How can we wake people from their stupor and propel them to act on climate? It’s undeniable that human-made fossil fuel emissions are raising the global temperature with devastating consequences, and we have less than a decade to cut emissions in half to avoid the worst. Our personal lifestyle changes are too slow, so our first priority is to cut emissions in half and move to renewable energy. These simple, bare facts have failed to spur action, and sometimes they seems to do the opposite. This was my challenge when asked to speak at our local Climate Strike. It was co-organized by the young heroes of our time, the students in Fridays for Future (the powerful movement founded by Greta Thunberg), and it was supported by The Climate Reality Project (founded by Al Gore) and the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. The invitation gave me a chance to experiment with messaging that is factual but doesn’t cause people to lose hope and give up. Here is my first attempt (now edited and improved with links!):
September 24, 2021, Bethlehem, PA: Hello, beautiful Bethlehem. I’m so very grateful for you, and I thank you so much for taking time and energy to stand up against the fossil fuel industry.
Please take time to appreciate what you are doing right now
- You might feel exhausted and overwhelmed by everything we’ve been through this past year, but you are here, and I thank you!
- You have a million other incredibly important things to do, but you are here, and I thank you!
- You are risking pushback and ridicule for being here, but you are here, and I thank you! Give yourselves a hand!
Medical experts, psychologists, and biologists like myself have found that one way to stave off depression is action.
- Let’s not wait, let’s act now–No, seriously, I mean right now! This very second!
- If you have your phone, and I know you do, get it out and go to Coderedcongress.com —no spaces, coderedcongress dot com and send a letter to your Senators and Congresspeople right now and tell them to ACT ON CLIMATE.
- Great! Because lifestyle changes are a necessary long-term plan, but they won’t cut emissions fast enough to save us. Congress needs to pass legislation that produces systemic change (subsidize green energy not the fossil fuel industry).
- See. You feel a little better already….and now receive my love and gratitude and give yourselves a hand.
Lehigh Valley, we have trained for this.
- We have always been drawn to adventure stories. Since early childhood, we have been enraptured by heroes that overcome impossible odds to save the world from inner and outer demons driven by greed and fear.
- We love the Harry Potter books when together Harry, Hermoine, and the team defeated Exxon Mobile.
- We loved it in the Lord of the Rings when Frodo’s besties finally cured Frodo’s greedy addiction to fossil fuels……Yes, that’s what those books were about the whole time!
You are the heroes now. This is our holy grail, our hero’s adventure, our quest to save humanity from his/herself. We long to boldly to go where no one has gone before, but we don’t need to waste billions of dollars and emit more carbon going into space, and we can’t afford to take refuge in another book, another Netflix series, or another movie. We have our own brilliant Dr. Whos, Hermoines, Gandalfs, and Dumbledores in our accomplished indigenous activists and hard-working climate scientists. We have wise witches and wizards with vast, lived experience in fighting climate injustice: Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux, Winona Duke of the Objiwe and Honor the Earth, Sharon Lavigne, Myrtle Felton, and Barbara Washington of Rise St. James, and many more. We have fact-laden scholars like Katharine Hayhoe, Michael Mann, Peter Kalmus to name a few. We have our central characters with all of the attributes of Frodo, Harry Potter, and more: Greta Thunbergs, the Autumn Peltiers, the Leah Namugerwas, and so many other young powerhouses. But just like Harry and Frodo, we can’t do it alone. Just like in these adventure books, the enemy is not a clear-cut bad guy, the enemy lies partially within.
- The voice of climate inaction says to me, “Professor Schneider, you are not a climate scientist, you are a biologist, so stand down, stay in your lane.” To which I say, my training is enough to see that the evidence for man-made global warming is overwhelming and beyond simple correlation. It’s beyond obvious when 97% of our climate scientists tell us that we are truly on the knife’s edge now. The effects of global warming are already happening, and will continue to get worse if we don’t reduce our emissions by 45-50% ASAP. The rate of warming, the rate of warming, the rate of warming (not the level of warming), we have witnessed has occurred over the course of only 200 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution, this warming of the planet and the extreme weather events that go along with it are happening too fast for our species to adapt. Adaptation takes many generations, usually thousands or millions of years not decades, and in the process of adaptation, the level of suffering and death is beyond anything we have ever faced. Adaptation is a population phenomenon, meaning that even if a small number of humans survive, things do not go well for the rest of us poor suckers. Any thinking adult can understand that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are responsible for climate change, and we have about a decade at most to cut emissions by 45-50% or the effects will be devastating. The urgency cannot be overstated. Lifestyle changes are a necessary long-term plan, but they won’t cut emissions fast enough to save us,
- AND we can understand that 3% or less of scientists are climate deniers. The climate-denying scientists are from the same group of so-called scientists that told us nicotine was healthy and smoking didn’t cause cancer. In fact, the climate-denying “scientists” are not only from the same group that worked for the tobacco companies, some of the climate denying scientists are the exact same scientist that promoted tobacco.
