Call Us: 570 483 8194

Category: Climate Change

A Time-Traveling Climate Change Podcast Episode RV Sci Pod

I am always hungry for climate change presentations that include playfulness, creativity, and thoughtfulness to them. Recently at Raritan Valley Community College, I met up with students who were working on the very first episode of their new science podcast. They decided they would start with the topic of climate change. Nothing like jumping right in to take on a tough issue.

Seriously, there is no topic more difficult to talk about than climate change. When I speak to Communications classes, I stress how hard it is to communicate effectively about climate change. Listeners shut down so quickly because of so many reasons–fear, shame, anger, despair, powerless, or a thick toxic combo of all those feelings. I joke that if you want to know if a on a TV cooking show a chef is really good, have that chef prepare a vegan meal. It takes real skill, nuance, and creatively. Similarly, if you want to challenge communication experts, have them give a presentation about climate change. It is the vegan meal of communications.

The students who produced episode one of RV Sci Pod, You Can Keep the Climate Change, met the challenge and created an effective, stimulating, whimsical, informed, and moving podcast about climate change. They play with time having some of the action take place in the future. They include characters, particularly a grandfather of the future and his grandchild. In an especially entertaining and insightful mock trial, they cleverly use real audio clips of famous people talking about climate change. They include the damning dismissiveness of Donald Trump and the passionate appeal of Richard Attenborough.

They pack all this and more into an episode of 35 minutes that never feels rushed or cluttered. The sound quality is excellent, and the tone they maintain throughout is welcoming, playful, and informed. This podcast is an excellent primer for the basics of climate change, but more than that it reaches the heart in unexpected ways. Just have a listen, share it with young people you know and older people too.

You can follow RV Sci Pod on Twitter or find them follow scipod_rvcc on Instagram

(featured image credit: Photo by Dynamic Wang on Unsplash)

Another Extreme Weather Event? Yawn…

Kristen Pope over at Yale Climate Connections writes about how people are growing used to extreme weather. The new normal has not translated into action around climate change.

Quoting Francis Moore, assistant professor of environmental science and policy at the University of California, Davis, Pope writes:

“What we show is that, if you have unusual temperatures and this is the first you’ve ever experienced it, that generates a big change on Twitter and people are talking about it a lot,” Moore says. “But if you have that same change … two years in a row, then people begin to stop talking about it. And if you have that same change eight years in a row, then people completely stop talking about it. So what that implies is that people’s idea of normal has shifted from what it used to be to this new state that’s defined by what happened two to eight years ago. And so we’re estimating this is kind of what people think of as normal just based on the rates at which they stop tweeting about unusual temperatures when they get them repeatedly year after year.”

Moore’s recent study builds upon previous research about social media and climate change. In 2015, a PLOS ONE study analyzed tweets from September 2008 to July 2014 that used the word “climate.” The researchers found Twitter to be a valuable tool for sharing climate change information, and they wrote in the paper that “We find that natural disasters, climate bills, and oil-drilling can contribute to a decrease in happiness while climate rallies, a book release, and a green ideas contest can contribute to an increase in happiness.” They found climate change advocates were more likely to use the words than deniers.

Read the entire article for yourself: The growing frequency of extreme weather dulls people’s awareness of climate change impacts, Most people normalize extreme weather over just two to eight years, Twitter researchers say.


BIG Stories Require Better Storytelling Skills

Writing for Forbes, Solitaire Townsend recounts hearing Harrison Ford speak about climate change in a very unconventional way,

“Let’s kick this monster’s ass!” roared Harrison Ford at the Global Climate Action Summit yesterday.

Now, as a girl, Indiana Jones and Han Solo got me hooked on storytelling, character and yes, fighting monsters. So, the idea of climate change as a monster story hooked my imagination.

But there’s a problem.

Because if you review most climate messages in the media, then this story actually has two acts: man makes monster, then monster destroys man.

It’s a grand morality tale which neatly fits a primordial structure in our subconscious. This plot sings to something deep within us, a tale we’ve told since we sat around fires weaving myths in the dark.

