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Category: Climate Action

Art is Vital in Climate Communication

Hot Scientific Grappling

I love podcasts, and one of my favorite ones at the moment is called Our Warm Regards. They describe themselves:

A podcast about the warming planet. Hosted by  w/ co-hosts  & . Produced by . We’re all in this together.

I especially like the episodes where I hear the presenters and guests, mostly scientists grappling with not just the science of climate change, but also the human aspects of it–who on the planet is affected and how do those people doing climate work process the many strong emotions around climate impacts.

You hear this in the show that featured Dr. Katharine Heyhoe.

Going Viral–Hot Climate Meme

The most recent show takes a look at a powerful visual tool that has zipped around social media. The info is not new–it shows how the earth’s temperature has changed during the time of humans starting in 2000 BCE to the dramatic recent increase in temperature.  They chatted with Gavin Schmidt from RealClimate about the science behind the cartoon.

Ah, but as they spoke, I wondered about the ART behind it. I hadn’t seen the image, so once the show ended, (I was cleaning the kitchen while listening) I found it and immediately understood why this image got such traction and interest from all kinds of people who maybe are aware of climate change, but not necessarily engaged.

It is a long big image that you can see here, but below is a ice core sample from it.


The drawings are skillful while also appearing amateur, almost childlike. This expertly offsets the scientific graph. It brings balance and invites non-scientists in through a medium that is familiar and friendly. The font also is inviting and non-threatening. The viewer is drawn in by familiar events from history, some that are very human and relatable. The colors are muted. They don’t scream ALARM. Like the art and the font, they are inviting.

The historic role of Art and Political Action

To me these elements are interesting to discuss. The role of art in moving people to feel, understand, and act is vital. Historically this is true with the abolition of slavery. Novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped a generation of people to come close and to care. The famous meme of the cross-section of a slave ship, visually representing the cruelty African men, women, and children faced when enslaved still speaks powerfully.

A plan of the slave ship Brookes, showing how 454 slaves were accommodated on board. This same ship had reportedly carried as many as 609 people; published by the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade (source wikipedia)

In addition to ACT UP HIV/AIDS related art, Keith Harring's images about the Apartheid struggle communicated directly to the public.

In addition to ACT UP HIV/AIDS related art, Keith Harring’s images about the Apartheid struggle communicated directly to the public.

In more modern times we saw the same with all the art that developed during the South African anti-apartheid movement and with HIV/AIDS activists.

My husband is South African, and had been active in the anti-conscription movement, the queer liberation movement, and the anti-apartheid struggle. The ANC activists recognized that once the artists embraced the struggle, that is when they believed they were going to win. This is true with climate change too.

Calling All Artists!

While there is bad art, over-the-top movies, and didactic clunky presentations in art drag, more and more quality visual and performance art is emerging that addresses the many aspects of being humans in a time of climate change.

 Even at the risk of making bad art, those of us who do art–visual art, installations, performance, comedy, music, etc–need to try our hand at it. That’s why on the Citizens’ Climate Radio show, we have an Art House section that features poets, and others. Next week I will share an interview and music from singer/songwriter Michael Levy.
Calling all artists: You have a role on this new planet!

Climate Inaction Figures — Superpower to Deflect Our Inaction

Climate Inaction Figures!

Yesterday I saw these clever and hilarious Climate Inaction Figures created by the folks who do the TV series Years of Living Dangerously. Funny stuff. Great details.

No doubt this sort of thing is a real a crowdpleaser with a lot of my Quaker friends and progressives. I find them to be cute but boring. I have been exploring climate comedy, and it seems the number one place comics and humorists go is to make fun of people who deny the reality and danger of global warming.

Yes people are frustrated and annoyed with politicians and businesses who actively deny the reality and danger of climate change, and in some cases even outright lie and deceive the public. This requires a response. Humor is one of them for sure. Late night talk show hosts have been mocking these folks for years now. It’s gotten old, though. Comics, 2011 wants its climate comedy back.

Potential dangers with climate denial comedy

But besides being boring, is there a bigger problem with this sort of climate denial comedy? Could it actually lead to more inaction, even by the very people who say they are alarmed?


