On the Climate Stew Show we produce a segment from the year 2165. That Year in Climate History looks back on the Climate Generation (that would be you and me) to celebrate all of the amazing things we did to address the climate crisis. In writing these segments I sometimes take real events and people and weave them into their hopeful fictional accounts. Other times I make it all up, envisioning a person or group acting creatively.
In this segment of That Day in Climate History you will meet Marisol Jimenez, an immigrant from Mexico to the US. We look at her long career (over 60 years) addressing the climate crisis. While she is not based on any living person that I know, I believe there are many Marisol’s out there already doing the important justice work around climate change. Have a listen (transcript below)
On Tuesday and Wednesday June 23 and 24 I will be in Washington, DC with my husband Glen and over 900 people concerned about climate change. We go with a message of hope AND a practical plan for lawmakers in addressing our pollution crisis. I will be in the offices of lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, building on the relationships we have been building for three years. The media insists that congress is immovable, especially on climate change. I have been pleasantly surprised, even shocked, at how behind closed doors, lawmakers share their concerns and readily admit the challenges they face in raising the alarm about climate change. There is a growing undercurrent that gives me hope.
Congress responds to citizens mobilizing. They hear their constitutes calling for action. This empowers them to act. I am not naive about this; I realize that it is an uphill battle. Still I see we are chipping away, and in just a few years the consistent work of Citizens Climate Lobby folks has shifted the conversation to a serious consideration of a carbon tax with 100% of the revenue returns to households. Both Conservative and Liberal lawmakers have told me that the idea sounds practical, moderate, and effective. (check out our short video below)
I need YOUR HELP. No not money. If you live in the USA, I simply need you to call your member of congress on Monday June 22 and say you want to see climate action out of Washington. It will mean so much to me if you do this. Please let me know that you acted. Thanks!
Call, tweet, and email: Check out sample call and tweet ideas.
Want to know more about how to talk about climate change? Take a listen as I share three easy steps that have worked in opening up a conversation.
(Featured image: original art by Kevin Miller)
Those of us passionate about our changing planet desire to engage family, friends, co-workers, and random people in public in conversation about climate change. It gets discouraging when the conversation shuts down faster than it begins. Well, I have been trying out various strategies to help people open up about climate change. Both in researching how to talk about climate change and through trial and error, I have learned a lot in a short time. I’m thrilled to share this successful strategy with you. I have landed on a way to start a conversation about climate change that actually causes people to be curious as they ask questions and want to know more. Now that is rare and wonderful.
Here is the link on SoundCloud and I have a transcript below.
Last September I had my coming out party. Yes, I think of the People’s Climate March as the moment when I publicly came out as someone concerned about climate change and who is committed to doing something about it. Coming out has its own challenges and pleasant surprises. The biggest challenge was the silence I suddenly faced.
As a performer, public speaker, and comic, I look closely at crowd reaction. A smile here, a chuckle there, even a furrowed brow helps me know that I am communicating something that has an effect. Not so with climate change. As I began to tell people about my new work —looking at artistic, creative, and even comic responses to climate change—I saw a look on people’s faces that I have rarely ever seen before. In fact, I did not know what to call it. It wasn’t resistance or anger, fear, confusion, and definitely not delight. The people I spoke to had an inscrutable look on their faces. Their expressions smoothed out and then went blank, drained of all emotion, even devoid of apathy. It was like I had been talking to a fully animated action figure when suddenly someone pulled the plug. Blank, dull, flat, even their eyes lost luster and focus.
I knew it was new material and wondered if I was simply not presenting it correctly. Was I too earnest? Too pushy? Too jargony? What was it?
Fortunately in reading George Marshall’s excellent book, Don’t Even Think About It—Why our Brain are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, I got some clarity. Ffter several trips to the US, Marshall, a Brit, describes the phenomenon in the Chapter 17. “I am constantly dropping the term climate change into conversations with strangers. I may talk about my own work or relate it to the weird weather or some other issue that is hogging a prime spot in their pool of worry. I am very relaxed and casual about it—after all, no one wants to find herself sitting next to a zealot on a long-distance train journey.
Really, though, it doesn’t seem to matter how I say it, because the result is almost always the same: The words collapse, sink, and die in midair, and the conversation suddenly changes course. It is like an invisible force field that you discover only when you barge right into it.
A survey found that a quarter of people have never discussed climate change with anyone at all. In real life, it seems that the most influential climate narrative of all may be the non-narrative of collective silence.”
