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The Admiral and the Activist | Sophie Robinson | TEDxPaloAltoSalon

at the Naval Yard in Washington DC
uniformed officers pass me by with
curiosity as my team sets up film
equipment I’m a producer of a
documentary about how climate change
impacts national security and global
stability and we’re about to conduct our
first military interview with a Rear
Admiral to say the least I’m feeling out
of my league let me give you some
context I grew up probably like most of
you in this audience picking blueberries
raspberries and strawberries off the
bushes naked with a cape flowing behind
me on my hundred acre organic Berry Farm
okay maybe not so normal so it came as a
surprise to no one when after college I
became a grassroots climate change
organizer and activist I was arrested
three times for protesting oh here’s me
as a kid there’s me protesting you can
see the arrow so this was my world I was
totally not in the world of the military
whatsoever so when I became a
documentary filmmaker and we wanted to
make a bipartisan climate change film
and take the angle of the national
security I was really scared to to think
that I would be seeking out the voices
of a group I actively disliked I was
cool with this kind of protesting put me
in front of some cops and I was fine but
this kind of marching that was enough to
make me poop in my pants a little bit
yeah I was just really scared to conduct
the first interview with a Rear Admiral
now I had done my due diligence on Rear
Admiral David titli I knew he was a
naval officer for 32 years and he rose
and ranked to be the Navy’s chief
oceanographer and a Rear Admiral which
is really impressive and even though I
had watched a lot of his interviews
online and I had read his essays I did a
lot of research on him but in my mind I
still thought that he was going to be
kind of a military hard-ass kind of like
I don’t know like a Brad Pitt in a movie
character or something no no and what
was like you know tattooed flower girl
hippy organic farmer climate activists
gonna do with that but there was no time
to second guess myself anymore because
rear admiral david titli is walking
toward me at the Naval Yard and that’s
when I start to panic
because I realized I don’t know what to
call him
is it Rear Admiral David titli the whole
thing is it as it’s written out is that
too long should it just be Admiral
Titley doesn’t matter that he’s retired
should it just being mr. titli then I
don’t know he’s walking toward me he’s a
few feet away and I’m panicking realize
I don’t know what to call him and what
if I say the wrong thing and then he’s
gonna get mad and angry and stomp off
and not do the interview because I said
the wrong thing and I don’t know what
I’m gonna do I’m shaking in my boots a
little bit and he comes right up to me
and he just reaches out his hand and he
says hey call me Dave and in that moment
my entire worldview changed so that’s
who I thought he was gonna be this is
who he was okay i standing next to a
mascot this is his twitter profile pic
by the way he’s not the dude in the
mascot although knowing him I wouldn’t
put it past them he’s a super sweet guy
this is him during the interview naval
ship in the background and he was naming
bird species as they flew by he was like
oh an osprey and after the interview he
sent me a follow-up text with a smiley
face emoji in it and I just like could
not believe how down-to-earth and chill
he was he was just a sweet chill nerdy
guy and I was so so entirely blown away
I I couldn’t believe it and over the
last couple of years that’s kind of been
my experience with the film I what’s
ironic is I set out to make a film to
change people’s minds about climate
change and what I did was make a
that changed me you know I was an
activist I didn’t understand the
military I to be honest I didn’t really
respect what they did and coming out of
it over the past couple of years I have
so much respect for the military and the
people who serve and Dave and other
people in the military are the ones who
have really taught me all about how they
actually think about climate change
which is something I never really
thought about before
turns out they think about it a lot
everything from humanitarian responses
from the wildfires in California here to
all of the storms and hurricanes and
Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico New
Orleans and you know all the sea level
rise at the Naval Station in Norfolk
which is the largest naval base in the
world and they experience climate change
in the form of sea-level rise and they
have a lot of storm surges and they have
to replace their peers of the ships
because they’re getting inundated by
floods and it’s billions of dollars
takes a lot of money to do that but the
main way that the Department of Defense
thinks about climate change is as a
threat multiplier which was kind of a
wonky term but basically it means if you
already have instability in a region
that could be from poverty it could be
from poor governance it could be you
know from religious tensions and then
you add the layer of climate change on
top of that you could go from an
unstable situation to one of conflict
and potentially civil war which has
happened in our past so that’s really
scary in a way of thinking about climate
change that I hadn’t really thought of
before and over the past couple of years
it’s just been an incredible experience
to get to know Dave and some other folks
who have been in our film and we’ve been
on panels together we’ve we were in a
panel together this fall on Capitol Hill
he’s been to the festivals with us he
came to our world premiere this is how
dedicated he is he came to our world
premiere in Canada never having seen the
film before I mean it just shows like
what a humble and passionate guy he is
just been cool like his work has helped
our work and our work has helped his
work we’ve really come together and not
only have we become friends in real life
but as a millennial I have to brag about
this for a second we’re friends on
Facebook and no big deal this cat selfie
got a thumbs up from a Rear Admiral the
saying kind of cool but here’s us just
you know at an event together having a
little cheers little beer on those buds
my hope for all of you in the audience
is that when you’re meeting someone
someone new that you can meet them
without the unnecessary stereotypes and
you can just see them for their full
beautiful humanity because if an admiral
a Rear Admiral and an activist can be
friends so too can you be friends with
someone you consider your complete
opposite you just have to give them the
chance to stick out their hand and say
hey call me Dave thank you
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