By Paul Wright
I have an exercise to propose to the Rossmoor community: an investigative experiment for convening conversations. Among ourselves. About the climate crisis. Conversations – respectful listening and thoughtful speaking – have always played an important role in my life. Conversations have helped me learn about others, shape ideas, understand myself better and for collaborating to accomplish goals together. The conversations I have in mind fit into all these categories.
Last year I attended a talk by David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. His book, an unadorned look at the implications of a future dominated by the impact of human-made climate change, has attracted a large following. For reviews of the book: The Guardian and NYTimes.
“Talk about It”
Unsurprisingly, of the many questions he got after his talk was recommendation for the best actions we can take. His answer surprised me. “Talk about it,” he said. He continued emphatically: “Talk about it with friends, neighbors, family members and colleagues. Engage with those around you in speaking about the climate crisis.”
On reflection, his response made perfect sense. Given the stakes and the scale of the problem we face – and the generations coming after us – can we afford not to? Does anyone ever change his/her point of view without getting new information? So, one way to solve the climate crisis is by talking.
This would probably be a good time for me to put my cards on the table. When it comes to the climate crisis, I should probably call myself a climate fundamentalist. By that I mean I fully embrace the claim that human activity is driving climate change today. In fact, given basic knowledge of science and mathematics, it would be truly strange if it weren’t.
The consequences of ignoring the problem will be enormous and doing nothing will only make it worse. Our actions, or inactions, will affect the entire planet and all those who inhabit it. What future are we leaving for the young folks in our lives, whether children or grandchildren, and those of our friends? If actions speak louder than words, what are our actions telling them? What can we say, are we saying, to one another?
Why Aren’t People Talking About It?
Of course, getting started with a topic like the climate crisis can seem daunting. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication surveyed Americans to find out how much they talked about global warming. The survey showed eight percent (8%) of the Americans didn’t talk about it because the subject was uncomfortable. Many other, bigger, reasons that show up in that survey, too. For example, “the subject never comes up” (35%), “we agree” (33%), “(I) don’t know enough” (28%) and “ not interested” (27%). Then there’s the inevitable: it’s “too political” (26%).
Further down the response scale, 13% don’t discuss global warming because of disagreement. This is all remarkable since, while about 60% of Americans report that climate change matters to them personally, perhaps only a third actually talk about it from time to time – and 59% rarely or never. After all, we’re not exactly shy about expressing our views. If you’re interested, you can read more about this at Attaining Meaningful Outcomes from Conversations on Climate – Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Nothing Will Happen If We Don’t Talk About It
I’ll be the first to admit exploring the climate crisis is a journey that can take us to some unexpected places. I’ve experienced a range of surprising emotions, including grief, pain, anguish and sheer (dumbfounded) anger. It’s an astonishing way to realize what it means to call this planet our home – and begin to really appreciate the simple fact that we share it, and all that that implies.
So back to the exercise I’m proposing: How can we talk together about the climate crisis? Well, by doing it. Organizing ourselves into groups no larger than eight or so, let’s explore the subject with our neighbors in a spirit of goodwill. Maybe we do it once; maybe we do it again, keeping in mind the lessons we learn as we go along. I’m proposing as many of us as possible host a conversation in our homes, or elsewhere, in one of Rossmoor’s many meeting spaces. Let’s begin to solve the climate crisis by talking.
Community Conversations In Rossmoor
Sustainable Rossmoor, which is interested in sponsoring this project, will be happy to arrange a meeting space and refreshments.
I’m also proposing that these be facilitated conversations – with facilitators present prepared to help hosts convene them, explain to participants a few basic ground rules, keep the conversations on track and help everyone to reflect on what they’ve learned along the way.
Talking about the climate crisis won’t solve a problem so hugely complex. But it might let us understand better where to begin, which is with one another.
Note: Given the current impact of the coronavirus (COVID 19) on public gatherings, the exercise described here will be delayed for the time being.
If this experiment interests you, and you would like to participate or serve as a host, please contact me at email@example.com. We’ll follow up once the coronavirus landscape clears.
Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, March 25, 2020. Email Paul Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org