Collective Silence. I call it climate change-induced zombie syndrome.
The good news is that there is a cure! Yep, there are ways of talking about climate change that will keep people engaged and plugged in. From what I observed so far, part of the solution is to jump ahead of the listener’s expectations. They hear climate change and immediately downloaded into their brains are messages and images of dire gloomy overwhelming guilty hopeless dread. And polar bears. That literally short circuits the brain.
On episode 24 of Climate Stew, Rev. Nancy Wilson reminded us about the HIV/AIDS Crisis in the early 1980s and the slogan, Silence=Death. She says that slogan is just as true for climate change today. So my job, your job, our job is to break through that silence, but to do so in ways that truly engage, that open people up, that invite them to be curious, and come closer to climate change. We need a society that is engaged, reading, thinking, planning and not just clicking onto the next hot Internet sensation
I think back to my days as a missionary in New York, Ecuador, and Zambia, sharing the good news. Back then I thought a lot about Jesus’ words to be wise as a serpent and gentle as a doves. If the message is important enough, the messaging needs to be carefully considered.
Some suggest that leading with hope, letting people know that there is plenty we can still do, will help keep the brain from freezing up. I have seen this in action; it doesn’t hurt, but it hasn’t been enough.
So far what has been most successful is for me is to start with something like this. “Well you know me, a (then I fill in the blank, and for me there are lots of options) Bible scholar, comic, LGBTQ rights activist, Quaker, a Christian, married man, swimmer, performance artist, cat owner, etc. I establish where I am coming from then I say something like, “It’s funny, I’m not an environmentalist, but I am concerned about climate change.” Or, “Lately I have been thinking a lot about climate change, not as an environmental issue but as a human rights issue or a faith issue or a queer issue.”
So I have an assignment for you:
How about you try this yourself. Engage in conversation with someone (in person or on-line but better in person)
Here’s an example. I had dinner recently with a friend and her parents who were visiting form California. Evangelical Christians, they have been to my house and know my husband well and they know about my work as a queer comic performance artist. After we ordered my friend turned to her parents and said, “Peterson is working on some new topics including climate change.” Before climate change-induced zombie syndrome set in, I blurted out, “Yeah, it’s funny, I’m not an environmentalist, but I am concerned about climate change as a faith issue.” My friend’s mother responded. “I’m not an environmentalist either,” she then added, “but how is climate change a faith issue?” Wait, What?!? someone not only listening but asking questions about climate change. Yummy. I told her, “Well there are so many stories in the Bible about water and wells. So much happen at wells—conflict, romance, new beginnings, despair, and hope.” She perked up, “Yes, I can see that, and you know we have had this terrible drought in California…” And we went on from there.
So try these three steps yourself:
Try this and let me know how it turns out.
Far too much of the public discourse around climate change has been driven by the concept of climate denial. As a result, most of the news stories the average person reads about the climate crisis is about the people who deny it and the people who mock them for denying. I have a feeling we are moving into a post-climate denial period at last. But it is important to take a look at climate denial.
Here at Climate Stew we don’t like mocking anyone. In fact, Marvin Bloom, one of our regular correspondents, has taken a serious look at the issue of climate denial and has developed a theory. In fact, he feels a lot of hope about climate skeptics, believing they are closer to acting than most may imagine. Drawing on the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief, in this short monologue, Marvin humorously sheds light on the serious issue of climate denial.
I get to speak with lots of people about climate change. Recently I visited the Watkinson School in Connecticut and chatted with the students in Dr. Jennifer O’Brien’s Environmental Science class. We discussed the ways people traditionally talk about climate change as either an environmental issue (Save the Polar Bears!) or a moral issue (Think of the children and the grandchildren!)
But many (most?) people do not get motivated by either of these talking point. Sure they might go, “Awww, poor things,” but then move on to the next thing on Facebook. But there are also talking points that are be meaningful to people, that catch their attention, jar them awake, and get them to say, “Whoa, I need to know more about this.”
So I asked these students (and a few other folks)
Besides the polar bears and future generations, what are compelling reasons to act to address climate change?
I found their answers to be insightful, thoughtful, fanciful, witty, and wise. Added to the mix are some the characters that appear on the Climate Stew Show. If you are looking for ways of engaging family, friends, co-workers, and seat mates on public transportation, consider some of these students’ talking points about all sorts of interesting reasons to act for climate.