She goes on to explain,

Climate change isn’t presented to the public as plucky rebels against the empire. Instead climate is told as a Frankenstein story: that with our avarice and vanity, we have created the horror that will ultimately defeat us.

The narrative necessity of this climate story is hard to escape. Throughout this summer of ‘hothouse earth,’ and the decades leading up to it, this human hubris story has been the basic blueprint of climate change messaging.

If you want to be a better climate communicator, I urge you to read the rest of the article. I find it thought-provoking and helpful.

The Epic Story of Solving Climate Change

How to Talk About Climate Change Without Being a Total Downer

I don’t know about you, but it is easy to be that person at the party who brings the festivities to a halt. “Hey Peterson, what’s going on in your life and work?” I straighten up, smile, and say, “I’m really excited about my presentations about climate change.” People tense up. They expect the prophet of gloom and doom and shame and blame to start spewing forth.

It is easy to do. Climate change is downright dire and scary. I learned a long time ago though when talking about sexuality and the Bible, people need help to come close to these hot topic issues that stir up strong, negative emotions.


Sara Peach at Yale Climate Connections asked me about the role of comedy and climate change communication, so I told her about the Homo No Mo Halfway House.

Toscano said in a recent interview that comedy can be an effective strategy for engaging people in difficult topics. Toscano, who is gay, spent nearly two decades undergoing conversion therapy, the discredited practice of attempting to alter a person’s sexual orientation. After abandoning the therapy and coming out, he struggled to talk about the harm he had experienced.

“I needed to tell that story, but telling it directly was too overwhelming for me and my audience,” he said. “It was too heavy, and it was bringing in hot-topic issues of faith and sexuality that provoked people. I realized I needed a different way.”

He tried comedy, eventually writing and starring in a 90-minute satirical play called “Doin’ Time In The Homo No Mo’ Halfway House: How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement!

Toscano said sharing his experiences in this way made the topic more approachable.

“The problem is, when people are tense, particularly when they’re afraid or ashamed or angry, they don’t think as clearly,” he said. “So comedy helps, because it can address a lot of those things. It relaxes the audience physically and mentally so they can hear what you’re saying.”

To read more of the article (and see delightful gifs of Debbie Downer from Saturday Night Live) check out Yale Climate Connections’ Advice Column.



Good Wines from Poland and England?

Yes, the climate is changing, and as a result wine production is shifting away from the previously reliable wine-growing regions into new territories. According to Akshat Rasthi writing for Quartzy,

The map of the wine world is undergoing a dramatic change. World wine production is set to fall to its lowest levels in decades, largely due to the weather, according to estimates from the International Organization of Vine and Wine. Meanwhile, wine production in the UK has reached record highs, with sparkling wines leading the way.

Though experts remain divided on which areas of the world will lose and which will win, they all agree that the world’s most famous wine regions are not going to remain the same. As global average temperatures rise, the best lands to plant a vineyard are moving away from the equator, creeping up into the northern hemisphere and down into the southern hemisphere.

Still the jury is still out about how reliable these new regions will be as wine producers.

But the study was criticized (pdf) for its poor methodology. Though these traditional regions are definitely under threat, follow-up studies have painted a more complex picture. As global temperatures rise, local weather changes may play out differently across the world: Some regions will experience droughts, and others floods. A better way to predict these changes is to study individual regions.

The reality is that we will likely see a continuation of lower yields in wine production, and perhaps more concerning, a shift in the taste of wines. While Jesus counseled that we need to put new wine into new wine skins, it is still unpredictable about what kind of wine will be produced in new wine regions.

Read the whole article for yourself: The Improbable New Wine Countries Climate Change is Creating.

Climate Change? How Very Queer!

A homage to Robin Williams by a sociology professor who marched beside me and other Queers for the Climate at the People Climate March in 2014.

Since 2014 I have obsessed, mused, marveled, and expounded on queer responses to climate change. I am please to say that my growing interest in the topic have not abated. Next month I will co-present a workshop, Everything is Connected–Trans Lives and Climate Change, with Liam Hooper, a trans man and fellow Bible geek.

