Opinion: Spice Up Your Talking About Climate – A Number For Each Day Of The Week

Russ Vernon-Jones

Some years ago I did a fair bit of reading and watching of documentary videos about climate change. I learned a lot and got a much deeper understanding about the current crisis. Yet I found that when I went to try to share some of my new understanding with friends and acquaintances, I often struggled to communicate what had seemed so clear in what I was reading and watching. I often couldn’t remember key details when I wanted to use them in talking about climate.

Frustrated by this, I resorted to writing down and trying to memorize a few key numbers and facts to use in conversations. I found that having a specific number or two to share made a remarkable difference in communicating important ideas (and in remembering them myself).

Talking About Climate Change
As I’ve written before, talking about climate change is critical to building a powerful people’s climate movement. Lots of people are vaguely concerned about the climate, but many of those aren’t yet speaking up or taking action. It would be good for us to talk about climate change with almost everyone. Our sharing of our love for the planet, sharing some information about climate change, and inviting people to join us in taking action is vital to moving things forward. Having some key facts at our fingertips, committed to memory, can make us better communicators and enliven our interactions. Once I’ve chosen a number to remember, I find I retain it better if I make a point of sharing it often in conversations.

Do you have some favorite facts or numbers that you share, or might share, with people? If so, please write in the “Leave a Reply” section below what facts or numbers most speak to you, or what information you’ve found most useful to communicate to others. Below are some that I’ve found useful. Most of them enable people to think for themselves about the bigger implications of the specific fact.

Just for fun, I’m suggesting one to use on Mondays, one for Tuesdays, etc. Here they are, presented in a game show format:

Mondays – What is 1977?
The year that oil giant Exxon knew about the harmful effect of fossil fuels on the climate. They then began, and are still continuing, to spend millions of dollars publicly promoting doubt, denial and disinformation about climate change, and influencing politicians–seriously setting back efforts to address the climate crisis.

Tuesdays – What Is 1st, 2nd, 2nd?
The United States is 1st when nations are ranked according to their total greenhouse gas emissions over the years since 1850.
The U.S. is 2nd among all nations when they are ranked according to their current emission levels. (China is first.)
The U.S. is 2nd among populous nations in current per capita emissions.

(The average personal carbon footprint of each person in the U.S. is 16.2 metric tons. In Australia it’s 17t. Many European countries with high standards of living have much lower emissions per person–ex. France (5.5t) and the U.K (5.8t). The global average is 4.8t per person.

Wednesdays – What Is 200 million Or Maybe 1 billion?
Recent estimates of the number of people in the world who will become climate refugees between now and 2050–that is, in the next 29 years–range from 200 million to 1 billion. Millions of people around the world are already being forced to move by the effects of climate change. These numbers can be significantly reduced by effective global climate action.

Thursdays – What Is 51 and 400?
Humanity is currently emitting CO2 at the rate of 51 Gigatons per year. According to the IPCC, the world’s remaining carbon budget if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C is 400 Gt in total. At the world’s current rate of emissions, we will use up our carbon budget in about 8 years. (The 400 Gt budget is estimated to give us a 2 in 3 chance of not exceeding 1.5°C. For a fifty-fifty chance of not exceeding 1.5°C the carbon budget is estimated to be 500Gt.) Could there be a stronger case for immediate rapid reductions in emissions everywhere?

Fridays – What Is 1.6 and 2.1?
The U.S. fair share of funding for developing nations to address the climate crisis that the U.S has played such a large role in creating is calculated to be at least $1.6 trillion dollars between now and 2030. This seems like a lot of money until you consider that the billionaires of the U.S. have increased their wealth by $2.1 trillion dollars just since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. That’s just the billionaires, not even all of the 1%. They could be taxed to pay all of the U.S. fair share and still all be billionaires.

Saturdays – What Is 4 million?
We are all part of a large worldwide climate movement. On September 20, 2019,  4 million people took to the streets to demand climate action in over 2,500 events, in over 163 countries, on all 7 continents. People of all races, ages, religions, and nationalities are committed to humanity making the changes needed for a sustainable future. (The Guardian wrote that 6 million people participated over the course of that week of protests.) Let’s put our hope in the people, and each help grow the movement.

Sundays – Let’s focus On Listening, Sundays … And Every Day
It’s important to listen to people respectfully in all of our conversations with them about climate. I’m not suggesting another number for Sundays, because I want to take this opportunity to remind us about the importance of listening. When we invite people to engage their minds with the climate crisis we help move them toward greater action. Whenever I share one of the above numbers, I also find it useful to ask people, “What scares you about the climate situation?” and “What gives you hope about the climate?”

Russ Vernon-Jones was principal of Fort River School 1990-2008 and is currently a member of the Amherst Community Safety Working Group and of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now-Western Massachusetts. He blogs regularly on climate justice at www.russvernonjones.org.

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