Deep into a summer during which multiple of our society’s wicked problems seem to be coming to a head, I sought inspiration in a webinar. “Reframing the Climate Conversation: Telling the Story to Bring About Productive Climate Action,” hosted by the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), and led by Jessica Moyer of the Frameworks Institute and Emily Moberg of the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation delivered.
The message that we need to move away from framing environmental issues as fatalistic problems resonated with me. As an environmental educator, I was trained to tailor messages for students based on their age and ability to process information about environmental ills. It’s important to consider what children can handle, but we often forget that it’s important to do the same for adults. For anyone else who has also found themselves endlessly doomscrolling this spring and summer, enough said. It’s debilitating to read headline after headline written by Chicken Little’s descendants. Bodies piling up in makeshift morgues; federal agents using force against peaceful protestors; already vulnerable communities of color disproportionately experiencing tragedy after tragedy at the hands of the police, a novel coronavirus, and natural disasters: the sky is falling!
What can we do when the sky is falling? Nothing.
Fatalistic messages do not move us forward. They rob us of our agency and lead us to mass disengagement. Are glaciers melting, sea levels rising, historic floods and droughts wreaking havoc across much of the globe, yes, AND we have the opportunity to change our current trajectory.
The time to act is now and the message must be one of solutions. A forward-thinking focus re-establishes our agency and mobilizes us to take action. This brings me to my second big takeaway from the webinar: our solutions must match the scale of the problem.
Too often, the doomsday discussion is followed by an oversimplified list of 10 ways to save the planet that focuses on individualized responsibility (use LED light bulbs and eat less meat) or it is followed by a big national policy recommendation (change campaign finance laws). The first remedy seems do-able but out of sync with the scale of the problem; the second remedy often seems unattainable. County-level solutions are broad enough to have significant impacts while still local enough to feel attainable.
Cutting Dane County emissions in half by 2030 will require both individual and systemic changes and, via the Climate Action Plan, we have a blueprint to do that. To be successful, however, we need all citizens to get involved! Our What You Can Do page identifies important actions for individuals, businesses and entire communities. Together, Dane County can reduce its emissions and be a model for others.
Allison has studied and taught sustainability for many years. From her native Wisconsin, she has ventured out to mountain ranges and lakeshores across the country and back again. She writes for the Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change to give readers food for thought and actionable suggestions to be a part of the county’s work to address climate change. Together we can forge a better future. Together. Dane County.
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