…Get Commitment From the Board. Hold a meeting of the board (or the executive management team) to set time-bound goals and targets specific to your company that align with climate smart sustainable development.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Paul Zeitz. Dr. Paul Zeitz (www.drpaulzeitz.org), the founder of Build A Movement 2020 and the foundation for Climate Restoration, is a physician, epidemiologist, and an award-winning advocate for global justice and human rights. He is serving as the senior policy advisor with the Healthy Climate Alliance, which focuses on climate restoration, and is the author of Waging Justice: A Doctor’s Journey To Speak Truth And Be Bold. Dr. Zeitz worked at the U.S. Department of State from 2014–17 as the Director of the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. He also led the Global AIDS Alliance. Dr. Zeitz received his doctorate in osteopathic medicine from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, his MPH in public health and preventive medicine residency at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Mychildhood was complicated. I knew I that my parents that loved me. And I had a sister who I adored. Yet, life as a child for me was different. I yearned to be “normal” — to have friends and have fun, instead of being alone and feeling jealous.
I was devastated when I found out that I was color blind at the age of six. To me, it was the confirmation that I would never be “normal.” Yet, it also taught me an important life lesson, I could never “blindly” trust what I saw with my own eyes. I had to investigate beneath the surface.
Beyond not feeling “normal,” I lived in a household that was picture perfect on the outside and often frightening on the inside. My father was a man full of rage. It would simmer in the inside until it couldn’t help but boil over. Later in life I recalled memories of early childhood incest at the hands of my father.
Given the injustice that I suffered at the hands of my father, I was determined not to be like him as a spouse and a father. Moreover, I was determined to fight injustice in all its forms. And the irony is that by waging justice is what makes me feel “normal.”
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
My “aha moment” wouldn’t make me a candidate for a Nobel Prize, yet it was a game changer in my life. My spark to become a scientist and an environmental leader was my early childhood fish tank. I loved taking care of the fish and they became the subjects of my first scientific experiments. I created a daily chart that tracked the number of fish, sick fish, pregnant fish — all teaching me at a very young age the wonders of the life cycle. Yes, I was a young epidemiologist, analyzing data that undoubtedly made me that data geek that I am today.
When I wrote my book, Waging Justice: A Doctor’s Journey to Speak Truth and Be Bold, I was compelled by the combination of my own deeply personal life experiences that shaped me and my role as a physician and leader in the Global AIDS epidemic.
So much of our efforts early on in the AIDS epidemic were failing. We were too scattered. There were too many small efforts all recognizing the threat of AIDS and its global impact on millions. It took a collaborative effort — a movement. When we created the Global AIDS Alliance, it coalesced a large number of stakeholder groups to align behind a common strategy. The result was a historic shift in forever altering the course of the AIDS epidemic.
The intensities of climate impact in recent years (and even more urgently in recent weeks) have helped us elevate the reality of the climate emergency in ways that haven’t occurred before, despite many years of growing environmental consciousness. The full weight of this impact is dramatically changing. The tipping point for bold and transformative action has arrived. I’ve seen it before. We can succeed again.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
In the late 1990s, I was living in Zambia working on public health programs. What I saw was devastating. Dying patients sharing beds or sleeping on dirty floors. Dying children whose mothers barely had the energy to cry in despair. AIDS was a death sentence — people lived without hope.
The most impactful and disturbing moment that I experienced was one day when I pulled over my car to see what people were selling. I was horrified to see the coffins for adults and, tragically, little ones for children. I wept — and, then, I knew that this disease may be bigger than me, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t fight it.
So, when I got back to the US, I formed the Global AIDS Alliance and we fought like hell to get funding for people like those who I saw suffering in Zambia. My biggest lesson in this fight was that very little gets done in Washington without bipartisan support. To be a leader, you must align yourself with those who share your beliefs regardless of their political party. And if you have a member of Congress or the White House who doesn’t believe in your cause, fight harder.
