Several scientists have claimed we might even be entering a sixth mass extinction, with global heat indexes increasing at twice the rate of previous predictive weather models.
Our tense ecological times demand effective communication, action and direction on climate matters, which can be hard to come by when the media is stuck covering celebrity social media feeds and political scandals. For the most part, the scientific reality of warming temperatures and extreme weather is something the general public has come to accept, despite the misguided environmental strategy being pursued by U.S. legislators.
When addressing such policy, the most consistent talking points from the White House have included an exit from the Paris Climate Accord, pulling funding from the EPA, closing down the government database on climate science, as well as seeking to control public messaging by mandating more carbon-friendly terminology and policy strategy. The appointment of scandal-ridden former EPA Director Scott Pruitt. Just to name a few. The rest of the world is basically headed in the opposite direction.
To make matters worse, the media is seemingly stuck in its own hyperloop on climate stories. By reciting study upon study about incremental temperature shifting, rising seas, melting ice caps and homeless polar bears thousands of miles to the north, they miss the human story on shifting weather. At its core, that story must be able to put a cost on what many assume to be the natural growth and progression of Western Civilization’s techno-industrial empire.
Climate scientist and Director of the Yale Science Communications With Impact Network, Paul Lussier told JSTOR Daily earlier this year: “There’s a kind of consensus that science essentially supports progress. Science speaks on behalf of progress. Well, climate change and its environmental science reared its little head and said, ‘Well, wait a minute, how are we defining progress here, because there’s something happening.’”
Spewing data from environmental scientists is not the stuff that authentic change and progress can be made of, as scientific language is by nature highly cautious and technical, especially with an issue so serious and politically charged.
Anyways, climate data is abundant at this point, yet very little has changed in terms of collective strategy, CO2 emission standards and action since An Inconvenient Truth dropped over a decade ago. So how do we help people see warming as a problem worth addressing? Better translation between science, policymakers and business is the starting line.
THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
Part of the communication gap surrounding climate change is a certain breakdown in imagination and media narrative, which of course have seen plenty of attacks from certain corporate interests over the years. Yet nonfiction and fiction alike have been rather quiet in bringing the climate debate into the culture at large.
Thankfully there are growing voices like Lussier, whose primary work has shifted into something that seems more like a wonky marketing agency than a group of climate scientists: “Everything that I do is much less about how to communicate science, and much more about how to make science relevant to the things people care about, period ... We have an enormous opportunity to see and view and treat climate change as nothing but essentially a big, huge house of narratives we can all connect to. That’s what we haven’t done.”
Academics do not often speak in terms of cost-profit flows, just as many business leaders have not prepared themselves to talk about data-driven green supply chains and meta-studies on the blue economy. The next step is for Lussier to teach the skills to facilitate such conversations with policymakers to begin to build out a collaborative system of communication, “moving us off the advocacy dime and on to the activation dollar."
He goes on to explain, “What you do is bring them opportunity. You want a climate action? There are enormous opportunities, you know, to zero in ...The answer is if climate change scientists, sociologists, policy makers, entrepreneurs, could come together, we would develop alliances that would retrain coal mining workers and provide opportunities. That’s climate action.”
If solutions-based, industry-friendly language is the new lingo, then people need a story to tell that offers a practical industrial alternative to the status quo. Enough people understand the gains from energy systems like solar and wind, but when we leap into abstracted realms like sustainability and regenerative agriculture, it’s easy to lose anyone who hasn’t passed an earth science class in awhile.
Not only that, but being able to frame fairly simple solutions to complex problems is paramount to climate messaging, which is more about the explanation than the solution itself. While there is certainly no silver bullet to the multi-faceted hurdles in the eco-industrial dialogue, one of the best anecdotes is the story of industrial hemp – the dangerously intriguing, more gainfully employed cousin to marijuana.
Learn more about INDUSTRIAL HEMP vs. MARIJUANA.
SOLUTIONS & STORIES
When trying to push information into the public, you need strong narratives, preferably captivating or somewhat controversial ones. In the case of hemp, the story is inside its history: It was used in European sails and ropes to explore the high seas and colonize the world; it was grown by American founders Thomas Jefferson and George Washington; it even has its own propaganda video:
Made federally illegal in 1970, growing the crop remains heavily restricted in almost every state, so even though the U.S. consumes most of world’s hemp products, almost all of it’s farmers remain prohibited from growing it under federal law. Congressional debates are currently underway to potentially legalize the crop.
The modern economy has seen a massive resurgence of hemp due to the growing popularity of cannabis medicines, organic foods and sustainable fiber for consumer products. Hemp has market momentum because it is becoming known as a crop that can provide high quality food, fiber, biofuel, bioplastics, CBD medicine and even construction materials like hempcrete.
As well, an acre of hemp can absorb large amounts of CO2 from the air, a process known as carbon sequestration. To learn more, read this: Hemp 101 – Ecology of Hemp.
The globe’s most polluting, carbon-contributing and water-intensive industries include agriculture, energy, construction, transportation and fashion – so naturally those should be top targets for the solutions we seek. Sustainable, multi-purpose and fairly low-input (pesticides, water, fertilizers) crops like hemp – and others such as algae and fungi – present interesting potential to address many local and global environmental challenges.
Warming temps and increasing population trends mean soil, air and water safeguards are more precious now than ever. Hedging bets against various economic and environmental tides that come with climate change is a new game for humanity, and we’re just beginning to understand the rules.
As Bucky Fuller told us decades ago, “The best way to predict the future is to design it.” Why not start by growing it?