Monday, July 14, 2014

How To Change The World #3: Personal Narrative (and Action) in Addressing Climate Change

Q: Many have reported on the difficulty of getting people to focus on climate change because it’s such a long-term problem. Describe two techniques you have found useful in getting people to either change the pattern of their own energy consumption or to advocate for public policies that address environmental threats.

A: Recently, I saw four sets of data that really struck me in this report on my country from the World Bank:
  1. That 8 out of 10 Filipinos personally experience impacts of climate change
  2. 52% have little to almost NO understanding of climate change. 
  3. Also, 63% have NOT personally participated in efforts to reduce the risks of reducing the effects of climate change. 
  4. And 68% have NOT participated in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
And as a test of response, I posted the data on my social media page and got what I expected: zero response (no likes, no comments). That’s just the effect of talking about climate change. Prof. Daniel Kammen of UC Berkeley put it very succinctly in the conversation on energy, sustainability and solution science video (video lecture 3.8 of How To Change The World): a) quoting Prof. George Lakoff, cognitive linguist, there’s no verb form (pretty much, no language) for humans being affected by outside forces like climate change and b) there’s no currency for dealing with climate change.

Climate change is the elephant in the room. We all know, especially us Filipinos, that it is happening. But there’s no structure around which to talk about it without getting extremely polarized. I took a consensus among my office mates during a lunch break and they all believe climate change is real. What is hard to put into words and action is what to do about it that will actually make a difference.

The two techniques that I have found that are effective for getting people to care about climate change have to do with something that Prof. Kammen said and what Prof. Alice Haddad, political scientist (video 3.4 Grassroots Politics and Climate Change) said.

1) Prof. Alice Haddad talked about how art is one potent way to engage people. It’s because art creates narrative, something people care about. It is something that moves them and helps them emotionally engage with an issue or a concept.

2) Prof. Kammen talked about connecting a highly abstract thing like climate change to a deeply personal level of experience.

Overall, I’m also inspired by the work of E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered. Schumacher advocates a return to small, appropriate technologies that empower people without destroying the environment.

For me, the personal story/ narrative, together with action, are far more effective than rhetoric and fear-mongering. My simple story about signing up with a local initiative called Good Food Community, which helps local smallholder farmers invest in, and continue to practice, organic farming is a small step in the direction towards addressing climate change (ex. organic farming practices and lower carbon footprint by buying local produce). It’s also something that people responded to positively. It’s an action that could easily be taken by a family and it’s connected to my daily life. It’s a very personal choice but it’s not exclusive. Anyone can make this choice. It’s about doing something that anybody could do without being overwhelmed.

Note: I am currently taking up a course boldly called How To Change The World offered by Wesleyan University (offered for free through and taught by Wesleyan University President, Michael S. Roth. It tackles major issues facing humanity and it is based on discussions brought up during the 2013 Social Good Summit in NY. I am putting up all my assignments on my blog as well.

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