- The voice of climate inaction says, “you are not an economist.” Well, this year the US experienced 22 separate climate disasters each of which cost over a billion dollars. The economic cost was half a trillion dollars. This cost will continue to rise if we do nothing. By contrast, the cost of renewable energy, like wind and solar, is going down down down. These technologies already exist, and they must be implemented and subsidized to elevate them to an equal playing field with fossil fuels. Plus, sustainable energy will create 1 million jobs and cut our energy bills while cutting indoor air pollution and decreasing health care costs.
- Our understanding of the economy is broad and deep enough to know that the definition of wealth includes far more than just the GDP, it must encompass access to clean air and water and safety from forest fires, drought, flooding, and hurricanes that are worsened by human-made global warming.
- The voice of climate inaction tries to deflect attention from obscene profits and pollution of the fossil fuel industry by placing blame on me and you, the individuals. It attempts to discredits anyone who speaks out by calling out their diets, and it has vegans fighting vegetarians and vegetarians fighting meat eaters, when only 10% of total carbon emissions comes from any of these agricultural pursuits! In reality, the vast majority of emissions (at least 66%) come from burning fossil fuels for industry, plastics, heating buildings, and transportation.
- Always remember that the concept of the “carbon footprint” was part of a propaganda campaign by a fossil fuel company. I love the title of this article “Big Oil Coined ‘Carbon Footprints’ to blame us for their greed. Keep Them on the Hook!” Our lifestyle sacrifices are a necessary long-term plan, but don’t let them make you complacent because they won’t cut emissions fast enough to save us.
- The voice of climate inaction says, who are you, a privileged white woman, to talk about climate justice? What do I know about the pain of indigenous neighbors and people of color? I do know one thing. They do not stand down. They do not give in to exhaustion. Our friends in Cancer Alley in Louisiana, our environmental justice warriors of St. James Parish have been doing this vital work to save their habitable environment for years upon years upon years. The water protectors of the Standing Rock Sioux never gave up or stood down against the Dakota Access Pipeline. They do not give in to hateful language, violence, or paralyzing fear. Nor do they whine or stay home. At every setback, they relentlessly persist over and over, and they work together as communities to make their peaceful but powerful voices heard. What I know is that we can take inspiration, and we can join their age-old stewardship and guardianship our precious, unique jewel of a planet.
Along with mindfulness about our own local and personal choices, we need to understand the urgency that requires radical action. STAND TOGETHER and uproot the system that props up the fossil fuel industry. We can still prevent the worst impacts of climate change by lowering emissions 45-50% in the next decade via actions like these:
- …urging Congress to pass the Bidens Build Back Better Plan with its full climate change agenda
- …demanding “no new drilling” and “no subsidies of fossil fuels including natural gas”
- …pushing for zero emissions climate rebates
- …creating incentives (tax credits) for clean appliances and grants to create weatherization assistance programs.
- …electing officials who support these actions
- …fighting for voting rights and against gerrymandering and other forms of voter suppression
Every hero’s story always begins with an inconvenience…the hero would rather remain comfy and safe, but can no longer deny that action is needed. Don’t procrastinate another minute. Don’t give in to fear, exhaustion, depression. Stop reading and dreaming about an adventure and start having your adventure. Stop being lonely and join the team. When there is a setback, pick yourself up, reset, begin again with even greater resolve. You might have to learn to hold your tongue and engage with larger-than-life activists, annoying celebrities, smug vegans, nerdy scientists, and frustrating politicians. But if we want to reduce carbon emissions by half by the end of the decade, we need a loyal, close-knit team. Lifestyle changes are a necessary long-term plan, but they won’t cut emissions fast enough to save us. Along with our lifestyle changes we need to uproot the entrenched fossil fuel industry and break their grip on politicians. We need programs to educate and transition workers into the renewable energy sector, and in the process create millions of worthwhile jobs. We will cut energy bills for everyone. We will cut indoor air pollution and decrease health care costs.
Remember you are all beautiful, caring, loving humans, and you can be part of the team that saves us and at least some of the other species that will be left on the planet. THE NUMBER ONE way you can care for each other is to team up, and together, uproot the system that relies on burning fossil fuels and replace it with real democracy and green, renewable energy. Now’s the time; the time is now…