While I look at the more direct connections to LGBTQ people, Liam will bring in theory. He told me, “I am working with the various parallels of queer practice that relate to the inextricable connections between exploitations of land and exploitations of bodies.”

If you are in the Philadelphia area on September 7, and you want to take part in the workshop, check the details here.

In looking models in history, I have returned time and time again to Walt Whitman. The groundbreaking American poet was a gay man who wrote about bodies, identity, and nature. I would not call him an environmentalist. He was a lover of beauty and he writes of a deep connection to other humans–friends, lovers, and strangers, as well as to the natural world.

Writing very much about himself in the preface of the first edition of the Leaves of Grass (1855,) Whitman talks about these many loves and of beauty:

The known universe has one complete lover and that is the greatest poet. He consumes
an eternal passion and is indifferent which chance happens and which possible contingency
of fortune or misfortune and persuades daily and hourly his delicious pay. What balks or
breaks others is fuel for his burning progress to contact and amorous joy. Other
proportions of the reception of pleasure dwindle to nothing to his proportions. All
expected from heaven or from the highest he is rapport with in the sight of the daybreak or
a scene of the winter woods or the presence of children playing or with his arm round the
neck of a man or woman. His love above all love has leisure and expanse … he leaves
room ahead of himself. He is no irresolute or suspicious lover … he is sure … he scorns
intervals. His experience and the showers and thrills are not for nothing. Nothing can jar
him . . . suffering and darkness cannot— death and fear cannot. To him complaint and
jealousy and envy are coipses buried and rotten in the earth … he saw them buried. The
sea is not surer of the shore or the shore of the sea than he is of the fruition of his love and
of all perfection and beauty.

With his eye fixed on all Americans, not just white men in his world, his willingness to get his hands dirty during a huge crisis (the American Civil War,) and with a view to both the present and the far future, I find Whitman a constant source of inspiration as I mull over the query, “What is my role on this new planet?”

Next month at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, I will present my performance lecture, A Queer Response to Climate Change–What Would Walt Whitman Do? I will also present this same piece at SUNY Cortland in mid-November for the New York Coalition for Sustainability in Higher Education Conference.

I am always curious to hear what other people think of this topic: Queer Response to Climate Change. Please feel free to leave comments with your ideas.

Noah’s Ark in a Time of Climate Change

Rev. Leah Schade published an insightful piece that asks churches to consider their role on a changing planet.

The archetypal story of Noah and the Ark has become a beloved children’s motif.  But it takes on heavier significance when read in light of our climate crisis and the floods of global warming.  How should the Church respond to the threats of climate change?

In the piece she raises really interesting questions and provides sharp analysis and personal storytelling.

At Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago, we were talking about world events and politics when my then 11-year-old daughter piped up, “I don’t know why you’re talking about all this.  None of it is going to matter.  The apocalypse is already happening.  The end of the world is coming.”

Forks clattered.  Mouths stood agape with half-swallowed mashed potatoes.  All eyes turned to me, the ecofeminist-climate-activist mom.  I shrunk in my chair.  I never actually used the word “apocalypse” when explaining climate change to her.  How did she come up with that?

“Why are you looking at her?” my daughter asked.  “Don’t you read the news?  It’s not her fault.  She’s just trying to warn us.”

There is no sense in me quoting more. Read it for yourself. Noah’s Ark and Climate Change: What Kind of Church Will We Be?

Moving Beyond the Traditional Climate Talking Points

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, PhD

Climate Stew crew member, Rev. Dr. Leah Schade wrote an Op-Ed that was published in the Lexington Herald Ledger. She recognizes that most people are not moved by the traditional talking points when it comes to climate change. She is undeterred. Her response is to consider new talking points about issues that drive the point home.

No matter how much I think the ethics of our faith should be extended to our neighbors within the other-than-human world and to generations of people we will never meet, that is simply not the reality. Humans, generally speaking, care most about their personal circumstances, immediate family and short-term impacts on their wallets.

So why should someone care about climate change? Are there any immediate impacts on our health, family or wallets? As a matter of fact, there are.

 She then goes on to outline these impacts. Read more here

Can US Conservatives and Progressive Agree on Climate Action?

