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Episode 25 — How to Talk about Climate Change in 3 Easy Steps

Photo on 1-12-15 at 3.14 PM

Climate Stew Host, Peterson Toscano, at the mic

We are pleased to announce that the Climate Stew Show is BACK for a second season. Both the demand for more episodes and Peterson’s delight in producing them helped us to decide to continue with the podcast with some minor changes. The show will be a little longer (about 18-20 minutes compared to 12-13 minutes in the past) and will come out twice a month. This will give us more time for interviews, analysis, and extras. In addition, we will take excerpts of the program and put them up on SoundCloud so that you can share bits and pieces with your friends on social media. Take a look at what we already have up on SoundCloud. Climate Stew is always available on  iTunes,  StitcherSoundCloud, or Listen here  on our site.

Episode 25 is recorded in part at the Watkinson School where Peterson announces the future of the program. Marvin Bloom presents the news and tries to help his Uncle Saul in New York understand the wobbly winter we had forcing dog sled racers to head north while folks in the Northeast of the USA endured a deep chill. Peterson shares some successes he has in talking about climate change and gives you a simple assignment to try for yourself. And from the year 2165 Timothy Meadows reveals the inventive work of some Texas high school students in bringing climate change education to the classroom.

Show Notes

Links

Music

Transcript

Opening

Ta Dah!   Episode 25 of Climate Stew. I am your host Peterson Toscano and before we jump into our three regular segments, let me tell you about what is going to happen next with the Climate Stew Show.

News

Warm Winter in Alaska affects famous dog sledding race.

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iditarod_2015-racemap1

Iditarod 2014 route

Iditarod 2014 route

Live from the news desk at Climate Stew, this is Marvin Bloom. With this past winter’s bitter chill griping the Northeast my Uncle Saul kept asking, :So where is that global warming your boyfriend’s been talking about? I froze my ass off here and my heating bill was out of control.” Good question Uncle Saul, the weather has wobbled and while we were in cold storage in New York, Nashville, and Nantucket, the dog days of winter were not so severe in Alaska.

Anchorage Alaska usually gets about 60 inches of snow every year. Not so this year, while Boston was buried in over 40 inches, Anchorage only got 20 inches. As a result, the world famous annual dog-sled race known as the Iditarod moved 225 miles north to Fairbanks. Remember last year’s slushy Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia where they experienced 60 degree temperatures and hardly any snow while much of the USA, except for Alaska and Hawaii, was locked in a long stretch of bitter?

Similarly the 1,000 mile dog-sled race ran into trouble last year because of the lack of winter weather. The culprit is a jet stream gone wild. According to climate researchers Jennifer A Francis and Stephen J Vavrus, “The Arctic has warmed at approximately twice the rate of the Northern mid-latitudes since the 1990s owing to a variety of positive feedbacks that amplify greenhouse-gas-induced global warming,This disproportionate temperature rise is expected to influence the large-scale circulation, perhaps with far-reaching effects.

Yeah, like no snow for a dog sled race. And when they say positive feedback, that’s not a good thing. Loopy lopsided weather has become the new normal keeping kids out of schools in the Lower 48 while grounding dog sleds in Alaska. Of course animal rights activists like my partner Tristan hope that eventually the entire dog sled race will be cancelled for good, which no doubt means he’s gonna want to adopt a bunch of big, messy smelly expensive dogs. Thanks a lot climate change.

Back to you Peterson

Main

I’m not an environmentalist but I am concerned about climate change

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?

Don'tEvenThinkAboutIt_HC_catFortunately 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)

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First: Identify some important part of yourself: As as (parent, race car driver, fry master at McDonalds…whatever

Second: Reframe the climate conversation: say something like:  I am not an environmentalist is but I am concerned about climate change. (and if you are an environmentalist try this: Sure, I’m an environmentalist, but I don’t see climate change as simply an environmental issue)

Third, Explain yourself and one aspect of climate change that moves you but one that is outside of the traditional environmentalist talking points.

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:

  1. Identify one part of yourself
  2. express concern about climate change but NOT as an environmental issue
  3. explain yourself through the lens of who you are.

Try this and let me know how it turns out.

That Day in Climate History

I am Timothy Meadows. It is Monday, May 4th, 2165 and time for That Day In Climate History.In the 2020’s, as the world grew more and more alarmed about the growing climate crisis, there were still large pockets of people, mostly in the United States, who refused to acknowledge that the polluting habits of humans had warmed the planet and altered weather patterns.

During this period School textbooks in the United States hardly mentioned climate change at all and usually only in the context of Environmental Science classes. The content of most American textbooks was strictly controlled by a small but influential group of educators in the state of Texas. Year after year this committee squashed any substantive inclusion of climate change content in school curricula. Hidden-Costs-of-Open-Access-Textbooks-e1404064281865

As a result, a group of high school students in Texas decided to take matters into their own hands. Calling themselves the Student Climate Action Committee or SCAC for short, they created supplementary inserts about climate change for every academic subject for grade K through 12. Beginning in 2023 SCAC members created both on-line and printed content refocusing the discussion to consider climate change, not simply as an environmental issue, but one that had encompassed many intersecting issues including immigration, national security, physical and mental health, language, storytelling, and civics. They also stressed that living in a climate crisis required a greater understand of math, physics, and history. For seven consecutive years SCAC members created materials that were not only accurate but also compelling, humorous, and relevant to students and their families.

By 2027 many if not most teachers in Texas and throughout the United States regularly used SCAC’s supplementary materials in English, History, Math, and Science classes. Because of more and more extreme weather events and food shortages, public policy shifted dramatically in the 2020s. In 2030 not only did the Texas committee on textbooks agree to include Climate Change content in all subjects area, many of SCAC’s own materials were included in the new textbooks.

On this day in 2165 we remember That Day in Climate History

Advert

Climate History is brought to you by the Interfaith Council of Resiliency and Public Welfare. Celebrating 100 years of Climate Action, Community Organizing, and Potluck Dinners.

Closing

Yes, it feels good to be back in the studio. Thank you for listening to this episode of Climate Stew. The good news is that I already have the ingredients for more stew. If you have not yet, please subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher (and feel free to rate and leave a comment.) You can also listen over at SoundCloud and search for Climate Stew. Or visit us over at Climate Stew dot Com. I have some great interviews to share with you in the next few episodes so stay tune. Special thanks to Lori Hays Kershner, Jen O’Brian, and all the folks from the Climate Stew Crew who helped me talk through our next steps. Special thanks to Joe G, who against his better judgement told me that people like listening to my warm, rich, friendly voice and want to hear more. You have created an audio monster.

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Peterson Toscano

Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is www.petersontoscano.com

This post has 5 Comments

  1. Jack Wolf on May 5, 2015 at 9:00 pm Reply

    Personally, I prefer longer shows with interviews of the scientific community. Keep up the good work.

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on May 6, 2015 at 12:41 am Reply

      Thanks for the comment. Longer? Ha, going over 14 minutes was a stretch for me. 😀 I could go for an hour with an interview, but seriously most people don’t have that kind of time for a regular podcast.

      I do not think I will have a lot of interviews with people from the scientific community unless they are able to speak clearly in lay terms. Up until now it has been the environmentalists and the scientists talking about climate change, and thank goodness they have, but lots of people simply do not identify with either of these two. The science and the issues need to be reinterpreted through other identities so that those that still are distant from climate action or even understanding the issues will come nearer. There are LOADS of site and shows that bring on scientists. Climate Stew is aiming to do something those sites are not.

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