What’s in a name? “Climate Change” has become such a polarized phrase in the United States that even uttering it feels like a political nonstarter. The phrase evokes the paradox of Voldemort: say his name and you’re a pariah. But don’t say his name and you’ll never really be directly addressing the real problem at hand.
However we choose to name it, climate change is perhaps the single greatest problem facing current and future generations. To date, humans have failed to take adequate actions to stave off planetary collapse. A UN report issued this week describes a world of food shortages, floods, sea level rise, extreme weather events, wildfires, and massive coral reef die-offs as soon as 2040 if emissions continue at the current rate. The report concedes that while it is technically possible to change courses, it remains politically unlikely that we will do so. This is largely because climate change has become a deeply politicized topic.
So how do we talk about climate change? I am interested in work that restores/hacks/remixes personal narratives about the shared responsibility we have to each other and to the planet. My work seeks to understand how to hack the devices of environment, economy, security, stability, and health in creating a shared vision for the future of the planet. See my previous post on a possible gathering to facilitate this.
Most climate activists focus on economic, policy or technical “solutions” to global warming. However, these solutions are highly politicized; indeed, it seems the left and the right are telling completely different stories about the future of the planet and our role in it. Furthermore, most of these stories as reactionary and oppositional: liberals don’t want coal; conservatives don’t want a carbon tax. I’m interested in hacking these stories to create generative, affirmative, shared stories about the future of the planet. By creating spaces to lay bare current narratives, can we find the seeds of common ground required to generate a shared sense of planetary stewardship?
For example, entrepreneurs could see climate change as a huge business innovation opportunity while conservatives could support renewables as a strategy for energy independence; the military could focus on climate-induced political instability in foreign countries. Laying bare these stories will allow us to “hack” them and engineer connections where none might have previously existed.
There has been a lot of work evaluating how different frames could boost public support for climate policy. However, these efforts are experiments that simply test reactions to frames presented by researchers. The frames are not generated by those the researchers intend to study. In addition, there are some groups attempting to create new frames and unexpected alliances for climate policy, such as the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. The Frameworks Institute works to frame public discourse around key issues by translating academic research into outreach programs. However, I’m interested in a process of co-designing climate discourse by identifying shared values, wishes, and needs among otherwise divergent stakeholders.