The Elephant Podcast has an excellent episode produced by Barbara Lucas. She asks if we can find common ground between Conservatives and Progressives when it comes to climate solutions. In order to find out, Barbara speaks with many people on all sides.

The episode is insightful, revealing, and hopeful.

Conservatives, especially in America, are known for doubting the scientific basis of man-made climate change, and the need to do anything about it. But earlier this February something surprising happened – several elder Republican statesmen released a proposal for what they call a Conservative solution to climate change. The plan consists primarily of carbon tax – something that many progressives have long advocated for. But controversially for Democrats, the plan also calls for repealing more intricate climate regulations such as the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

At this time when by all signs it seems like the divide between Republicans and Democrats is wider than ever, Radio producer Barbara Lucas takes a look at the plan, and asks, when it comes to climate change, can Conservatives and Progressives in the U.S. ever find common ground?

Climate Communication: Better Stories Needed!

How do you market a problem like the Climate?

I spoke with a marketing expert yesterday. Lesley Beatty, a volunteer at Citizens’ Climate Lobby, is concerned about climate change and its affects on her children. Part of our conversation centered on marketing climate change–getting people to understand and care about it. She says climate global warming may be the greatest marketing challenge of all. As a storyteller, I agree.

Stories matter. They help shape how we perceive the world and our roles in it. In considering our climate change narratives, Michael Segal explains,

Peter Sheridan Dodds has a nickname for us humans: Homo narrativus. Dodds, a professor at the University of Vermont, uses mathematics to study social networks. He has argued that people see the stories of heroes and villains, where there are really just networks and graphs. It’s our desire for narrative, he says, that makes us believe that something like fame is the result of merit or destiny and not a network model quirk.

Breaking out of the narrative binary

Segal says that with an absence of helpful stories about climate change, the vacuum has gotten filled with a glut of unhelpful ones.

Faced with an absence, we revert to old narratives, and there are few older than utopia and dystopia. The skeptic storyline of the rise of a dictatorial world government usurping American values must be considered not as a unique reply to climate change but as the latest instance of a well-established dystopic trope, stoked by the climate narrative vacuum. Something similar can be said for attacks on the capitalist enterprise from the left. The public, for its part, is served visions of an apocalyptic future, whether it’s from politicians or from Hollywood—and, simultaneously, the utopianism of far-distant science fiction, which as a category is consumed in greater quantity than science journalism and which reflects and encourages what sociologists call “optimism bias” or “technosalvation.” These utopian instincts are strengthened by a historical data point obvious to all: Our species has survived every obstacle we’ve encountered, and we are still here.

As a performer and climate communicator, I stay away from both utopian and dystopian visions of the future. They do not require that much imagination. It is more challenging is to imagine success and a practical, stable future that still has flawed humans in it with the on-going social issues we face that we carry with us into the future. It is an imperfect world, but a workable one. In part, that is why I created the series of monologues, That Day in Climate History.

Who is telling good climate stories?

One of the challenges that interferes with good climate storytelling is the vast scope of the problem. It is global and takes place over hundreds of years. Aaron Their, in his novel Mr. Eternity, has embraced the immenseness of the issue by setting his story over 1,000 years with five narrators and some characters who never die. They live as witnesses. I interviewed Aaron on my Citizens’ Climate Radio show where he also reads excerpts from his book.

In his article about climate narratives, Michael Segal raises lots of questions. He expertly points out how we are getting it wrong in the media and in the scientific community. He makes some suggestions but ultimately ends with more questions that need to be considered.

The narrative questions around climate change are broad. What does it mean for there to be a scientific consensus? How is the scientific method properly applied to a system that resists experimentation? What does a complex system look like? What is the nature of risk and probability? Each has a direct bearing on the climate change conversation without necessarily being about climate change. They, and others like them, constitute a suprascientific narrative that is necessary for science to become culture. In a way, every good science story is a story about all of science and helps us understand every other science story.

Read To Fix Climate, Tell Better Stories: The Missing Climate Change Narrative by Michael Segal writing for Nautilus.

(Art by Ernesto Neto : Cuddle on the Tightrope installation at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, NYC)