Laughlin Artz and 2020 or Bust Take an Innovative Approach to Addressing Climate Crisis

Laughlin Artz
Laughlin Artz

Three years ago when Landmark Forum graduate Laughlin Artz was investigating climate change for his video podcast series Context News, he had a moment that would change the direction of his life.  He found himself shocked by the lack of awareness regarding the scientific data on climate change and more importantly the lack of response to that reality.

At that moment, on 45th St. in New York City, he took two stands:

1. Everyone has the right to know what’ so in the matter of climate change                                                          

2. Anyone who wants to make a difference in the situation should have that opportunity.

Thus began Laughlin’s deep dive into the world of climate change, specifically what scientists are calling the climate budget — the amount of carbon they agree can still be released into the atmosphere before the earth’s atmosphere warms past 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This is a point at which the long term consequences of climate change will be irreversible.

Flooded NYC subway during Hurricane Sandy
Flooded NYC subway during Hurricane Sandy in 2012

According to NASA and scientific consensus around the world, the current use of fossil fuels will use up the climate budget within the next two decades.

One of the first things he discovered was that although there were many individuals and organizations working on the issue, something critical was missing: what it’s going to take to end the climate crisis.

Thus began his mission – to bring to the world the reality of ending the climate crisis and ending it in time, and with it, the opportunity for anyone to take action to make that happen – what all the experts he conferred with at the time assured him was impossible.

The first piece to work out was the end game, what the end of the crisis actually looks like. In his study of the current data and through his work with climate experts, he got clear that we will predictably exhaust our carbon budget in 22 years, at which point we will have locked ourselves into a future in which the damage done will be catastrophic and irreversible. So the end game became to get to zero emissions before we exhaust the carbon budget.


Working back from that future, what emerged as essential was to shift our emissions trajectory sufficiently in the near term to get us on track to winning the end game. Again, in partnership with some of the world’s leading climate scientists, what became clear was that next five years is our critical window of opportunity in which to radically reverse the emissions trend such that by 2020 we are on track to ending the crisis. Thus was born 2020 or Bust.

The mission of 2020 or Bust is to mobilize the global community to end the climate crisis and to rally the world around the next five years as our make-it-or-break-it window of opportunity to get on track to making that happen.

The emissions gap between where we’ll predictably be in 2020 and where we need to be to be on track to ending the crisis in time is 8Gt. So the next challenge became to see if individuals could take the actions that would result in that gap being bridged. Was the gap too big to close? Was it already too late?

What resulted from that work was that yes, it is possible. The 2020 or Bust team developed the models, measures and action scenarios that demonstrate that individuals can bridge that gap, and in doing so, get us on track to ending the crisis.

Now the issue became mobilizing the numbers of individuals taking the necessary actions. It’s going to take 500 million people participating, something never before accomplished in the history of citizen engagement.

What shapes action? As a Landmark Forum graduate, Laughlin was clear – context. So if you want to impact action, you need to deal with context.

Laughlin’s exploration into the matter of context unconcealed that the current context is not a context that pulls for the actions that will end the crisis in time; in fact, it keeps the opportunity to end the crisis out of reach. Climate change is viewed as too complex, too big, something “out there”, something for governments or institutions to deal with, something we can deal with later. All of which leaves people in a kind of trance of hope, denial, best efforts, gestures and business as usual.

Cedar Rapids Iowa, 2008
Cedar Rapids Iowa, 2008

“To wake people from that trance is the job of 2020 or Bust; to shift climate change from something that occurs as overwhelming, boring and depressing to endable, fun, simple and actionable.”

Through traditional and social media, as well as every available means of getting the word out, 2020 or Bust is out to awaken and mobilize the sleeping planet, with its mission for the first year to mobilize 30 million people.

They are also working an urban strategy which is the establishment of 2020 or Bust Chapters in 62 of the world’s largest cities, partnering with those municipalities to dramatically reduce emissions by 2020.

This campaign is fun, edgy and pop culture oriented, designed to go viral and generate unprecedented civil society engagement. A key component is the free 2020 or Bust app , enabling people to easily get into the game of ending the crisis, take action, and track progress. This makes bridging the critical emissions gap a global game that is simple, fun and winnable. 2020 or Bust: The Game of the Century.

