Humans are burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. This is trapping more heat from the sun and changing the climate. Sea level is rising, ice cover is shrinking, storms and heatwaves are getting more frequent and more intense...
It’s pretty full on.
But we are still burning fossil fuels, atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing and we’re still on track for a range of catastrophic impacts.
Because climate change is freaking overwhelming.
Not only is climate change often an intangible thing that you can’t actually see. It's a wicked problem. Acting against it or not acting against it has all these interconnected political, social, economic, and environmental ramifications. Before too long it gets to be pretty damn paralysing.
So what the hell do you do?
Yes, lying on the ground while you sob and wait for the hurt to go away is one option. But there is an alternative.
Bust through the feels.
It is possible to break through this feeling of overwhelm-ment (definitely a word). And it isn’t complicated. It doesn’t matter if you are 6 or 60. A Rhodes scholar or yet to finish primary school. An individual or a group of likeminded people.
Yes, climate change is complicated. Yes, it is wicked. Accept it and break it back down to its constituent parts.
2. Find the bit that matters to you
Maybe it matters to you because it is relevant to your interests or expertise maybe because of where you live or where you fit into the world.
3. You do You
Approach the problem in your own way. Sure, look at how other people are tackling it and consider how you could help. But also think about what people aren’t doing. What could you be doing differently?
Growing up aware of this, I recycled. As I got older I tried to drive less and really thought about who I voted for. But I still felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. I understood that the issue was made up of a huge number of separate but connected parts, I just hadn't found the one 'bit' that mattered to me the most.
Then, in 2014, I was struck by two facts:
- Basically all the climate scientists agree that climate change is real and humans are to blame.
- Despite this, there is a huge number of people that either don’t care or don’t agree with the scientists.
Aaaand there it is.
If 10 builders walked into your house right now and nine of them started walking around tapping the walls saying stuff like:
“Yeh mate, there’s your problem, this isn’t structurally sound, I reckon it’ll come down in the next strong breeze”
You’d either stand up and get the hell outside, or at the very least feel compelled to start propping up the walls. Unfortunately this isn’t the case when it comes to climate scientists talking about climate change.
You've got to wonder:
Why would people listen to builders who tell them things about their house, but not scientists that tell them things about the climate?
This question intrigued me – before I was a science communicator I was a scientist, and before that I was a builders labourer. I’ve been lucky enough to get insight into both worlds – and there is one striking difference between them:
Scientists communicate differently to builders.
Scientists use data, jargon, statistics and graphs to communicate on their area of research. Now, this is crucial when they are speaking to other scientists. It allows them to speak with the utmost certainty on their given topic, it allows them to ‘show their working out’ and offers other scientists the oppurtunity to scrutinize their approach or build on their findings.
This sort of communication is perfect when scientists speak to other scientists.
But it is a shit way to talk to everyone else.
Builders on the other hand are frank and direct, clinical prose and jargon give way to colourful flourishes, the vibe and the feel are the important thing.
A spade is a fucking spade.
I figured that if I could get more scientists to speak differently about climate change – then maybe I could get more people to care about it, or at least to engage with the issue.
So I did something no one else had done yet. I approached the problem in my own way and started asking scientists how climate change made them feel.
To date 43 researchers from eight different countries have written down their feelings. And hundreds of thousands of people have read these letters.
Is This How You Feel? has changed peoples minds, started broader conversations and shown scientists that they are not alone in their feelings of hope, guilt, despair and optimism.
I am not unique, not gifted and not particularly driven.
I just broke down the problem, found the bit that mattered to me and approached it in my own way.
The cool thing is that this is so easy to do! And right now I can say, honestly, that when I look to the future I am excited because there is a positive change afoot. There are countless people taking this approach to climate change and they are having an impact.
During one car ride with his Mum Henry got a little overwhelmed about the future of the planet. So much so that he started to weep. During this emotional episode, Henry’s mum did something all parents love to do. She got out her phone and captured the moment for posterity.
That video was uploaded to Youtube and has now been viewed over 290,000 times.
It’s fair to say that, at that point, Henry was pretty darn overwhelmed. But then with the support of his mum he was able to break the problem down.
The thing that really mattered to Henry was that people pick up their trash and look after the planet. So he started a Facebook page that encourages people to do just that.
This six year old now regularly shares videos to 40,000 of his followers giving people tips on recycling.
This kid is approaching the part of the problem that matters to him and he's doing it in his own way.
And he’s having an impact
Now it isn’t just adorable little American kids that are kicking butt. Here in Australia a change is happening too.
In a recent conversation Anika said:
"As people who live and work in geographically remote locations, it is sometimes hard not to feel alone. Like you are the only one experiencing this. But you’re not, and as farmers we do need to work together and unite our voices when we call for greater climate change action."
Innovative, novel and powerful approaches like this are having a real impact. And it’s not just individuals making a stand, Small communities are coming together and bringing about change from the grassroots. One such community is Tathra, a little town of just over 1600 people on the coast of New South Wales that rallied together and built Australia's first community owned solar farm.
The part of the problem that the people of Tathra have control over is what happens in their own community. So they took action and did something about it.
By themselves, all these approaches won't change the world, but every time someone breaks down the problem, finds the bit that matters to them and approaches it in their own way, we get a little bit closer to winning the battle.
There is a change happening. And it can all start with three little steps.
Don’t be overwhelmed. Be part of the solution.
You do you.