Climate Change Education: An Explanation and a Personal Promise

(Cross posted from PittEnvironmental)
At some point, I stopped talking about climate change as a major focus. It became an occasionally-stated problem which provided motivation for tackling many many things, but my focus turned to more immediately tangible items like peak oil, resource depletion, water, and food. Like President Obama, whether because of controversy or because other things were more pressing, it slipped from the center of my sustainability vocabulary. In the recent flurry of climate change news, it seems like it’s time to tack back.

I should note that it’s not like I don’t do education on climate change – I ran three workshops (counting an FTP meeting) on the science thereof in the past semester, and intend to keep doing so – if your group is interested in learning, I’m happy to teach. But those were mostly internal education, ‘teaching the teachers’, and my external focus let climate change drift to a monumental background issue, taking the approach that if we solve these other things, we’ll also ‘solve’ climate change.

But that isn’t so, so how I do things needs to shift. Climate change, for all its unique difficulties in getting people to care, is a ginormous problem that will affect everyone, everywhere, in pretty nasty ways, and whose effective mitigation is so far from what we’re aiming at that we’re going to have to deal with billions of people hungry, thirsty, or dead. No, that’s not really exaggeration, unfortunately – but it might creep up on us.

I do a certain amount of talking about how to refute common arguments, but what I fail to do is to give climate change, and the mitigation and adaptation thereof, proper time in any discussion – even if we deal with peak oil (and I’m skeptical on that), we need to make sure we deal with the carbon emissions from electricity as well, and there isn’t really a shortage of coal. Dealing with other problems – redesigning transport and food systems so that more people have access to food and mobility for less money and less petroleum – is good, but it won’t be sufficient for mitigation of climate change. Not to mention that treating climate change as a bonus solution ignores the clear need for adaptation all over the place. In many ways, I think talking about adaptation is more depressing and scarier than mitigation, because at least with mitigation you can pretend it isn’t already happening, or that it won’t happen if we just act fast enough. But that, as they say, ‘just ain’t so’.

So here’s my promise (and I say this as someone who does a bunch of education, and is looking to do a bunch more with TransitionPGH when I get out of Brasil): I will put climate change back in its place as one of the key things people should care about. I will point out that it is happening, it is manmade, and it will already be bad (and that we’re trying to keep it from being a lot worse). I will talk frankly, given sources, about the costs – social and economic and environmental – of our present path, while pointing out that these are average figures, and it could be a lot worse. And I will maintain my emphasis that no one should ever use the term ‘believe’ in relation to climate change, as it is an opinion based in scientific findings and not an intangible gut feeling.

I will not stop talking about the other issues – I’m convinced that they’re a better way to get people (particularly low-income communities) to engage with environmentalism. I will still talk about energy efficiency as saving money and being less reliant on oil. But I’ll remember to include that small reduction in climate change – and the particular need to push for governmental action on it – as a serious reason, rather than one to mention offhandedly. I’ve done a poor job at making caring about climate change an important piece of sustainability with moderate audiences, and I promise to help rectify this.


(Endnote: You should really read through some of the linked articles, particularly the last one. Then you should join me.)