Climate Jabs

632bda36942a24501c042d1a0778f4f49131f558fc32020f3d21b0131e213c5fI have been thinking about the effect these comic jabs have on the people laughing it up the most. I find that each jab can actually serve as an inoculation. By looking at the extreme cases of denial, do we exempt ourselves from considering our own denial and inaction?

It is easy to see another’s faults, but much harder to find the speck or log in our own eyes.

I see this happen when I lobby Democrats in DC. I talk climate action, and they immediately point their fingers to members of congress across the aisle. “Listen I know climate change is happening, unlike those clowns over there.” Then they go off to list all of the environmentally friendly, but mostly futile efforts they have been making, at least futile when it comes to actually addressing climate change.

Not our first rodeo

queer recycleIt reminds me of the days when I did a lot of LGBTQ activism. I would visit a church that was not open and affirming to LGBTQ people: they did nothing proactive. LGBTQ people were second class citizens.

These church leaders did not see their intolerance and discrimination. They were blinded by their fellow believers hate. They would puff out their chests and point to the Fred Phelps “God hates Fags” crowd and say–Oh, those people are awful. We are not like them at all.

Inaction is inaction regardless if someone is vocal about it or simply passive. Climate change is difficult to grasp. It is so large. It is easy to deny the reality of what is going on in our world. In fact, I think most people in the USA are in some level of denial. Some are just more flamboyant about it.

I am a big fan of comedy; it is what I do. Besides being downright lazy comedy, making fun of people who deny climate change is distracting. It dehumanizes people who for a variety of reasons are refusing to acknowledge the trouble we are in. These public officials represent many people who feel similarly. How do we get past simply mocking them to using comedy to explore what the heck might be going on for some of them.

Also, we have the opportunity to focus our comic lenses on the places where we live in denial and inaction–not to make light of the situation, rather to shine light on ourselves.

Comic Samples?

Here are some examples of going beyond the basic climate denial comedy


Moving Beyond a Single Climate Savior — Xiuhtezcatl Martinez


Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, youth director of Earth Guardians

A young powerful climate advocate

He had just turned 15. I first saw a video of Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez speaking about climate change and performing an original song. With a clear message, excellent speaking skills, and an arresting stage presence, I felt grateful that there was a young spokesperson on the scene talking so well about climate issues.

Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced shu-tez-cot) now 16 years old, attended the  famous Paris Climate Talks last fall. He appears in Josh Fox’s new film, and he is one of 21 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the federal government because of the US government’s chronic climate inaction. In his home state of Colorado, he, his family, and friends have seen significant successes in taking on politically charged ecological issues.

Taking his message to prime time TV

These days Xiuhtezcatl is popping up everything, including national TV. Most recently he appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher.


A group of young people are being heard in federal court in their demand for governmental intervention to address climate change

As I have come to expect, during his appearance on Bill Maher, Xiuhtezcatl spoke well, passionately, and comfortably. (The link to the segment is below.) Bill Maher was his usual smarmy, obnoxious, killjoy self attempting to throw cold water on his young guest’s enthusiasm and message. And in every instance Xiuhtezcatl parried with wit, insight, and confidence.

He also made it clear that he does not stand alone. There are loads of young people like him who are concerned and who are speaking out. In his speeches and appearances, he constantly reminds us that our collective voices are powerful and necessary in order to address global warming and save humanity.

Not a singular savior–part of the collective

Xiuhtezcatl presents a different model for us, one that we do not often see, particularly modeled by young men in America. He does not position himself as the savior–The One–come to rescue the world with his wisdom and charm. Rather he constantly reminds us that he is only one part connected to a large and growing movement.

While recognizing the challenges of the working through the political process to see change happen, he refuses to be cynical as he insists that we use the existing channels to pursue the systemic changes in our energy policy and global consumption that we need to address global warming.

If you want a shot of hope and enthusiasm and insight, check out Xiuhtezcatl’s appearance on Real Time w/Bill Maher June 24, 2016.

Also, see Xiuhtezcatl talking about our place and power in the world to repair our connection with the earth.

