California – Late Summer 2020
Am I concerned about the smoke in the air? Yes. Why?
Breathing it into my body is damaging to it. My lungs hurt when I do. This morning I was unable to play tennis as I normally do because the air quality is considered to be unhealthy. I enjoy playing tennis; it is fun being outside and playing a game I grew up playing with friends.
Last week it was 120 degrees on the University campus in my hometown; the highest temperature ever recorded here. This was not that surprising though because over the last decade I have noticed many stretches when the temperature is significantly above normal.
Two weeks ago, we had an evening low temperature of 88 degrees at 1 a.m. I have never seen anything close to that kind of heat at night here. Normal temperature would be in the 50’s. Another all-time record high and one that took away my ability to sleep.
This area is surrounded by lovely hills and yet, on most days recently you can barely see them because the smoke from the various fires burning in California have covered them.
I am not willing to dismiss these events as trivial. There is nothing trivial about the freedom to enjoy playing a game I love taken away. There is also nothing trivial about losing the ability to look out onto the horizon and see beautiful hills. There is certainly nothing trivial about not being able to sleep.
Meanwhile, I am just warming up (no pun intended) to my bigger concerns.
I am currently breathing smoke instead of fresh air because millions of acres are burning throughout California. Those fires are burning as a consequence of our man-made Ecological Crisis. Our Ecological Crisis exists only because human beings (including me) have polluted our natural environment and continue to do so all day, every day.
When I think of the fires burning millions of acres, I think about the animals that are burning to death – all of the little insects, bugs, and pets. I imagine that it is just as painful, on a relative basis, for an animal to burn to death as for a human. Which I imagine is immensely painful. What follows for me is anger. I am angry that we, as humans, are the ones that are causing so many millions of animals to endure immense, terrible, and cruel pain and suffering. It is our polluting of nature that started this domino effect that has led to innocent life burning – dying.
As I was driving home (yes; me burning gas and polluting the environment) last weekend from a trip to the northern central coast I read the temperature gauge in the car which said 113 degrees. I saw a truck pulling a horse trailer with horses in it. I thought to myself about the misery those horses must be suffering being stuffed in a trailer rolling down a highway in 113-degree heat. Meanwhile, I had the air conditioner on in my cocoon of the car; insulating myself from the abnormal heat that my, and my fellow humans' actions have caused. The horse suffers while I choose to shield myself with air conditioning so that I can experience temporary ‘comfort.’
Of course, what I am also doing is making our Ecological Crisis worse by consuming and burning more energy. I am mindful that the United States has 5% of the world's population and consumes 24% of the world's energy. No single country has polluted our natural environment over time more than we have. Are we willing to accept responsibility and change?
My sense as a human being is that we are on Earth to be stewards of nature; to learn to live in harmony with it and to contribute our consciousness to its richness that provides the sustenance for life. We are not here to dominate and destroy nature. If one believes that humans are part of nature then one realizes that to destroy any aspect of it is to destroy ourselves; it is self-destruction at its absolute height. Our healthy lives depend on fresh air, clean water, plants, animals and the organic rhythm in which all aspects of nature work together.
When one sees an alcoholic or an addict poison themselves with a substance that hurts them and leads to deterioration of health, one sees self-destruction and finds it sad and hard to understand. Why don’t they just stop drinking? Obviously, it’s bad for them. We know that alcoholism is a disease process and that healing is possible once someone admits that they can’t stop on their own and need help.
By polluting our environment, we are all doing this to ourselves; as a human family - we are completely self-destructing. We are hurting all living things – plants, animals, human beings; including future generations.
Therefore, it is impossible to overstate how severe our current Ecological Crisis is. It is as big as a crisis could possibly be.
Does anyone else care?
It’s happened to everyone. Whether it's at a holiday family dinner, on a reply thread to a facebook post, or even just in casual conversation, you come across people with vastly different views from you. There are two options to choose from when you are faced with this situation. Option A: engage in conversation, or option B: run. If you are brave enough and have enough energy to choose option A, then the next question you may ask yourself is: how do I even begin to make my own viewpoints understood by somebody so dramatically opposed to them?