Back in March many of us learned that officials in Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection were forbidden to say the words Climate Change, Global Warming, or Sea-Level Rise. Florida became the target of much deserved mocking over that one. The story became another partisan argument about “belief” in climate change or not. (As if the climate crisis, caused by our pollution is like the Tooth Faery or Santa Claus.)
While all this mocking of deniers may help climate change action figures to let off some steam, I wrote in the Huffington Post about the risk of always pointing the finger at extreme deniers leading us to overlook our own denial about the crisis. Also when we focus our ire on lawmakers who don’t take climate chance seriously, we take the pressure off those members of congress who say they are concerned about climate change but do nothing about it.
Here some good news. The story is beginning to change
Republican congressman, Carlos Curbelo, clearly states that climate change is happening, humans are the cause, AND we must do something about it. I first heard about this story via Steve Valk from the Citizen Climate Lobby in his blog post, Caught in the Act…of Being a Climate Hero. Thanks in part to the work of Jay Butera from CCL in Pennsylvania, a group of students in Homestead, Florida later met with Representative Curbelo to personally thank him for taking a stand on climate change.
Hi this Marvin, Marvin Bloom with a climate news story from Florida. I hate Florida, which sounds awful because I have so much family that moved there from New York. But I hate the heat and the bugs. And its a weird place politically. Not that I am that much into politics. But when it comes to climate change recently the media has been mocking Florida a lot.
Have you heard the story about when Florida’s Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of the words Climate Change and Global Warming? I’m sure you heard it. It was the only quote unquote climate news story out there for awhile and clogged up Facebook walls and tweeter feeds.
According to the Guardian Newspaper, Kristina Trotta, a Florida DEP employee revealed
“We were instructed by our regional administrator that we were no longer allowed to use the terms ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ or even ‘sea-level rise’,” “Sea-level rise was to be referred to as ‘nuisance flooding’.”
Well here is a different story about a Florida Republican lawmaker talking about climate change that you probably have not yet heard. I found out about it from Steve Volk over at the Citizens Climate Lobby who wrote about Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo. While touring the Everglades on Earth Day with President Obama, Curbelo again a Republican US congressman from Southern Florida said, you ready for this?
“I share the President’s concerns about sea-level rise, and its effects on our drinking supplies, our economy, and our way of life. I am committed to finding common ground to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
After hearing about this some Miami fifth graders in science teacher Denise Mendoza’s class got so excited about the lawmaker’s statement about climate change they began to write thank you notes. The idea spread throughout the school and on May 8th Representative Curbelo visited the school and received 200 thank you notes from the students. Even Scientific American magazine got wind of Curbelo’s proactive climate talk and the school’s glee. They reported Curbelo saying,“It is vital Congress works in a bipartisan manner to mitigate the effects of climate change and I’m proud to be a pro-environment voice in the Republican Party.”
With sea level rise in Florida and this recent awful flooding after a severe drought in Texas, and the projected hurricane season ramping up, Republican presidential hopefuls like Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Perry might want to sing unto the voters a new song when it comes to climate change.
That’s right, I am slaughtering the Progressive Liberal’s sacred cow. I have been freaking some people out (including last night at a panel discussion after the excellent documentary film, Merchants of Doubt) as I tell them that all those individual efforts we make in our North American and European homes to lower our personal carbon footprints don’t really add up to much in light of the extreme amounts of greenhouse gases that get emitted from the existing energy infrastructure all around us. Shocking I know. It’s not that lowering our individual output of fossil fuels is a bad thing–it is noble and the right thing to do, BUT it is the tiniest of baby steps. For so long we have embraced an eco-myth that if we each did our individual part, we will lick this fossil fuel pollution problem.
I tend to think of lowering our carbon footprint as bootcamp workout for the future. We are in training for living in tomorrowland, a time after we transition form dirty to clean energy. Greenhouse gases will likely rise in price, and our energy expenses at home will also rise. More importantly these prices will rise for businesses and government. Plastic packaging, transportation, heat, street maintenance, and electricity may very well shoot up in price thus forcing governments, businesses, and folks on the ground like you and me to conserve and pursue alternative clean energy.
But this notion that if we all just do our part in our own homes–recycle, lower the thermostat, live without air conditioning, dry our clothes on a line somewhere, go vegan, buy green products–that it will magically all add up and BAM we will have addressed fossil fuel emissions is a Big Myth. Now myths about tooth faeries and ghosts don’t really cause much harm, but when we conserve at home and feel we have done our part, we undermine the essential work that needs to be done. In fact, we engage in another form of Climate Denial; we do not recognize the seriousness and the scale of the problem. We end up making no real difference.
