06.30.2016

Making Lemonade from Climate Change: Searching for a Shift in Culture

The other day I was waiting at a bus stop in downtown L.A. during a scorching heat wave, when a young man sat down next to me and wiped the sweat from his brow. Noticing my own sweating, I turned to him and said, “This is gross; climate change is too real, man.”

He chuckled, nodded, and told me about a documentary he recently watched that discussed our looming reality. The conversation kept flowing until his bus came and he left me in the heat. Despite my physical discomfort on the hot bench, that exchange was one of the most positive “real world” conversations I’ve ever had about climate change.

As an environmental scientist by training, the reality of climate change is omnipresent and overwhelming, and my coping method of choice is to talk about it. Whenever life hands me lemons, I talk to folks around me to learn how to make the best possible lemonade. The problem is, climate change is a sour lemon that no one wants to talk about or work with.

Unfortunately, climate change is a collectively-caused problem that fundamentally requires cooperation amongst diverse communities to create solutions. The only way that we can explore those solutions is through healthy, productive dialogue and for that reason, I am always ready for the conversation. Unfortunately, not everyone is. In fact, I’m often mocked for talking about climate change in the wrong social setting. But that is a fallacy--the right social setting is whenever and wherever one is living on Earth. The realities of climate change are all around us and endlessly relevant. So, when I'm out at bars, I feel like it’s okay to not talk about sports or movies, and instead uncover what steps you can take to lower your carbon footprint. While some may be off put by the topic, I believe that talking about climate change casually is a wonderful way to connect with strangers. I have found that when I present the topic in a way that demonstrates genuine concern for our planetary home, rather than a lecture, the lemonade we make is delicious.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. My roommate got into a discussion about climate change with a guy while they were waiting in line outside a bar. Yesterday morning, I overheard a kid tell his mom about cow farts releasing methane. My own mom addressed the issue with the checkout clerk at the grocery store. With each exchange confronting climate change becomes less hostile, more manageable, and well, “normal.” Next thing you know, there will be a shift in culture and driving cars out of laziness and other wasteful practices will no longer be socially acceptable.

Misery truly loves company. Knowing that there are people aware of the issue, working, dreaming, and innovating answers makes the problem much less daunting. I’m over us burying our collective heads in the sand and simply not looking towards the wave that will inundate us for fear of being a “Debby Downer.” Refusing to acknowledge the problem does not mean it goes away.

I want people to face this problem head on. We should brainstorm at the supermarket checkout line, while two stepping at a club, or chatting at the bus stop. Small talk is typically about the weather--lets take it one step further! I want people to recognize one another’s genius, build community and trust through interpersonal exchange, and then, use all that brainpower to create a better world for ourselves and future generations.

But all this starts by not being afraid of “the conversation”. Without this understanding, fearlessness, and community cooperation we are simply setting ourselves up for failure. With it, we can work as a community to sustain a livable Earth all the while sipping from a refreshing glass of lemonade.

Nia Mitchell is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara majoring in Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice. Her concentrations include Anthropology, Black Studies, and Environmental Science. She is NCSE’s newest summer intern. Stay tuned for more from Nia in the coming weeks.