Hope: A Case Study

I’ve spent more than a decade communicating climate science. If I had to name one factor that is the best indicator of climate change messaging success across most audiences, it is hope. Not the dewy-eyed hope that imagines a silver bullet technology will come along and save the day, but the pragmatic variety that is both empowering and actionable. This hope comes with realizing that climate change is a human-caused problem, and thus it is within our power to solve if only we are willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work. 

And hope is what motivated the climate team at the Union of Concerned Scientists to write Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, published this month by Island Press.  Backed by two years of analysis, Cooler Smarter helps people understand the most effective ways to reduce their climate impact and gives them the tools to become effective low-carbon leaders in their communities.  Along the way we bust a slew of commonly held climate myths.  The biggest myth we put to rest is that individual action doesn’t matter. 

Room for Optimism?

Folks reading this blog know there is a strong scientific consensus that climate change is happening, is primarily caused by people, and is already having serious consequences for all of us. You also know that, even though a majority of the public wants action, political gridlock in Washington, D.C. makes an economy-wide solution unlikely any time soon.

But that doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and wait for a more astute Congress to limit carbon emissions. The hope motivating our book is real. Consumers have an array of technologies and lifestyle choices available at their fingertips that, if implemented, can have a huge impact. Our hope is inspired by people already living low-carbon lifestyles—in small towns such as Salina, Kansas and in large cities such as Chicago, from small businesses such as the Bowman Design Group to huge corporations such as Wal-Mart and Xerox, not to mention all the well-known institutions making big changes, such as the Cleveland Clinic, the Empire State Building and even the U.S. Navy.

Armed with these and many other examples, and our analysis of more than 500 categories of consumer spending, our book challenges every American to cut their emissions by 20 percent this year. If every American made the simple lifestyle changes we recommend, it would be the same as shuttering 200 of our nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants.  We know this won’t happen overnight, so we tried to strike the right balance by being practical and motivating, while neither underplaying the science nor the magnitude of the challenge before us. 

Taking the Low-Carbon Show on the Road

Cooler Smarter addresses the role each one of us can play as low-carbon leaders—in our communities, at work, and as politically active citizens. (If you’re curious to know more about the recommendations in the book, see our Cooler Smarter blog series, and if you want to have some fun, try our 20 percent challenge.)

While climate change is front and center in Cooler Smarter, the book provides fodder for having conversations with those who may be confused about the issue or just plain skeptical. A few weeks ago I was a guest on a Tea Party radio show in Memphis. The book allowed me to talk about what mattered most to that audience--saving money and individual freedom. A few weeks later, I was talking to a group of progressives in a book store, telling them to stop worrying about “food miles” as a tactic to solve global warming, and instead eat a little less meat. We’re finding that our recommendations can break down preconceived notions and political barriers to change.

I hope Cooler Smarter might be a useful tool for some of you on Climate Access. I’m sure there is room for improvement, so let me know what you think.