To download the free the app, click here

2020 or Bust is also producing a docu-series that will be shot and broadcast over the life of the project, documenting both the current impacts of climate change, and the power of those engaged in climate action in impacting those situations, all within the context of and countdown to the 2020 endgame. Regular updates on the status of the project will be offered, giving the world its scorecard and the viewer a sense of her or himself as a real player in the game. All of this is done in a way that’s engaging, edgy, fun and pop culture. Will we be booted off the planet? The ultimate reality show.

2012 Colorado Wildfire

The job of 2020 or Bust is not to offer a new solution to the problem; the job is to offer the opportunity to create a new context such that those already at work in the matter can discover for themselves a whole new kind of power to think, plan and act. And to invite the world, everyone, each and every person, to begin that examination for him or herself; an examination in which every human being has the opportunity to discover her or himself as someone who can make a difference in ending the crisis.

Although ending the climate crisis will be an incredible accomplishment, Laughlin is standing as an even bigger possibility.

“I suggest that the opportunity here is huge, far beyond the situation of climate change. I invite us to use this crisis as our opportunity to do the critical thinking of exposing the condition in which we live, the condition of humanity itself, the condition that gives how we relate with each other, with our planet, with ourselves, with our governments, with our future, with life. And with that awareness, to generate new contexts that gives not just the power to end this crisis, but to forge a whole new future for humanity. The opportunity is ours to seize.”

In November, world leaders convene in Marrakech, Morrocco for the UNFCCC climate change conference, and 2020 or Bust will be there. At last year’s conference, they made the Paris Agreement, the first global commitment to address climate change. According to Laughlin, it is a big step forward, “However, even with all the countries keeping their commitments, we fall far short of what it will take to end the crisis. 2020 or Bust is the answer to close the gap between the Paris Agreement and ending the crisis in time.”

2020 or Bust is designed to create a marriage between the diplomacy of the Paris Agreement and the direct action of individuals.

The Marrakech conference will mark the global launch of 2020 or Bust, the largest civil society campaign in history. The “game” is to mobilize 30 million people in the next 12 months and Marrakech is the official start. This campaign makes ending the crisis a game that civil society can win; the only campaign of its kind. The 2020 or Bust app will be unveiled at the conference, making the opportunity to get into action to end the crisis available to everyone.  You can learn more about 2020 or bust and how to be involved at

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Suzie Elliott says:

Thanks for posting this immeasurably important report and information.

To know there is a path open to — let’s be frank — saving the world, creates the space to move from despair to action.

As a supporter and volunteer for 2020, I invite every reader to participate to the extent they can, both as donors and volunteers. It will ease your heart and free your power!

Tom Carson says:

OMG!! This is soooo Great.

Heroic work here!

Remember that context is decisive.

“Restore a healthy climate with zero degrees warming”.
That is the context that increasing numbers of people are enrolled in.

Are we more likely to leave our children a healthy climate with a goal of zero degrees warming?

You can commit to giving our children the same healthy climate our parents gave us. Sign our declaration!

Suzie Elliott says:

For Laughlin Aartz’s response to the election results and how they will effect climate change efforts and life overall, take a look at “The Day After” at It certainly lifted my spirits. If you find it useful or enjoyable, please share it.

Mark Blumler says:

Inspiring! Truly inspiring. I love the positive way you are approaching a very big issue.

A comment on the “what’s so”: This can be the trickiest part to get right.

1) While there is a scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and that we are causing it, the two decade deadline is supported by a weak consensus at best.

2) Scientific consensuses (consensi?) frequently turn out to be mistaken, with unfortunate consequences. You seem to be incorporating an assumption that scientific “knowledge” is superior to other beliefs.

But perhaps none of that matters, if your proposed solution entails action that doesn’t conflict with other worthwhile goals. I hope to learn more about the individual action that you are proposing!!

Philip Chester says:

How do I contact Mr. Laughlin via e-mail? I have a BIG idea I would like to share with him.

Gary Savage says:


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