With our fight against AIDS, we became a movement that hadn’t seen such success since the Marshall plan. We launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Together, these two organizations have saved over 32 million lives in the last 15 years.
So, the lesson from the AIDS movement is that we can make the impossible, possible. Now, as we face a climate emergency, we must work together, in a bipartisan fashion, to make climate restoration possible, and push forward on climate adaptation and mitigation with a full throttle.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
I am the founder of Build A Movement 2020 (BAM2020) and climate restoration is the top pillar. We will issue a Candidates Report Card in tandem with each Presidential debate, grading them on their commitment to climate restoration as a necessary tool for the survival and flourishing of humanity. So far, climate restoration has not been embraced by our Presidential candidates even though we know it is critical to repair the damage that we’ve already done to our atmosphere. This lack of resolve is especially troubling when climate restoration offers the combination of technological and economic solutions to restore a safe and healthy climate for ourselves and future generations. We must rally around the 3 pillars of climate action, which I refer to as RAM — Restoration, Adaptation, & Mitigation.
I am also a senior policy advisor to the Foundation for Climate Restoration, which is bringing together a coalition of environmental, health and other groups to find solutions to address our planet’s climate emergency. A recent White Paper explains more about the most promising climate restoration solutions.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
First, encourage everyone to read, learn, and investigate — to absorb all the knowledge that they can about what inspires them to act. On the environmental front for me it was Al Gore’s “The Inconvenient Truth” and more recently “The Uninhabitable Planet” by David Wallace-Wells. “The Inconvenient Truth” was a wake-up call to many, but for me it was the rallying cry saying that we were facing a climate emergency now.
“The Uninhabitable Planet” takes a different path leading to a climate emergency. The book is the quintessential read of data. That’s probably why I am so drawn to it as it builds on the work that I did at the State Department harnessing the data revolution to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.
Second, I encourage people to practice empathy towards other people, no matter what the cause. My multiple experiences as a physician in Africa watching people struggle and die from AIDS — a disease that was preventable in the United States- hit me in the gut — and propelled me into action. All people yearn for a happy, fulfilling, and healthy life and I work hard every day to see others with empathy so that I can see everyone as their greatness.
Third, I would say, “Be Bold and Take Action.” If I had listened to everyone during the AIDS Movement who said it couldn’t be done, we would not be where we are today with PEPFAR providing almost 19 million people with life-saving anti-retroviral therapy and more than 2.4 million babies born HIV-free. Nothing gets done by sitting back and hoping someone will act. That someone is you.
As the recent Climate Strike showed, millions of people out on the streets had an impact. Our power resides in our collective voice. We can use our social media platforms for more than selfies and fashion stories. We can, in fact, Build a Movement that powerfully shapes the 2020 election that is coming in less than 400 days.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
The youth, in my opinion, get it. The Climate Strike proved that. It’s the parents who need to figure it out, so I prefer to couch my ideas this way: Parents may want to learn from their kids and do these five things:
1) Take action: Parents — and other adults — serve as role models for their kids. If parents act, kids can follow suit. Whether it’s going to a rally or learning to recycle, each step forward is a step towards addressing our climate emergency.
We need to say to parents “How much do you model activism, civic engagement, being an active participant in this democracy?” Get involved with your kids. Do it together. Donate together. Post on social media together. Build a Movement 2020 together!
2) Demand More. The half-measures and constant debate are going to severely harm our children and grandchildren. Instead insist all politicians regardless of party affiliation, support action that declares a climate energy and supports climate restoration measures, all of which you can read more about here. (link)
3) Give people the tools — People can only act if they have the information they need to make impactful arguments. 86% of teachers want to teach about climate change, but only 42% do. That’s a disgrace and we need to change it — now.
4) Unleash political courage: Our global leaders are not making sufficient strides toward the mandates of COP 21. If we maintain our current pace, we will only be halfway there by 2030. Halfway during a global climate emergency is not good enough. So why aren’t more candidates on board? Because political will has long taken precedence over political strides, and even with ambitious ideas from many of the Democratic candidates, fear over the politics of Climate Restoration remains a serious obstacle. Demand support for Climate Restoration that cannot just stem the impacts of this climate emergency, but reverse the direction.
