CAVU Co-founder David Smith stands with children in Central America following the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 as part of an effort to ferry supplies into isolated villages. Credit: Courtesy of CAVU

Visual storytelling and community engagement are providing educational support for finding local solutions to the global climate shift. Climate Advocates Voces Unidas (CAVU), a local nonprofit organization with an innovative method of communication, will be part of a new exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The Santa Fe nonprofit’s exhibit featured at the Smithsonian, “Thomas W. Haas We All Fly,” demonstrates their unique signature video style of flight and film to inspire locally led solutions to the climate crisis.

Working across the North American West, CAVU blends science and personal stories to reconnect people with each other and the planet they live on. They believe elevating diverse voices is an antidote to prejudice, partisanship and cynicism when working on environmental and social justice issues. In 10 years, CAVU hopes to be at the forefront of a movement that has effectively solved the climate crisis by fundamentally shifting our society’s relationship to the natural world.

“CAVU’s inclusion in the Smithsonian marks an unimaginable milestone,” says Jordan Vaughan Smith, CAVU co-founder and board treasurer. “CAVU flights and films were created to serve people, and elevate voices, especially those marginalized by economic, environmental, and social injustices. Being in an exhibit at one of the most visited museums in the world allows more people from diverse backgrounds to learn about and subsequently participate in CAVU’s mission to solve the climate crisis. This milestone brings the original and ongoing vision of CAVU full circle – inviting people to work together for a just and sustainable future.” 

After witnessing how aerial photography and stories of local people in rural Central America helped individuals better understand complex issues facing their communities, David and Jordan Smith founded CAVU in 2004. By recording and sharing the perspectives of impacted communities, David and Jordan facilitate a deeper understanding of the urgent decisions facing communities and turn these experiences into action.

CAVU wants to partner with Tribes, governments, and communities to promote action. “As the entire planet now recognizes the immense and critical need for attention towards immediate action on climate action, CAVU is uniquely positioned and staffed to make an impact and difference towards a solution,” says Roger Fragua, CAVU board chairman.

Their Emmy-award-winning film series, Wildlife Without Borders, is a media initiative to raise the level of awareness and understanding of the importance of wildlife and wildlife habitat to landscapes, local economies, and cultures in the West. 

CAVU’s methodology towards change begins with building relationships of trust between partners and within the communities CAVU serves. These collaborations result in visually stunning, emotionally resonating, authentic inclusive stories. CAVU’s work and unique style educates the public, decisionmakers and K-12 students about the urgent need to address the climate crisis.  

CAVU has several projects and programs in their growing mix of initiatives to support public awareness.

CAVU’s free STEAM curriculum for grades 3-12 guides students through the creation of climate-change solutions and supports development of the students’ storytelling and video production skills. At the culmination of a video challenge, they showcase outstanding student videos and award scholarships and cash prizes for top entries. They aspire to give students a sense of agency and possibility as they move into their educational and professional futures in a climate-challenged world. 

CAVU’s Open New Doors New Mexico is a communications project of an allied group of climate, equity and justice, conservation and environmental organizations. The group’s project is centered on the urgent need for a managed, just and equitable transition away from the state’s current over-dependence on oil and gas revenues to address the climate emergency.

CAVU’s work to protect our waters includes ensuring strong protections from climate impacts and pollution at the state and federal levels. They are also actively involved in the Pecos Valley, which contains the Tererro remediation site, an area that is being targeted for exploratory mining operations.

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Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado, and other publications. She has taught and  practiced alternative healing methods for over thirty-five years.