Earth day by nigel grey

It was the week after Earth Day, and I saw a performance by writer and activist Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Great Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a time of Planetary Change, and pianist Rachelle McCabe. The performance is called “A Call to Life: Variations on a Theme of Extinction.” She begins by talking about reports that say we have lost approximately half of the world's wildlife since 1970. Though this number reflects the general trend of a phenomena that is complicated to calculate, the overall truth still remains the same. Climate change is contributing to loss of wildlife and diversity. She calls the world of today a “world half as wonderful.” Wow.

And after presentations like this, I ask myself, how can I live differently? I continue learn increasingly more about the consequences of climate change and my contributions to the crisis, but why don't I dramatically change my behaviors?

So I start to brainstorm…

  • I could drive less.
  • I could be more politically active.
  • I could buy less “stuff.”
  • I could renounce air travel.

And then I create another list…

  • How would I get to work on time every day?
  • I can hardly check everything off my to-do list as it is.
  • I could start buying less next year.
  • I love to travel!

Of course, these excuses are not sufficient, and I know that I can do more. I need to start somewhere in making a bigger reduction in my carbon footprint. I can keep growing from there.

But also, maybe it’s not that I need more information. Maybe those I try to educate don’t need to learn more about the science of climate change either. Perhaps we need to be drawn into the narrative of our changing planet. How can the story of Earth be our story too? That is the question I want to spend time answering.

 

Image from NASA

Image from NASA

Dell'Amore, Christine. "Has Half of World's Wildlife Been Lost in Past 40 Years?" National Geographic News, National Geographic Society, 02 Oct. 2014, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/09/1409030-animals-wildlife-wwf-decline-science-world/

 

Humans and "nature" by nigel grey

Spring is here! Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds have been arriving with the first blooms. I think observing the world around us is critical to caring about it, so how can we increase our awareness and connection? Would we act differently if we could grasp the wonders of nature and truly understand how much we rely on the environment and creatures around us?

What if to buy one pound of honey we had to travel the same distance to the grocery store as a hive of honey bees must fly? From Flagstaff, Arizona, we would need to make 59 round trips to the Whole Foods in Los Angeles, California before we could make our purchase. According to statistics, a hive of honey bees must travel over 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey.

 

The earth is changing, and plants, animals, humans, and other organisms are being affected by it. Can recognizing our place as humans within the natural world make a difference? We are just one part of the complex system of living and nonliving components. Like all members of an ecosystem, we have many roles. For example, we are hosts to up to 100 trillion bacteria cells!

By emphasizing our place within nature, not separate from it, perhaps we can start to see why climate change is an issue that impacts us directly, not only the Great Barrier Reef.

 

"Honey Trivia." National Honey Board, https://www.honey.com/newsroom/press-kits/honey-trivia.

Pollan, Michael. "Some of My Best Friends Are Germs." The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Company, 15 May 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/magazine/say-hello-to-the-100-trillion-bacteria-that-make-up-your-microbiome.html.

Cave, Damien and Justin Gillis. "Large Sections of Australia's Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find." The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 15 Mar. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/science/great-barrier-reef-coral-climate-change-dieoff.html.

What should we do? by nigel grey

We were celebrating my birthday over dinner with family and friends. Conversation, as it does, turned to politics… then climate change… and then the “should's.” What should you do if you care about the environment?

With a variety of political affiliations and moral beliefs at the table, the conversation escalated quickly. Why can talking about climate change be such an emotional topic? Why are we so quick to defend our decisions in light of the current ecological crisis? We could take these precious moments to brainstorm collective solutions!

Well, as Corner and Groves suggest in “Breaking the Climate Change Communication Deadlock,” discussions around climate change require us to ask, “How shall we live?” (p. 744). There are likely varying answers to this question depending on who you're talking with, which is why the issue is personal and political.  

How can we shift the discussion to “How shall we live together?” Scientific research shows us that our energy consumption (electricity, heat, and transportation) is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Image from the EPA

Image from the EPA

 

However, in the United States, we have not been able to collectively address this issue in any meaningful way. Fundamentally, the challenge of global warming requires that we make large-scale changes in our cultural values and lifestyle choices. How do we work toward such a shift? I don’t have the answers, but take Germany’s energy transition for example. As a nation, they have made a decision to do something different, together.

That night over dinner I found myself becoming increasingly defensive as the conversation continued, but this isn't productive. Can we shift as a country to more ecocentric values while still honoring our individual choices? Our unique stories are important, but what about consideration for the health of the planet, and ultimately the health of us all?

 

Corner, Adam, and Christopher Groves. "Breaking the Climate Change Communication Deadlock." Nature Climate Change, vol. 4, 2014, pp. 743-45.

Kunzig, Robert. "Germany Could be a Model for How We'll Get Power in the Future." National Geographic magazine, National Geographic Partners, Nov. 2015, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2015/11/germany-renewable-energy-revolution/.

"Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions." EPA, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.