5) Build a Movement 2020: We must come together and create a movement of change. Alone we can be ignored, but together we can’t be stopped. It takes two minutes a day to share posts that inform your friends and family. It takes just a few dollars to make a difference. It takes a few hours to get out and make a difference — in a march, a town hall, a public event, a fundraiser — that will help build a coalition strong enough to make significant, impactful, leveraged change.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Below are steps suggested by The Sustainable Development Goals Advocates that business leaders can take to implement climate initiatives across the organization.
Step 1 — Engage Your Whole Company
Assess the impact of your company against the SDGs and the Paris Climate Accord and identify related risks and opportunities across your entire value chain.
Step 2 — Get Commitment From the Board
Hold a meeting of the board (or the executive management team) to set time-bound goals and targets specific to your company that align with climate smart sustainable development.
Step 3 — Seek Mutual Accountability with Your Shareholders
Communicate with shareholders and other stakeholders the goals your company has set to contribute to the SDGs and the Paris Climate Accord, and report regularly on progress made.
Step 4 — Mobilize All Employees
Engage all your employees in advancing climate smart sustainable development through their own work and distribute responsibilities across the entire organization for achieving progress.
Step 5 — Communicate Commitment To The Public
Add an extra layer of accountability by promoting your commitment to your clients and the public. Include SDG icons and branding in your products, communication materials, and annual report.
The SDGs are already generating transformative action in critical areas for humanity and the planet. It’s time for CEOs to bring their organizations on board and be a part of this unprecedented global gift to humankind.
Just look at Anheuser Busch. Anheuser-Busch works closely with organizations like RE100, Enel Green Power, Water.org, National Forest Foundation, River Network, Keep America Beautiful, Living Lands & Waters, and The Recycle. Last year, Anheuser Busch put forward sustainability goals, focused on four key areas: renewable electricity and carbon reduction, water stewardship, smart agriculture, and circular packaging. All companies can transform their business models to ensure the survival and flourishing of humanity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I will say that there was an individual that helped me in a non-traditional way. And that person was a young baby, Baby David. I met David as an HIV+ newborn when he arrived at Kabwata Orphanage in Lusaka Zambia after being abandoned at a nearby hospital. This little baby taught me more about advocacy than everyone else I’ve worked with combined. When I looked into his eyes, I saw his pure soul and I felt that his life was of equal value to my own life and the life my own children. David taught me that we’re all the same — no matter where we come from, what we look like, or what we do. When David passed, the heartbreak was unbearable. But I was able to transform that heartbreak and turn it into action.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well, funny you should ask that but the culmination of thirty years of my own Waging Justice is the movement I am in the midst of starting right now, called Build a Movement 2020. Together, united, undeterred and undivided, we can join forces and build a movement that will bring a bold transformation at this point in history to usher in a healthy, just, and peaceful world. My work for the last 30 years has been to hold governments accountable. I’ve been Waging Justice and I want you to join me. I launched Build A Movement 2020 (#BAM2020) to spark a movement for justice. Click here and join the movement today.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which is in the beginning of my Waging Justice book, “The future belongs to those who believe in the future of their dreams.” I’m hoping that this quote is not only relevant to me, but to everyone who dreams of what their future holds for them and their other inhabitants of this planet. Dreaming, no matter how big or small, keeps our world evolving. It is good for the soul and good for the planet. And no matter how big or difficult the dream is no one should see this as an obstacle. For me, I see it as a challenge to embrace.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
We have a host of platforms to get engaged in, but the simplest way is to text BAM2020 to 52866 and join our effort. Visit DrPaulZeitz.org to read much more. I can be reached on Twitter: @paulzeitz or Facebook @DrPaulZeitz I can’t wait to meet you, take action with you and work with you to ensure the survival and flourishing of humanity.
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!