What if I asked you whether human-caused climate change were a real and imminent threat? Let’s imagine you wanted to respond with a pithy idiom. You might say:
“Does a bear poop in the woods?”
Umm, well, I suppose so…
“Does the pope wear a funny hat?”
Come to think of it….
But, speaking of the pope, does Francis agree with you on the matter? He sure does, calling climate change a “global problem with grave implications” in his 184-page encyclical Laudato Si this past September. Move over Al Gore, because the pope is not the only person with star power joining the climate change discussion on the international stage.
In 2014, Arnold Schwarzenegger and six other executive directors launched a documentary TV-series on climate change with celebrity correspondents including Jessica Alba, Matt Damon, and Harrison Ford. To paraphrase Schwarzenegger’s intention to air a second season of Years of Living Dangerously later in 2016, he more or less said, “I’ll be back.”
In September 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio lent his celebrity to the UN climate summit in New York. Although he did not make mention of it in his speech, his serious concerns over rising sea levels may have first set in when he filmed the final scenes of Titanic. The 2014 UN summit also opened with a short video on climate change narrated by none other than Morgan Freeman. Climate change deniers the world over cringed at this film, well aware that when Morgan Freeman narrates something, nature makes it so.
All jests aside, more celebrities are getting involved in climate change activism, and, in turn, hopefully engaging wider audiences on the topic. I am not sure I take heart in the fact that Han Solo and the Terminator are on board with cutting carbon emissions, but I think it is a good thing that more people are discussing the same agenda.
Or, at least tweeting about it—UVM researchers recently conducted an analysis of 1.5 million climate-related tweets, and tallied considerably more Twitter activity from climate change activists than from climate change deniers, “indicating that the twittersphere largely agrees with the scientific consensus on this issue.” 1 But, what about those near-mythical folks who dwell outside of the twittersphere?
After ducking out of the pouring rain on a 60°F day this past December, a friend of mine overheard this conversation while waiting in line at a Burlington pharmacy:
“You know, this is on account of global warning,” a man said of the weather to another woman waiting in line. “We’ll be seeing more of this as the glacier melts.”
Later, my friend and I puzzled over this conversation—is it good that people are connecting strange weather to global warming (or warning?) even if they are extremely confused by the terminology and the science behind climate change? At the very least, it’s more encouraging than politicians who deny that climate change exists.2
To me, recent stories of people taking extraordinary action against climate change are speaking more loudly than any misguided presidential candidate. For one, a growing chorus of island nations is making a powerful moral case to aggressively combat climate change on a global scale; check out Marshall Island poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the 2014 UN climate summit. 3 In another David and Goliath-type story, 21 young Americans are currently suing the U.S. government over climate change.4 They view U.S. promotion of fossil fuel as a direct affront to their right to enjoy a livable future. They may or may not win in court, but at the very least they ought to get people talking.
- Cody, E., A. Regan, L. Mitchell, P.S. Dodds, C. Danforth. 2015. Climate Change Sentiment on Twitter: an Unsolicited Public Opinion Poll. Plos One.
- Merchant, E. 2015. News Republic. How the 2016 Presidential Candidates View Climate Change. https://newrepublic.com/article/124381/2016-presidential-candidates-view-climate-change
- Mooney, C. and J. Warrick. 2015. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/12/11/how-tiny-islands-drove-huge-ambition-at-the-paris-climate-talks/
- Taylor, D. 2015. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/youth-obama-climate-change-lawsuit_us_55cbc451e4b064d5910a7183?utm_hp_ref=barack-obama