The anthropocene by nigel grey

I’ve been curious about the term “the Anthropocene” since reading Calculating the Day Humans Began Changing the Earth Forever on the science blog Wired. Prior to reading this piece, I had not heard of this new terminology. I was instantly intrigued.

This article introduces the idea that we are in a new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene. If you haven’t figured it out already, the Anthropocene (“anthro” meaning human) is called as such to reflect the role of humans in changing the earth and its systems as recorded in layers of rock. I wanted to know more. Could this new language alter the way we think about our human impact? Or is it just a fancy science word?

This idea was officially introduced by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in "The 'Anthropocene'" published in the Global Change Newsletter in 2000, saying, “...it seems to us more than appropriate to emphasize the central role of mankind in geology and ecology by proposing to use the term ‘anthropocene’ for the current geological epoch.” Here we are in 2017, and I’m hearing this term for the first time.

There’s LOTS of evidence that humans are shaping the planet. If you type “evidence humans are causing climate change” (like I did) into your Google search, you’ll quickly find images like the one below, provided by NASA.

But the graph, though telling of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, doesn’t seem to change our behavior.


In The Anthropocene Epoch: Scientist Declare Dawn of Human-influenced Age, 1950 (also highlighted in the graph above) is the year experts said the new epoch should begin. This new epoch “... was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.” (Image below also from article)

Could the declaration of a new time in Earth history make a difference for the future?

Words by Andy Borowitz [humor writer for The New Yorker] in Scientists Consider New Names for Climate Change seem particularly relevant here. Borowitz writes, “After a report from the Yale Center on Climate Change Communication showed that the term ‘climate change’ elicits relatively little concern from the American public, leading scientists are recommending replacing it with a new term: ‘You will be burnt to a crisp and die.’” His words are slightly jarring, but I think there’s truth in his implication… talking about climate change isn’t working. So what if we replace “climate change” with “the Anthropocene”?

The Anthropocene seems to make the causes of our changing planet a little more personal; a little less distant. I walk on concrete. I eat chicken. And my human actions are altering the earth.

Studies have been done on the difference between using “climate change” and “global warming” and results suggest that language does matter.

I want to be hopeful that the Anthropocene label, highlighting human action, will create a new sense of urgency to respond to our changing planet. Kathleen Dean Moore, in her book Great Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change, says this, “Now that humans have taken on the role of Earth-changer, we take on as well the responsibilities of celebration, protection, and ferocious love.” This may seem idealistic, but I think it’s a logical argument. Living in the Anthropocene is a call to change our behavior: to buy less, use less, make less of an impact on our planet. But even as I write this, I struggle with how to start.

Though I am intrigued by this new terminology, I am left feeling disappointed. I don’t think a new word for climate change will make us act differently as a society. I think we need to take a critical look at our cultural values, norms, and ways of living. Regardless, continued conversation about climate change and what humans are doing to cause it is both necessary and important, and perhaps the Anthropocene idea can help.

 

Borowitz, Andy. "Scientists Consider New Names for Climate Change." The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 05 Aug. 2015, www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/scientists-consider-new-names-for-climate-change.

Carrington, Damian. "The Anthropocene Epoch: Scientists Declare Dawn of Human-influenced Age." The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 29 Aug. 2016,  www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/declare-anthropocene-epoch-experts-urge-geological-congress-human-impact-earth.

“Climate Change: How Do We Know?.” NASA, https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/.

Crutzen, Paul J., and Eugene F. Stoermer. “The Anthropocene.” Global Change Newsletter, no. 41, 2000, pp. 17-18, http://www.igbp.net/download/18.316f18321323470177580001401/1376383088452/NL41.pdf.

Kirshenbaum, Sheril. “‘Climate Change’ or ‘Global Warming’? Two New Polls Suggest Language Matters.” Scientific American, Nature Publishing Group, 15 Dec. 2014, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/climate-change-or-global-warming-two-new-polls-suggest-language-matters/.

Moore, Kathleen Dean. Great Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change. Counterpoint, 2016.

Stockton, Nick. "Calculating the Day Humans Began Changing the Earth Forever." Wired, Conde Nast, 09 Feb. 2017,  www.wired.com/2017/02/calculating-day-humans-began-changing-earth-forever/.

What I'm doing now by nigel grey

Now that I am settled in Flagstaff and no longer walking 25+ miles/day on the Pacific Crest Trail, I am back working, studying, and showering regularly. The main topic on my mind as I wash, eat, and use resources like an average American… is climate change. Science tells us the earth and its systems are changing, and humans are the cause. But when will that really sink in? I ask this question for myself as well as for those I try to educate.

Among other things, I am an environmental educator, and one of the many topics I seek to teach about is climate change. I struggle with how to teach about this global crisis in a way that is personal, relevant, and inspiring. Moreover, I am constantly challenged by the call to "practice what I preach." How can I be a role model in responding to climate change?

Ideally, education is a resource for action. Why has communication and education about climate change yet to produce coordinated action responding to this global, ecological crisis, particularly in the United States? Join me as I think about our current educational responses to climate change and explore alternatives.