The Hot Topic: Why is everyone talking about climate change - and must you too?
No matter who you are, or where you live, regardless of your sex, gender, ethnicity, or citizenship, the climate crisis will affect you.
The year 2019 has been a record one for climate change - a UN report warned that one climate crisis takes place each week. Cyclones, wildfires, droughts, and stories of cities in the throes of a water crisis are only the tip of the iceberg as these disasters are setting off chain reactions that are affecting millions of people across the world. A New York Times piece reports that extreme weather events displaced more than seven million people in the first half of 2019. This year has also seen the Swedish teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg’s climate strikes take the world by an absolute storm - for the first time in history, millions of people across the world protested against governments and institutions failing to act against the climate crisis.
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: Youth activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations on September 23, 2019, in New York City. While the United States will not be participating, China and about 70 other countries are expected to make announcements concerning climate change. The summit at the U.N. comes after a worldwide Youth Climate Strike on Friday, which saw millions of young people around the world demanding action to address the climate crisis. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
This year has brought us face to face with a startling revelation - that climate change and the crisis it produces is not something that will happen in the future, it is already happening right now. As we tend not to focus too much on a problem until it’s dancing right in front of us wearing Dobby’s tea cosy, I for one am glad that there is heightened conversation around climate change. Because it would be terribly stupid if we take it as a passing trend and stop discussing environmental repercussions. In school, the teaching of environmental science felt unnecessary, and while we all memorised our three R’s, it hardly ever translated into practice. What is important right now is thinking about climate change as a way of life, in everyday thoughts and actions.
There is a reason why people tend to avoid conversations around climate change: they feel personally attacked. While many of society’s ills can be, and often rightly so, blamed on governments and institutions, climate change by default implicates every one of us. Talking about climate change is uncomfortable because, in this increasingly globalised and capitalistic world, it’s hard to be a friend of the environment: our very habits and lifestyles are built to destroy it. All of us are hypocrites in one way or another when it comes to the environment, and not just the guy holding the plastic straw complaining about the sky-high piles of waste in the city. The callout culture, against which Obama spoke out just last week, has only exacerbated the situation. It’s hard to be an activist for a movement for which you are a defaulter already.
And there is so much that makes us a defaulter. Fast fashion destroys the environment. Luxury and imported food destroy the environment. Travelling by aeroplanes destroys the environment. Using plastic packaging, which is really hard to escape, destroys the environment. Most travelling habits destroy the environment. Eating meat destroys the environment. Unnecessary consumption and shopping destroys the environment. Talking about climate change is awkward and guilt-inducing; it’s much easier to not engage with the issue, because what does one plastic coffee cup matter anyway? More importantly, discussions around climate change are dark, depressing, and gloomy: the odds are against us so it’s easy to not think about it.
But studies show that’s not the case. A Los Angles Times article states that increasing talk and discussion around climate change shifted not just people’s perception of the issue, but also their own attitude about it. Matthew Goldberg, a social psychologist at Yale University, says that when in 2015 Pope Francis began giving speeches across the United States about climate change, there was a lot of change in the public opinion about it. And yet he maintains that family and friends are the most important messengers. ‘If a message comes from a credible communicator or one that has moral authority, then that will be very persuasive,’ he says.
I have seen it happen personally - last year I did a two-month volunteer project across Europe relating to climate change and sustainability, and since then I always have many discussions about the issue. This has resulted in my entire family engaging in debate, and changing their habits to become more sustainable, sometimes reluctantly, at other times more enthusiastically, at the same time talking to their friends about it. And once you have already preached something, it’s much more difficult to not practice it; you become liable in front of your social circle.
One of the best things one can do for climate change, therefore, is to talk more and more about it. Some ways of talking about it are more effective than others, and here are some tips to make sure the conversation remains positive:
- Always make sure to talk about not just what harm has already been done, but what more we can do. People feel much more inclined to act if they don’t feel that all has been lost.
- Institutions, corporations, and governments indeed have higher responsibilities since they have higher reach: yet the fact of the individual contribution shouldn’t be denied. Greta Thunberg has proven that no one is too small to make a difference. Always include individual responsibility in your conversation.
- While talking about climate change, it’s better to refer to a collective ‘we’, rather than an individual you - it takes the personal attack out of the implication.
Climate change is our ‘white walkers’. No matter who you are, or where you live, regardless of your sex, gender, ethnicity, or citizenship, it will affect you. It will affect some people first and then the others, but it will certainly come and get you. And we mustn’t let that day arrive.