The full-length version of this piece by Kassy Holmes, climate change coordinator at the Rainforest Alliance, originally appeared in Living Green Magazine.
According to the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is overwhelming evidence that climate change is real, we are to blame and–unless we undertake actions to drastically reduce carbon emissions–we are dooming ourselves to a warming of more than 2 degrees and accompanying terrifying impacts.
The IPCC report is a monumental undertaking, with inputs from more than 200 lead authors and over 600 contributors from 32 different countries. It constitutes the science community’s best assessment on climate change–yet, despite the report’s resounding warnings, there is still little being done in the way of real climate action. If we know that climate change is happening, why aren’t we doing anything about it?
Perhaps one key limiting factor is that many people don’t really understand climate change. As NPR reported, a study this year interviewing 300 adults found that not one of them could explain the basics of global climate change. Much of this misunderstanding is arguably the result of how issues surrounding climate change have been framed, presented and discussed thus far. Too much of the climate conversation to date has been based on political rhetoric or complicated science. Charts, diagrams, data, technical concepts and principals seem to plague the science community, while debate, diatribe and ineptitude prevail within politics.
How can we change the conversation?
In an effort to combat a growing trend of debate and jargon, several organizations and individuals have taken on the challenge of reframing issues related to climate change by using art, games, music and informal education techniques.
Here are some innovative examples that might help you think differently about climate change:
- Music. Daniel Crawford’s haunting “Song of our Warming Planet” converts temperature data into music notes to create a haunting song of a planet in peril.
- Digital media. Cape Farewell, a nonprofit developed by artist David Buckland, is leading the way by utilizing visual imagery, digital media, film and other forms of artistic expression to help society better understand the social, economic and scientific dimensions of climate change.
- Poetry. One of my favorite examples of using art and literature to explain climate change is this visualization of the IPCC report findings condensed into illustrated haikus.
- Animated video. Howglobalwarmingworks.org explains climate change in less than a minute in this great video.
- Film. Other organizations are letting imagery speak for itself. Check out NASA’s climate reel for some beautiful, yet harrowing videos of our warming planet.
To make learning more fun, several organizations have created interactive resources and activities that teachers, students, parents and adults can download (often for free!), which promote hands-on learning about climate change issues:
- The Rainforest Alliance has downloadable climate change curriculum for students that emphasizes hands-on learning as the basis for educating students about climate change.
- The Environmental Protection Agency and NASA also have many resources and hands-on activities.
- The Polar Learning and Responding (PoLAR) Climate Change Education Partnership promotes hands-on learning for adults with games and activities focused on the Arctic and Antarctic poles.
These are just a few of the many innovative approaches being undertaken to increase public understanding about climate change. There are many different ways to talk about climate change, and we should embrace new opportunities to increase public dialogue and understanding.
I worry that people may forget that even the science of climate change is ultimately about people. That is, understanding how climate change will impact the wellbeing of the planet and human life. And let’s not forget that scientists are people too (for proof, check out these climate models).
While climate change does have its political elements, and must certainly be founded in science, society should continue to explore ways to re-frame conversations about climate change to ensure that the social, cultural and human elements remain at the forefront of the conversation.