In terms of climate change, this question may seem very daunting. The facts and the science is there. We know that climate change is happening and we know that it is caused by humans. But now you are faced with someone who just quite literally is ignoring data. How do you even converse with that? How do you convince someone they should believe in something that is just plain true? The truth is, you don’t. It would be like trying to talk a person into realizing that grass is green-at some point you just have to ask yourself, why am I even doing this? If they don’t want to believe what is right in front of their eyes, then that’s their problem. However, with a problem like climate change, it then becomes everyone’s problem. So, what do you do now? The following tips are ways to enhance your communication abilities in regard to climate change. These may not be universal to all situations or conversation, but should, for the most part, help guide you when trying to get someone to change their ways.
Shift the Conversation
First, you have to shift the dialogue of the conversation. Whether they want to believe the facts and data from scientists is not important, what is important are the actions they take. Even if they do not want to believe that climate change is happening, they can still engage in acts that are beneficial to the environment. So now, after shifting the goal of the conversation, you are persuading someone to do beneficial things rather than believing something that is already proven to be true.
Localize Your Arguments
Okay, so you’re trying to convince someone to engage in environmentally friendly acts. To you, it is obvious why they should want to do this, but keep in mind the other person’s stance and point of view. Let’s use the example of reducing the consumption of single-use plastics by bringing a reusable bag to grocery stores. To an environmentally conscious person, the obvious reason for doing this is because it reduces the consumption of single-use plastics, which are overwhelmingly polluting our ocean and harming wildlife. While you may be able to envision the garbage island floating in the ocean, the other person may not. And even if they can, that island is so far from them that it becomes disconnected from their lives. It is something that exists only in the news, not in their real lives. So localize the argument. A study done in 2019 found a large amount of microplastics on the coast of Monterey, indicating that they are likely to be found on the coast of SLO as well (Schuman, 2019). Microplastics harm marine wildlife and disrupt the ecosystem, leaving coastal regions looking different than before. This is especially relevant to a SLO local who enjoys the scenic views of Morro Bay or Avila, and would like to keep them that way.
How Can it Benefit Them?
Then, make it even more specific. Instead of just saying that reducing single-use plastic consumption is good for the environment, think about how reducing single-use plastic consumption is good for that person. In SLO, we already have the ten cent incentive to try and encourage people to bring their own bags to grocery stores, but for many that ten cents isn’t compelling enough. Depending on who you’re talking to, a good enough reason to get a reusable bag is simply because they’re cute! Online shops like Etsy have tons of customizable prints for low prices, and buying these bags can support small artists. This is just a simplified version of this concept, but the general idea is to separate the action from being connected to the environment, which the person may not care about, and angle it towards something that they are interested in and would benefit them.
Things to Avoid
Oftentimes, our first instincts when debating climate change with others can be our biggest pitfalls. First, we want to present the facts and the data. We want to communicate all of the studies and research that scientists did that showed us that climate change is happening. However, like stated before, this is not helpful. We shouldn’t be debating about whether or not it is happening, because it is, and climate change will continue to happen regardless of who believes it is or not. Additionally, most people just aren’t scientists, so the facts and data won’t make sense to them. It’s not the language most people speak or understand, so we shouldn’t try and press it on them.
Our next instinct is to shock people into being scared. We share apocalyptic messages about fires, floods, and the world ending. The result of these fear appeals is that it just shuts down the person you’re arguing with. If the world is going to end, what more can they do about it? The most likely response to appeals like this are apathy. These big scale apocalyptic events sound fictional and far away, they are not connected to a person’s real life. How is someone who’s never seen the ocean supposed to care that the sea levels are rising?
Lastly, we approach conversations like these as if they are high stakes debates. High stake they may be, but debates they are not. These are open conversations that should invite non judgemental dialogue. If people sense they are being judged, they are more likely to either provoke further or just shut off. Neither of these are ideal when trying to get someone to change their behaviors to benefit the environment. The best way to talk to someone about climate change is to genuinely be interested in hearing where they are coming from, and then talking with them based on that. If you try and be understanding with them, they will be more likely to understand what you are saying.
*Information from this post was pulled from Cal Poly lectures. Citations can be found below.
Kolodziejski, L. (2020). Communicating about Climate Change. Personal Collection of Dr. Kolodziejski, California Polytechnic State university, San Luis Obispo, CA.
Kolodziejski, L. (2020). Manufactured Controversy. Personal Collection of Dr. Kolodziejski, California Polytechnic State university, San Luis Obispo, CA.