attention to the topic, you're probably thinking about Al Gore, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, and Green for All founder Van Jones. Those are the big ones--the names that certain Americans outside the climate movement can recite. But for an issue with such a high level of risk to everyone on the planet, there needs to be more.
Instead of waiting for these climate heroes to emerge into the public eye organically, entrepreneur Ryan Kushner teamed up with his wife Amanda Ravenhill, a professor at Presidio Graduate School, to create the Hero Hatchery, a year-long crowdfunded fellowship for one promising climate activist. The goal: to create the climate heroes that the world so desperately needs--and to provide online activism training sessions with activists like Paul Hawken, Maggie Winslow, Elandria Williams, and Bill McKibben.
I met the first Hero Hatchery fellow, Lauren Wood, at a launch party for the fellowship. A queer activist from Utah, Wood lives in the Salt Lake City area, where she co-founded Peaceful Uprising, a nonprofit climate organization that engages in nonviolent protests around local issues like open pit mining in eastern Utah. Tim DeChristopher, another Peaceful Uprising co-founder, recently finished a 21-month prison sentence for bidding on land in an oil and gas auction without ever planning to pay for it.
A former river raft guide who now works at a restaurant to pay the bills, Wood is an engaging and eloquent speaker. She's a passionate activist, but she's not polarizing. And she's from a red state. "We had a fantasy that [the fellow] would be a girl in a red state," notes Kushner. Theoretically. she's the perfect candidate. Will that be enough?
Hero Hatchery is raising $100,000 over the next month to fund Wood's activist work full-time for a year, hire a PR team to highlight her ongoing achievements, and launch a series of weekly trainings. "Lauren already does a ton of organizing in the local area. [The money will allow her to] concentrate full time on work instead of having to leave meetings for a waitressing shift," explains Kushner.
Regardless of whether Wood's activism lifts her into the national spotlight, "it's not necessarily that we want this one person to be the only face of climate change," says Ravenhill. The Hero Hatchery team has made the trainings "open source" and hopes they will inspire people all over the world to become more dedicated activists. And Wood is just the first of what Kushner and Ravenhill hope will be many Hero Hatchery-funded climate hell-raisers.
"We look at this as a startup," says Kushner. "And even if you can't be a full-time activist, you can participate."