Where are you right now? The 5 Stages of Hot Climate Action

Using Comic Characters to Make Sense of the World 

Elizabeth Jeremiah

Elizabeth Jeremiah

I am thrilled to present a new Climate Stew video. Although Elizabeth Jeremiah has been beating down my door with a new video, I persuaded her to wait another week since her last video about Jesus and the Curious Case of Global Warming.

With the launch of the new Citizens’ Climate Radio show, I decided to write a new monologue. As a character actor, I have collected a gaggle of characters who help me to better understand myself and the world around me. I need them right now as I have been going through many rapid changes. And it is all because of Global Warming.

Climate is changing all of us

IMG_2116I thought about the past four years from the moment I first became alarmed about climate change to this moment when I am connected to thousands of people seeking solutions. That I feel hope right now is a testimony to the individuals and organizations who have helped to see that there are ways forward.

Through these comic characters, I want to share with you The Five Stages of Hot Climate Action. And I wonder if you can relate to them. Which one represents where you are right now? What would you add or change.

Five Stages of Hot Climate Action

  1. F r e a k   O u t  Stage: This is when the penny dropped and I suddenly realized just how serious climate change is. This is the Freak Out stage. Strange but my freak out voice sounds a lot like my father.
  2. Toying with Denial Stage: After freaking out for a while the pendulum swung a little to the other side as I toyed with denial. And in my head this is what denial sounded like.
  3. I joined over 800 people who spoke with US lawmakers about climate solutions

    This month I joined over 800 people who spoke with US lawmakers about climate solutions.

    The Personal Purge Stage: But I could not drive away reality, so the guilt and shame kicked in when I realized that I was part of the problem. In response I attempted to purge my life of all greenhouse gases.

  4. The Despair Stage: Then it happened. The despair descended upon me. I realized that my individual efforts were pathetic in light of the size of the problem.
  5. The Hope and Engagement Stage: But then something happened. I met likeminded people seeking solutions. And I found hope. And even after a Brexit  my hopeful voice sounds British.

I will let my characters describe it all for you. See if you can recognize any of them, and let me know about your stages of hot climate action.

In Five Characters we present The Five Stages of Hot Climate Action

A Climate Story of Biblical Proportions

A bit of a brat, Joseph takes his place above his brothers

A bit of a brat, Joseph takes his place above his brothers

Not your usual Bible interpretation

Here at Climate Stew we are always looking at new angles to help unpack the climate crisis. Our roving commentator, Marvin Bloom, has a new video in which he considers the story of Joseph in Genesis. It has so many twists and turns–intrigue, betrayal, miracles, migrants, and a massive drought.

In a large, blended family, Joseph is the favored younger son. This gets him into trouble with his older brother, especially after he had been lording it over them. They get rid of him by shipping him off to Egypt as a slave.

Joseph sold into slavery

Joseph sold into slavery

Joseph find favor and Trouble in Egypt

There he also find favor and trouble which lands him in jail. But due to his ability to interpret dreams, he is hauled out of prison and dragged before Pharaoh. He interprets Pharaoh’s troubling dreams and predicts temporary, regional climate change. He then offers an adaptation plan to help address the crisis and feed the people.

Joseph feeds the people, but at a cost

Joseph feeds the people, but at a cost

Everything turns out just as Joseph predicted, and the people have enough food to eat. Ah, but was there a major flaw in Joseph’s plan? Marvin thinks so, and feels we can learn something important from it.

How can we develop effective and just plans?

As we consider the ways to respond to our climate crisis, it helps to look at an ancient story about what they get right and what they got wrong. In trying to do good we may open up the door to injustice and oppression. Well, I’ll let Marvin speak for himself.

OUT for Sustainability’s Fab Planet Summit 2016

San Francisco: June 3rd to 5th the amazing intersectional queer climate gathering known as Fab Planet Summit

OUT4S-sustainabilityOUT for Sustainability has hosted an annual gathering of LGBTQ sustainability leaders since 2009. The first Social Sustainability Conference hosted 60 participants in Seattle, Washington for five panels on intersectional topics ranging from “race and housing” to “age and community.” The spirit of this was continued by the Coming Out Local dinners, hosting 100 guests per year to highlight the value of local economy in creating communities that celebrate diversity. In addition to this large annual events, OUT4S hosted dozens of community Salons on topics ranging from the “social impact of food systems” to “green building in the gayborhood.”