Lowering my carbon footprints feels like eco-masturbation to me. Satisfying, pleasurable, and relaxing. But if, for example, as an LGBTQ activist, I believed that by wanking in the privacy of my own home, I somehow address justice issues around sexuality and identity, well, then my masturbatory fantasy life is really out there. Similarly, those private eco acts we perform at home feel good but do virtually nothing to address the the world outside our homes that is fueled and maintained by greenhouse gases. It may not be the perfect analogy, but the next time you recycle consider if you are indulging in eco-masturbation and if there is something more you can do to address the climate crisis.
Not that we are helpless victims in the face of a fossil fuel intensive world order. We have agency; we have work to do.
In Episode Six of Climate Stew I talk to an atmospheric scientist, Kathy Straub, who gently but directly helps me understand why while personal energy adjustments are woefully inadequate in dealing with our current climate crisis. We talk about the issue of slavery in America and how an entire money making institution had to be challenged socially, outside of the comfort of abolitionists’ homes. The show also reveals some practical steps that can radically address how to lower emissions on a large scale. In just 12 minutes (which includes humor and hope and music) this Climate Stew episode helps to dispel the myths while providing a path forward.
I also take this issue on in a recent Huffington Post piece I wrote, I Confess: I am a Climate Change Hypocrite.
Have a look and listen. Feel free to disagree, but let’s look at global warming honestly and without myths.
Last September I skipped along with over 300,000 other people for the Peoples Climate March. I was able to interview some folks from the Queers for the Climate and shared it on Episode 3 of Climate Stew–The Peoples Climate Pride Parade.
This weekend more audio has emerged this time from Ninja Radio. Hot Fossils and Rebel Matters is an excellent episode that gives an overview of the march, interviews several marchers, and raises important and challenging issues about climate action. I appreciate the independent thinking of show host, Ninja and co-host Special K.
If you did not attend the march and wanted to get a sense of it, have a listen. If you did attend the march, also listen. It brought back good memories for me and helped refresh some of the issues that moved me at the time.
Hot Fossils and Rebel Matters — An Audio Journal of the Peoples Climate March on Ninja Radio
Despite the frigid weather in some parts of the USA this winter, the global temperature is rising. You may have heard that the Iditarod, Alaska’s famed dog sled race, was moved 225 miles north from its traditional starting place because of the heat. It is no fun to drag a sled across gravel. Of course folks in California and Australia know about the growing extreme heat. Also, recent studies point out that heat and drought are some of the causes of the current conflict in Syria. The planet is changing, and we need to adapt to these changes.
Scientists are now urging communities to begin preparing for an expected leap in temperatures over the next 10 years. The oceans have been absorbing a great deal of heat, but because of the natural ocean cycles, that protection on land is about to be lifted. Heat waves are coming very soon. Some officials see the handwriting on the wall and are beginning to respond:
Cities and communities around the world are already taking steps to protect their citizens from the rising threats of extreme heat waves, which often take the heaviest tolls in cities, where concrete urban landscapes produce islands of intense heat. Steps taken by public health departments in places such as Milwaukee, for example, include better planning for heat emergencies, such as providing places where vulnerable residents can cool down. Steps being taken in other American cities, such as Louisville, Ky., aim to reimagine the built environment in ways that can reduce the heat island effect.
-from Looming Warming Spurt Could Reshape Climate Debate by John Upton writing for Climate Central
I think of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. After Pharaoh has troubling dreams, Joseph, a young person of faith, gets hauled out of prison to interpret the dreams. Joseph informs the court that seven years of excellent growing seasons are coming to Egypt followed by seven years of the worse drought ever. Joseph then suggests a plan of action.
Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. And let them gather all the food of these good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. And the food shall be for a store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.’ (from Genesis Chapter 41, JPS Tanakh version 1917)
Joseph’s plan works. It maintains political stability and more importantly saves many lives. There is a downside to the plan in that it ultimately places all the property in Pharaoh’s hands, turning the ruler into the ultimate 1%, but I will write about that in a future post.
To give you an idea, here is a radio transmission from the year 2164. Take a listen to this broadcast of That Day in Climate History and discover how a group of clergy faced the heat and provided sanctuary.