Time to Put a Smile on Chicken Little

Climate Change Wade's World

             Pearl River      Climate change is deadly serious business.  It’s for real.  Nobody in their right mind denies it anymore.  Funny thing though, even as the science has become settled past any sober argument, the needle on public agreement and support has hardly moved.  Increasingly, some climate change activists and supporters are arguing that it may not be the “meat but the motion.”

I talked recently of Aaron Sachs, an environmentalist, historian, and professor at the Cornell University.  He made the case on Wade’s World and in his new book, Stay Cool:  Why Dark Comedy Matters in the Fight Against Climate Change, that it’s time to change the messaging.  The sky really may be falling, but it’s time to put a smile on Chicken Little’s face so that people will pay attention and take action on the information.

Honestly, we have to admit, he, and others like him, have a point.  Who wants to hear the same thing over and over again, especially when too much of this devolves into Cassandra-like hectoring about the terrors of the future, and the subtext too often inadvertently doesn’t propel people into action, but increases their feelings of powerlessness?   Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and many, many others have done us all a service in forcing the issue to the forefront of our politics and countries around the world, but sometimes, as most of our mothers would remind us, you can get more with honey, than vinegar, and that’s where lightening the load a bit, as you deliver the weight, might make a difference in moving people.

Speaking of Al Gore, at my daughter’s recommendation, I was listening recently to the organizational phycologist, Adam Grant, read his book, Think Again:  The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, and he made a similar point about reframing the climate change message and letting more light in with the darkness, using former Vice-President Gore as an example.  He contrasted Gore’s sometimes almost wooden and robotic delivery that he had witnessed with a passionate and effective presentation he had made about “Inconvenient Truth” at a talk that had people claiming he was the “Elvis of TED talks.”  He ascribed part of the difference to the fact that Gore knew he was talking to believers, so he could go full Monty on the subject.  I can remember hearing Gore speak in union leadership meetings, and feeling like he was a different person than I had seen on TV. The moral to the story for Grant – and likely for all of us – is that maybe Gore needed to rethink how he made the climate case to crowds that were less ready to clap, but where we need even more to make the sale and get the conversion.

Sachs offers a lot of reminders about what it takes to go down laughing, from the humor and plays in concentration camps to the sly ways that slaves made fun of their masters.  He reminds us how important the actions of groups like the Yes, Men have been and told a story of one of them accepting an honorary degree at his alma mater, Reed College in Oregon, when divesting climate-killing stocks was a big issue.  The Yes, Men guy started by saying he had breakfast with the college president and was proud to announce that he had agreed to immediately divest from carbon emissions stocks.  The graduation crowd went crazy with shouts and laughter and gave him a standing ovation, while the president was wiggling uncomfortably in his chair because of course none of it was true, at least then, but it became true not long afterward.

It might be good advice when you drop the mic or megaphone, to try putting a smile on it to catch folks off guard and get them to listen and think twice.  Try it.  You might like it.