A Climate Activist Explains How to Spread a Message of Hope

April 30th 2017

Climate change is a huge problem.

The now-definite warming of our planet will not only make life harder in superficial ways but will lead to undue stress on vulnerable communities.

Still, many of us just don't care.

As the New York Times reported back in February, "environment" lagged well behind topics like "dissatisfaction with government," "unifying the country," and "immigration" in a Gallup poll of Americans' top concerns.

While each represent real concerns, the fear is that any future action on climate change will be too little, too late.

So why do people “check out” of discussions of climate change?

To understand this apathy, you have to understand the scope of the problem itself: it’s largeness suggests an impossible undertaking.

Leah Qusba, Communications Director at Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) says she sees this frequently while doing her job. “It's overwhelming to the human mind,” she explains. “It's also historically been an extremely abstract concept...something that's going to happen way down the road, like death. It's easier for people to not think about it than to attempt to contribute to meaningful solutions.”

Climate psychologist Renee Lertzman has dedicated much of her work to solving this. As she shared with “Grist” last year, discussing the problem requires a “a sense of curiosity and compassion” to lead toward “an objective of mutual understanding” instead of a clear solution. This helps to mitigate the massiveness of the problem.

Qusba suggests folding issues together to see that problems are often intertwined and can be solved simultaneously.

This weekend’s Climate March was a shining example of that. “An issue as complex as climate change requires innovative thinking and an intersectional approach that marries widely different sectors together to fix the problem,” Qusba says. “Diverse social movements working for workers' rights, immigration rights, LGBTQ+ rights, climate justice, and others have finally come together to face this problem in unison.”

Further, those struggling experts suggest varying up one's media diet and injecting positive news into your regimen. This staves off apathy.

Personalize the subject and educate other but approach the subject lightly.

For starters, studies have shown scare tactics simply don’t work in helping people understand the issue. Instead appeal to someone in a social manner by making the matter relatable.

“You've got to humanize it and make it personal to succeed,” Qusba recommends. “For example, we found that people are much less likely to click on an image of a polar bear to take part in a climate advocacy campaign than one that depicts local climate impacts.”

Qusba continues: “We also found that using local images of climate impacts targeted to specific geographies is more effective than using more global or national images...Don't use a gloom and doom strategy. It will turn people off and paralyze them. You must present viable, meaningful, immediate ways to take action if you want people to get involved.”

Stay positive and do not despair. We’ll all figure out how to fix the planet together.

It’s easy to feel like these conversations are too big to navigate given the current political atmosphere in America. This is an added challenge, yes, but is not cause for despair.

Those intimately involved in the fight like Qusba are hopeful and implore us all to push forward to get more people talking about climate change. Instead of thinking less on the subject, more, productive thought might be required.

“For those who aren't yet involved, it may be more difficult,” she says in relationship to the current administration. “On the other hand, some of our staff delivering our climate science assembly in the field have seen teachers and students already concerned become even more concerned. They see now that climate science education and climate engagement at scale are now more important than ever.“

Qusba continues, personalizing the matter: “For me, I take in the deepest of breaths and move on to resist along with the millions of others who care deeply about climate justice and other social justice issues.”