Identifying the value and uniqueness of the content at OUT4S events, Fab Planet Summit launched to build on these the spirit of these gatherings to achieve deeper connection for broader change.

I will be far away in a little village in South Africa during the summit, but I long to go to one the first chance I can. They are looking for more speakers and presenters. Check out their site, and if you can go to the summit, take lots of photos and tell me about it!

WHAT IF : There was no climate denial in the USA?

elizabeth_kolbertI have a question for you below.

I recently heard Elizabeth Kolbert speak. Last year she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book The Sixth Extinction—An Unnatural History. I read it over the summer. It’s brilliant and beautiful and disturbing. So I wanted to see her, but from a distance.

The event was at Bucknell University, a posh private college about 20 minutes from my house. I’m actually kind of shy in large public settings, unless of course I am the one on stage.

Kolbdert began by talking about one of the responses she has gotten in the past to the same talk she was about to give. Audience members complained: You tell us about all these problems with extinctions, but you do not tell us how we should feel about it or what to do.

She said that she was going to do the same–leave us to figure out our feelings and come up with our own solutions.

When she said this I thought, You going to drop mass extinctions on us because of climate change, then not give us any direction?!? It’s true that is how her book ends. But surely she has answers. For whatever reason she is holding back.

She then forged into her talk telling us about species that have gone extinct long ago or recently.

No More Questions? I am terrified to stand up

height.630.no_border.width.1200The talk ended and she opened up the floor for questions. Now always when this happens there is a man ready with a queston, at least one. Usually over the age of 45.

I can be in a sea of college students with no one over the age of 22 in sight. The talk ends, and the man appears. My one goal in life is to never be that man. And sure enough a man stood up and asked a question to clarify a point Kolbert made. She answered. Then nothing.

Hundreds of people and no other questions. The microphones stood exposed to the crowd.

I am terrified to stand up in a room like that and ask a question. Sure I perform all the time, but its different somehow. But suddenly a question popped in my head. I approached the mic.

For so much of the past 10 years we have been distracted by the topic of climate denial. It has eaten up news articles and the public discourse. We have had to maintain a very simple discussion about the reality of climate change. But what if for the past 10 years there was no climate denial? What if people agreed back in 2006 that the planet was warming and human actively, particularly fossil fuel pollution, was the cause? What would we be talking about today?

She liked the question. And something marvelous happened. In answering the question, she ended up doing what she said she could not—give answers and direction about what to do next. She shared practical solutions.

You can hear her answer (and audio of the encounter) here:

So I pose the question to you.

What if, there was no climate denial? What if for the past 10 years, people were convinced: The climate is warming rapidly leading to disastrous consequences. The cause is human pollution. What would news coverage look like? What would we talk about in school, church, during family meal?

On one Quaker FB page someone suggested we would talk about the kind of things they are already talking about in Northern Europe and other places that have not had the same history of climate denial. That may be true, but the American influence in the denial narrative has had a global reach. It has interrupted the flow of the discussion and has cast doubt on scientists internationally.

I’d love to hear your response in the comments section below. Or feel free to email me: Or tweet your answer: @Climate_Stew


Celebrities of the Future–Fashionable Engineers?!?

Ah, the celebrity obsessed culture we live in. It seems part of our devolution as a species that we spend more and more time and energy wrapped up in the lives of celebrities. But celebrity worship is nothing new. Be it local heroes on a basketball team, superheroes in comic books and movies, or the saints, gods, and demons of old, humans always gravitate towards celebrities.

That has got me thinking about the celebrities of the future. On a changing planet with more extreme weather disrupting our lives, we will likely see climate activists shine in the public limelight. I mean it is already happening.

Christiana Figueres!

Christiana Figueres!

Climate action figures like Bill McKibben or Dr. Jim Hansen walk in a room and a whole pile of environmentalist swoon. Personally I am gaga for UN Climate Chief, Christiana Figueres. I can’t stop googling her.

