Guest Post: Keep Calm And Talk About Climate Change

This is our first ever guest post.  It's written by friend, Nomad, writer, and environmentalist Jill McLaughlin.  Enjoy.

Recently I’ve really gotten behind the 1-10 scale. It’s practical, global, relevant. How am I doing today? (1: crying alone in a Christmas Tree Shop, 10: hiking up a Utah canyon at sunrise). How much does this hurt? (1: fleece-lined flannel, 10: floor hockey stick to the head). Thoughts on the moon landing? (1: giant step for mankind!, 5: weird that the flag moves without wind..., 10: the CIA killed JFK and then faked outer space).

This scale also holds true for people’s understanding of climate change. 1: climate denier, 10: Al Gore. We’re all somewhere on this spectrum, and when talking about climate change we need to realize this and meet people on their level. No one is going to go straight from climate denier to Al Gore, just like I’m never going to walk out of the Christmas Tree Shop and hike into a sunrise (I hope). Here’s the basic takeaway: pinpoint where people are on the 1-10 scale, identify some entry points, and move people gently along the spectrum. The method has been proven successful in the fights for gay marriage and marijuana legalization, using civil unions and medical marijuana as entry points, respectively.

Some entry points for climate change? Energy efficiency, job creation, individual action. People on the lower end of the scale need to be guided along based on economic incentives and lived experiences (the homeowner left without power after a series of storms, the fisherman forced to travel farther north for cod). People on the higher end of the scale should be given specific mitigation techniques so they don’t feel overwhelmed (composting, rooftop solar, phone calls to senators).

Does this seem obvious? Maybe. But for a lot of people, myself included, these issues are wrapped up in passion and fear and politics, and it’s easy to lose sight of practicalities in the midst of a heated argument. I always think of the title of Anne Fadiman’s book - The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Or as my college roommate described me: “You’re all logic until you hit a tipping point and then you become emotional really quickly.”  

Climate change has been one of those tipping points for me, along with things like a good snowfall, reproductive rights, and the final scene in “Homeward Bound” (can anyone make it through that clip without crying though, really?). There’s so much packed into our changing climate and I get caught up in it all - the rising sea levels, the mountaintop removal, the storm devastation - that I can’t make sense, I can’t communicate clearly, I can’t think straight.

This tipping point is how, for example, I found myself one foggy November night in Foley Square using a stranger’s back as a clipboard to fill out a Jail Support form. We were protesting at the Manhattan branch of the US Army Corps of Engineers, demanding they revoke the permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and there was a chance we could get arrested for trespassing and blocking traffic. Practically speaking, this potential arrest wasn’t going to help much - a little publicity at best, mired in issues of privilege and idealism - but it was ten days after the 2016 election and we had all hit the tipping point; the spirit had shoved us right over the cliff and we’d fallen down hard. We were seeking catharsis wherever we could find it, scales be damned.

We need to keep the scale in mind. If civil disobedience will move some people along the spectrum, then channel Joan Baez and go for it! We just can’t let that passion cloud our judgement. For me, right now, it’s more effective to have deeper conversations with people. To meet people at their point on the scale, normalize their confusion and frustration, and identify their key issue, whether it be economics, health, or conservation. We all embody multiple identities which allow us to connect with a wide range of people, so we need to keep a cool head to be a clear, trusted advocate of our climate message.

Jon Epstein