Sonoman presses presidential candidates on climate issues

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Tuning in

What: Climate Forum 2020

When: Sept. 19 and 20

Who: MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Ali Velshi will moderate the forum.

Co-hosts: Our Daily Planet, MSNBC, Georgetown University

How: Live stream on NBC News Now and Telemundo and featured on MSNBC.

Cory Booker will be there. Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro have both promised to take the stage. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t miss it for the world. Likewise Andrew Yang.

All declared 2020 presidential candidates from both political parties have been invited to participate in a town-hall climate forum in Washington, D.C. this week, organized, in large part, by former Sonoma resident Miro Korenha.

The purpose of the two-day forum is for the presidential candidates to engage in conversation with young voters on the issue of climate change. The event is being held at Georgetown University and co-hosted by MSNBC, New York magazine and Korenha’s nonprofit environmental news service, Our Daily Planet.

Korenha, 32, was born in the Ukraine and moved to Sonoma when she was 6. She attended Prestwood and Altimira Middle School before graduating from Sonoma Valley High School in 2005.

At UC Santa Barbara, she took two courses that she says shaped her future. The first was a geography course that focused on climate data, and the second was a class on world agriculture. After graduating in 2009, she moved to D.C. in 2010, wanting to be in the epicenter of environmental policy. She got a job with the World Resources Institute which helps corporations to shape their sustainability policies.

“I got a taste for the NGO (non-governmental organization) world and what the corporate world could do better and how we might shift the policies of these companies,” she said.

But that was the summer that the 2010 climate bill died in the Senate and then Democrats lost the house. It was evident that the federal government wasn’t going to do a whole lot on overwhelming climate policy.

“So I thought about what I could do in my career to influence the most change,” she said. After a few industry jobs, she came to realize that she excelled at taking science and really complex policy prescriptions and conveying them in a way that was easily understandable.

It was during this time that she also met her now business partner, Monica Medina, a longtime Washington insider who had served under President Obama as his deputy undersecretary of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Medina was also looking for her next thing.

“We started brainstorming about how - in the age of Trump - we can best talk about climate issues and ensure that they’re not forgotten by voters,” said Korenha. “How can we convey to the American public that if you care about national security, if you care about health care, if you care about the economy, then you have to care about climate change because it’s a direct driver of all of these other issues.”

Korenha and Medina decided to start a daily morning email that would break down climate issues in the way that was easily understandable, relatable and impactful. “Our Daily Planet” launched in early 2018.

“Our goal is to be National Geographic meets Axios meets ‘Good Morning America,’ with the success of the Skimm,” Korenha said. “We had a lot of success from the beginning. It really resonated with people.”

The daily newsletter covers the gambit from sustainable living to animal and biodiversity conservation to climate to clean energy.

“And we end every section with ‘why this matters and what you can do about it,’” she said. In addition to the newsletter, she uses Instagram to try to bring climate stories to life.

Tuning in

What: Climate Forum 2020

When: Sept. 19 and 20

Who: MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Ali Velshi will moderate the forum.

Co-hosts: Our Daily Planet, MSNBC, Georgetown University

How: Live stream on NBC News Now and Telemundo and featured on MSNBC.

“We have a lot of college students and young moms who don’t have a ton of time but who can flip through an Instagram story,” she said.

The goal of the upcoming forum is to involve college students in a broad climate discussion.

“Young people like (young Swedish climate activist) Greta Thunberg are largely driving the global conversation on climate action,” she said. “So we wanted to make sure that this wasn’t another stuffy DC forum where just the same policy wonks show up.”

Half the tickets are being given out to students at Georgetown, American and George Washington University.

“Gen Z is going to be the biggest voter base soon and these kids are really hungry for this information,” said Korenha.

On a recent trip back to Sonoma, Korenha told the Index-Tribune that growing up on the east side, she felt a special connection to nature here – hiking trails and summers playing outside in the creek. Her history of activism goes back to those days.

“I felt very strongly that the chickens had a right to be at the Plaza and that humans shouldn’t pester them,” she said. “So my friends and I made signs and protested at the Plaza - asking people to sign a petition. I think that the Index-Tribune actually chronicled our little protest way back when.”

After college, friends tried to discourage her when she told them she wanted to work in climate change.

“They said, ‘Why? Don’t you want to earn money?’” she laughs. “Back in 2009 and 2010, we couldn’t even get Barack Obama to talk about climate change. And the fact that the two major cable networks are now doing a climate forum just blows my mind.”

And the media is now hungry for experts on climate change issues. This month alone, Korneha has appeared on MSNBC twice.

Attending the Climate Forum 2020 with Korenha will be her husband, Kurt Bardella, a political columnist for USA Today and NBC who spent a decade on Capitol Hill.

“When we met, I was a Republican and today I’m a bleeding heart progressive Democrat,” he laughed. “Miro’s crying about polar bears for five years to finally did it to me.”

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