Climate communications are an ever evolving myriad of mediums and expressions. From major productions like the new film Before the Flood to distribution tools on social media, the way we talk about climate is changing not only in language but also the methods with which we deliver it. These methods have increasingly welcomed people of faith, allowing them to reach unprecedented audiences with the click of a button.
When the television series Years of Living Dangerously premiered in 2014 and received overwhelming support on social media, I was pleasantly surprised by its focus on people of faith. Highlighting the accolades of skilled communicators such as Anna Jane Joyner and Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, the National Geographic series thrust their respective successes into the national spotlight.
Joyner, who deftly tried to convince her Evangelical pastor father to accept the reality of climate change in Years of Living Dangerously, teamed up with her costar, Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign director, Mary Anne Hitt, to launch No Place Like Home, a podcast that welcomes successful climate leaders to share their positive methods and useful communication strategies. These open and honest thirty-minute installments are unique not only for their helpful guidance about what works but also for their frank discussion about what does not work, freely noting pitfalls from which we all may learn.
Fellow Years of Living Dangerously star Dr. Katharine Hayhoe went on to develop a web series for PBS called Global Weirding, where she dissects both climate solutions and effective ways to communicate those actions. Hayhoe, who I had the pleasure of interviewing last year, wears many hats in her home state of Texas. From a university professor to an Evangelical climate communicator and author, her days are busy. But not busy enough to stop her from visiting the White House when invited to share the stage with President Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Similarly, the work of character actor and activist Peterson Toscano has become a staple of innovative climate communications with his podcasts, Citizen Climate Radio and Climate Stew Show.
A recent episode of Citizen Climate Radio featured Young Evangelicals for Climate Action’s national spokesperson, Rachel Lamb. The episode discussed the effectiveness of faith leaders who speak about climate change and the power of young leaders to act as “cultural brokers” for people of faith who feel alienated by the climate movement.
Young leaders like Lamb are able to demonstrate that people of faith don’t need to abandon their traditions, but rather embrace their existing values that call them to care for creation. In doing so, these cultural brokers are better equipped to inspire hope by telling a “different narrative” along the way. For Lamb, this method is essential to garnering support for climate action, something she experienced personally. When faced with the dilemma of climate change, she turned to her Baptist theology for motivation, discovering climate solutions because of her faith and not, as some have misunderstood about Evangelical traditions, in spite of it.
Toscano, the host of Citizen Climate Radio, has a beautiful way of getting people to open up to share something meaning about their climate motivations. For people of faith, this may often be a difficult process, with the political divisiveness of climate change reaching fever pitch in recent years– something Toscano remains sensitive to.
As an active climate leader, Toscano finds inspiration in his Quaker faith, and while that certainly has a lot to do with his motivation, it's far from his only method of relating to diverse audiences. For Toscano, a character actor who regularly performs his climate-minded theatrics in live productions across the country, the art is to bring people in with laughter and not scare them away with doom and gloom scenarios. He purposefully avoids shame and instead provides hope accompanied with a chuckle, giving audience members something to feel good about. Rather than viewing climate change as an unfortunate result of human activity (and subsequent inaction), Toscano magically transforms it into an opportunity to fulfill our religious and nonreligious values - inspiring a new generation of climate advocates with skillful exegesis and lighthearted storytelling of familiar narratives.
The humorous performances of his stage show, as well as YouTube characters Marvin Bloom and Elizabeth Jeremiah, frequent guests on Climate Stew, are not to be missed. I particularly recommend Bloom’s rendition of the Biblical account of Joseph and the hidden climate message found within. If you haven't met Marvin yet, take a moment to do so.
As we move forward and build on the successes of past communication strategies, we must embrace the changing landscape of how new generations engage on the issue and more importantly, its solutions. These platforms are not looking to dismiss climate communication methods of the past, but rather to expand them to their full potential by incorporating waves of creativity and inclusiveness. And you can be a part of it too!
Your community likely has a few members with unique capabilities in video, audio, and other visual productions. Take advantage of those skills and begin to create climate communications that are unique and fun to make. Start a podcast, make short videos or write a piece of music. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.
No one ever said the future of the climate movement had to be boring, and from the looks of it, it’s not going to be.
Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside.
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