Student post by Travis Parker Smith. Posted on October 3rd, 2017
How do we speak about climate change to those who refuse to believe it is real? In a time when misinformation plagues the news waves and entire sections of the public refuse to accept the truth, this is a common question among those fighting for the world to come to grips with the reality of the Anthropocene and humanity’s impact on the planet. On September 21st, 2017, Georgetown University hosted Writing Climate Now, a panel that explored various methods that writers might take in approaching the Anthropocene. This question on how best to speak to “skeptics” was brought up – and the answer was quite simple.
“I hate that word, skeptics,” stated Dr. Evan Berry (right), Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at American University, “It implies that there is still an area in which these people could be convinced.” Skeptic, he continued to explain, is a euphemism for what the people on “the other side” of the climate change debate truly are. “For them, the debate is settled. Skeptic is a softening of the stage they are at…denier is a more appropriate label.”
Two-thirds of the public believes that climate change is real, Dr. Berry asserted. This leaves one-third in this category of denial, and speaking to them is simply not worth the hassle. It is a waste of time – such dialogue presumes a discussion in which information and evidence matters. But this presumption, Dr. Berry explained, is unfounded. Whether for political, financial, or merely ignorant reasons (or all three…funny how often those blend together), this “other side” of climate change is simply never, never going to be persuaded. We as writers might as well stop trying to speak to them completely.
Instead, we should turn to the other two-thirds. We must direct our efforts toward those who are already “converted,” so to speak. Yet even this section of the public is divided: while they all believe climate change to be real, only half of this population believes that climate change will actually affect them. This number must rise. We must reduce the Anthropocene and human-induced climate change from a hyperobject (something that is too large to fathom) and bring it to a tangible state for those who recognize its validity. We must bring it into their homes and into their lives.
That, I learned, is where those of us in the humanities come in.
“Academics in the humanities in particular have a great deal to say to ‘the converted,’” declared panelist Dr. Dagomar Degroot (right), Assistant Professor of Environmental History at Georgetown and founder of HistoricalClimatology.com, “Especially in speaking to those who believe in climate change, but may not have thought about all of its aspects.”
What I took away from this event is that it is not our job as writers in the humanities to attempt to persuade the “other side” of the climate change debate. Instead, we must use our observational and critical skills to create works that persuade the so-called “believers” to go beyond believing – and shift into a state of action. The Anthropocene is not an abstract future threat. Global climate change is an issue that we need to confront right now, and we are going to need more than one-third of the public behind us if we are to combat it at all.
Travis Parker Smith is a second-year Master’s student in English Literature at Georgetown University. His work focuses primarily on analyzing ecocritical pedagogy and exploring the concept of “nature” in the age of the Anthropocene.