Here at Climate Stew we like to envision a hopeful future. Not that we imagine everything will go smoothly. There is climate disruption ahead–the greatest challenges that have ever faced us as a specie. But we really believe that people will respond robustly to the crisis. In addition to radically decreasing our pollution and navigating through the Great Transition to clean energy, we will have to deal with monster storms and on-going assaults from nature–pests, flooding, drought, and food shortages.

Preparing for disasters, fortifying our communities and coastlines will take a lot of work and creativity. We wonder than–is it possible that some of our future heroes and celebrities will be engineers. In this fanciful report from the year 2165, Timothy Meadows shares with listeners the story of Les Trois Haricots, or the Three Beans–Pierre Tremblay a civil engineer from Canada, Marcela Aquilar a structural engineer from Mexico, and Sunday Mwanamwabwa, an environmental engineer from Zambia. (transcript below)

Oh and listen to the end to find out what they will advertise in the future.

Behold the Celebrity Engineers!

That Day in Climate History

I am Timothy Meadows. It is Saturday, January 26th, 2165 and time for That Day in Climate History. The 21st Century was the golden age of celebrities. Not only colorful personalities from the world of cinema, television, and music dominated  the news, but celebrity chefs, home decorators, and fashion designers with their colorful lives delighted and distracted the public from the growing fears and realities of a changing planet.

The most unlikely celebrities to emerge in the late 21st Century was the trio of engineers known as The Three Beans or Les Trois Haricots. The media dubbed them The Three Beans because of their unorthodox and inventive use of beanbag technology. Pierre Tremblay a civil engineer from Canada, Marcela Aquilar a structural engineer from Mexico, and Sunday Mwanamwabwa, an environmental engineer from Zambia, were responsible for some of the most ambitious and creative building projects of their time.

For example, their elegant and functional flood walls in Lower Manhattan not only protected the city from rising tides and storm, with these walls the Three Beans also built community. Whimsical benches designed into the levies created spaces where friends or strangers chatted. Large low round structures not only stored emergency supplies but also served as tables where families gathered for reunions, business professionals met, and activists organized.

The Three Beans also designed thousands of projects throughout Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Pacific Islands using and developing inexpensive materials to build shelters for disaster relief and permanent structures to withstand extreme weather.

louvre-pyramid-nightThe Three Beans also provided endless entertainment with their flamboyant fashion choices, often wearing matching outfits. Their lively interactions in public and the festive atmosphere they generated wherever they went, kept them regularly in the news for nearly 30 years. During the Parisian flash floods of 2073, standing in front of the Lourve, Pierre Tremblay famously cut off his and his fellow engineers’ trousers exactly 2 centimeters below the knee before dashing into the famed art museum with their patented inflatable waterproof containers thus saving priceless pieces of art. What were once called Pirate Pants became the fashion craze forever known as La Coupe de Pierre.

Wherever they went, the Three Beans injected play and beauty into their innovative and highly effective adaptation designs. On this day in 2165 we remember that day in Climate History.


Climate History is brought to you by Geico. 15 minutes could save you 15% or more on disaster insurance. Ask about our Apocalypse Plan.

Anything But Isolated. Climate Change & the Earthship

The Global Warming/Climate Change movement has been anything but isolated

ES7As the movement has grown, its effects have spread through a wide variety of the other aspects of our lives, proving that the people involved in the movement are not merely single minded, one issue robots, but rather they are taking their knowledge as it accrues and applying to other areas of life as well.

Not only does this fundamentally challenge the way we all think and the way we all live as we see these changes occur, we begin to see and imagine a wide variety of new, sustainable options for living as lightly and as cleanly on the surface of this planet as possible.

As the Global Warming/Climate Change movement spreads and encompasses the way we all live, we not only witness radical change, but also  permanent change.

Global Warming/Climate Change & The Shelters Where We Live Our Lives


New models of architecture are emerging not only in this country, but across the world. Energy efficiency is key, from the LEED hierarchy ratings (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), to net-zero architecture (where the energy consumption of the shelter is completely offset by its energy generation) on to family shelters that are capable of enabling people to live completely off the public utilities grid, without fossil fuels, even out in the wild, if they so choose.

