Talking about Climate Change

By Avery Miller - Milton ‘20

In the Independent School Sustainability Coalition, Milton Academy, as well as countless other schools, are working towards being more sustainable and environmentally conscious. Our schools have implemented composting, single-stream recycling, reusable water bottles, and more. While these solutions are great, they also present a problem: they feel distant and disconnected. Many of the students that are in the ISSC know how to do things such as turn off their lights, take shorter showers, and recycle, so restating these solutions seems pointless. The impression that one cannot have an impact by turning off the lights when we walk out of a room or recycling that paper plate becomes infectious, which is why small-scale solutions like these often do not work. In fact, the way that individual-level solutions, and climate change in general, is presented, can be demotivating. Community-level solutions - being able to see the impact of your actions - is what drives us to fix our environment. However, before we implement solutions, we first have to change the way we present climate change and our declining environment.

In explaining climate change to younger generations, it can be easy to slip away into doomsday predictions. But how are we supposed to inspire the next generations to fix our slipping environment, when we scare them away from fixing it by making them feel helpless? It is impossible to look at the declining environment with pessimism and develop a positive result. Only by looking at climate change with optimism, with the idea that we can transform something together, will we actually make a change. Part of this transformation needs to happen through the way we talk about sustainability. When we introduce individual-level solutions alone, we oftentimes lose the motivation to change our fate. We have been trained since we were young to turn off the lights and reuse water bottles, so while individual solutions are important, our overplaying of these solutions leads to complacency in sustainability. It is only by presenting consumers with community-level solutions, such as reaching out to government employees, starting community gardens, and organizing local clean-ups, can we truly inspire a change. Community-level solutions allow individuals to make a greater impact with their environmental activism while also inspiring others to do the same. When people can see the impact they are making on their communities and environments, the motivation that goes into sustainable choices is heightened.

It’s easy to fall into the end-of-the-world environmental trap; environmental groups have been expressing fear in the Earth’s warming temperatures since the 1980s, and in fact, this fear is not at all unjustified. The earth is warming up, but presenting this environmental change in a threatening manner that makes people feel out of control is certainly not ideal. While it is easy to scare people with big numbers and overwhelming ideas, studies have shown that people become more receptive to hearing about climate change and global warming when it is presented in bite-sized pieces. By strategically framing important environmental ideas, we can better reach all audiences. Rather than saying “the CO2 we put into our atmosphere is warming up our earth and killing our planet,” a comparison of climate issues to something relatable and not phrased in a scary way is a much better option. By comparing climate change to something relatable, we can better appreciate the problem and work towards a solution; for instance, by stating that climate change is like a ‘warm blanket, one that the Earth cannot remove,’ the idea of climate change becomes accessible, and the easily reachable concept is now reassuring.

Environmentalists are amazing scientists, but oftentimes the unfriendly and daunting manner in which they present information can become overwhelming, to the point where sustainability is abandoned as hope seems to be lost. By strategically framing our words and pointing our actions towards community-level solutions, we, in turn, can improve our environment while making an impact on the world around us.