Of this, the latter has interested me the most as an architecture nerd, especially a form of housing called the Earthship.


The Earthship is a fundamentally new way of looking at human shelter that incorporates passive solar design as well as solar and wind power to produce heat and energy. It is built from as many recycled objects as possible, such as the bottles embedded in the wall above to create solid curtain walls of light and color.ES2

The use of old tires to create exterior and interior walls offers huge areas surrounding as well as inside the dwelling that enable heat retention via the use of thermal mass, which augmented by natural cross ventilation, keeps the dwelling at a pretty constant temperature year round, winter included.

The use of glass across the south facing side of the shelter (in the northern hemisphere) allows for constant solar gain all year long, heating the used tire thermal banks, as well as creating an indoor greenhouse which can not only freshen the air (humans breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, the plants do the opposite), but that very same greenhouse can be used as a year round source of food for the people living there.

ES6There is also a innovative water conservation system that reclaims and reuses as much water as possible. Gallons and gallons are not simply pumped and/or collected and then flushed away.

Earthships offer those who wish to live their lives with an absolutely minimal impact on the environment a thoughtful, integrated way to do just exactly that.





Behold–The Earthship!

For more information


Photos: HighExistence

Slums, the people living in them, and climate change

IMG_1584Over New Years I had the absolute pleasure of hanging out with José Lobo, an excellent host who loves good coffee with the same intensity that some people love and serve the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He is also a genuine smarty pants who connects diverse academic disciplines with his passion for justice.

Over at Arizona State University in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, he keeps busy:

Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability
Associate Research Professor, School of Sustainability
Faculty Associate, Department of Economics, W.P. Carey School of Business

Touring through the Arizona mountains with José Loba and his spouse, Gerda.

Touring through the Arizona mountains with José Loba and his spouse, Gerda.

During the days we hung out together and drank coffee, with our spouses listening on, Jose informed, amazed, inspired, and challenged me with his breadth of knowledge, his commitment to justice wok, and his gentleness towards people who think very differently from him. He is interested in connecting with people and in helping us think better and live better.

So I was not surprised to learn he is part of a project that looks at Neighborhoods, Slums, and Human Development. Over at the prestigious and innovative Santa Fe Institute, José and his colleagues are looking at how to make slums more resilient to climate change.

Freetown, Sierra Leone (credit: Santa Fe Institute)

Freetown, Sierra Leone (credit: Santa Fe Institute)

In our rapidly urbanizing world, access to sanitation, transportation, and other essential services remains a challenge for more than a billion people. In the world’s poorest and most vulnerable urban communities, finding new ways to meet these day-to-day human needs not only leads to sustainable development, it also fortifies them against the effects of climate-induced disasters.

This week, scientists from the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) and Arizona State University (ASU), together with Slum Dwellers International (SDI), a network of community-based organizations of the urban poor in 33 countries and hundreds of cities and towns worldwide, were selected to tackle a challenge put forth by OpenIDEO’s Amplify ProgramHow might urban slum communities become more resilient to the effects of climate change?

Mumbai Slums (photo credit: Geography Blogs)

Mumbai Slums (photo credit: Geography Blogs)

Part of the work has to do with “reblocking.” People need to have recognized addresses, so naming streets and literally creating streets and public spaces are essential steps that lead to bringing necessary services into communities and households.

What I love about José’s work is that it takes in many factors and looks at how they affect each other.

“There are social, economic, and spatial considerations in creating a street network in a neighborhood,” says Luís Bettencourt, a professor at SFI who leads the Institute’s Neighborhoods, Slums, and Human Development project together with Professor José Lobo at ASU’s School of Sustainability. “Unless you bring them all together in a single platform that everyone can use, it is very difficult to coordinate local communities, create good solutions, and collaborate with their local governments. Technology and design can now help us do this much better.”

Read the entire piece over at the Santa Fe Institute site. And as I write this I raise my cup of espresso (Cafe Bustelo prepared in my Bialetti stovetop moka pot) to José Lobo and his colleagues.