By Eco-Thang 2
Climate data is hot, there’s no doubt about it. The ability to pressure politicians into creating precise policy that steers us toward the best possible climate outcome? Oh baby, I’m in.
But did you know there are data-negative people out there trying to yuck the yum of our climate data engagement? Personally, I want to ride that data hard, but supposedly “climate-friendly” liberals in the media are saying stuff like, “Don’t look at data, it might stress you out.” This is puritanical rubbish that has the effect of setting up false expectations that climate data is supposed to be painful, which can thwart people from getting in the mood, if you know what I mean.
Here at the Data-Positivity Alliance, we are promoting the reality that climate data can be sexy and fun, as long as we indulge responsibly.
Here are some tips (just the tip!) for responsible engagement with climate data:
Tip #1 – Do It In a Group
One of the best ways to engage with climate data is in groups, such as a reading group where you all read the data and talk about it together in a safe space kind of way. You might try getting creative with this: Rather than a traditional reading group, what if you try holding an improv dance session in which someone is reading a climate data report out loud with musical accompaniment, and you all move your bodies into shapes depending on how the words make you feel? Or what if you have a group project of making a zine artistically showcasing the latest climate data and each person writes about how it makes them feel in the zine and you give it to all your friends and neighbors? Group play is a wonderful way to make the climate data more fun and engaging, and it can also really help to come together to process your emotions with others. There’s no doubt about it: climate data is better in a group!
Tip #2 – Don’t Forget the Humor
A great comedian once said, “If you don’t have gallows humor, all you are left with is the gallows.” Yikes! But also, there’s maybe something to it? Climate comedy advocate Andrew Boyd has argued that there’s a secret 6th stage of grief that is often neglected, and the name of that stage: Gallows humor.
Climate humor can take the edge off, and some folks have a much easier time engaging with climate data with humor, mirth, and even a sprinkling of snark. If humor is not your thing, that’s fine, but don’t rain on someone’s parade if they need to crack jokes and use humor and sarcasm to help them stay engaged.
Grief is also a totally valid reaction too. There’s no one right way to feel about climate data, and engaging with it can lead to all sorts of reactions. Feeling those reactions, and holding space for them, is the first step.
A great book to use as a guide for those processing their feelings about climate data is Andrew Boyd’s book, I Want A Better Catastrophe: Navigating the Climate Crisis with Grief, Hope, and Gallows Humor (2023). As Boyd argues, learning to crack jokes about climate data can be an important step in shaking off our collective inaction so we can steer towards the best outcome that’s still possible.
Tip #3 – Climate Data and Sex are sometimes intense. And that’s okay.
In sex, we lose ourselves, which is why the French term for orgasm is “petite mort,” meaning “little death.”
When we look at climate data or have a really good orgasm, there’s a moment of ego-less-ness, a moment that might be wrapped in pleasure, shame, exhilaration, and the desire to scream out all at the same time. Let it out, baby, let it out! Stay with the feelings as they come.
Tip #4 – Practice Consent, and Stay Data-Positive
Consent is like a bike lane. You might think you have it, but then quite suddenly, you don’t, and it’s important and slow down or stop if that’s the case.
It’s important to ask folks if they are in the mood to talk about climate data, and even if they are in the mood, they might need to slow things down or stop mid-conversation, and that’s okay.
It can help to explore with a person how they want to interact with climate data, rather than approaching the situation with your preconceived notions of what you think they want. Instead of listening to the data, they might want to share their feelings on the topic instead, or even rant about some bad experiences they had with climate data in the past. If that happens, it’s good to just listen. Sometimes having someone hear them out can help them feel ready to engage with climate data in the future. When that time comes, they might end up not reaching out to you, but rather to a different data-positive person or group in the area. That’s okay! You can know that you helped them on their journey to reach a more empowered place of data-positivity just by hearing them out and by letting them set a boundary.
Tip #5 – Find the clearest, most accurate data possible
Not all climate data is communicated equally, and sometimes climate data reports are written by exhausted graduate students with the communication skills of a stump. Don’t get bogged down by the low-quality communication skills in some climate data reports. There’s lots of super clear, sexy climate data out there if you know how to look for it.
For true climate data connoisseurs, we recommend the 2023 IPCC Synthesis Report’s Summary for Policymakers (also known as the IPCC: SYR: SPM). This report is like a finely aged wine. Seven years in the making, climate scientists and policymakers from across the globe agreed on the language of it line-by-line, meaning many passionate, underpaid interns wasted quality hours of their youth making sure the writing and images are clear and easy to understand. This is the good sh*t. You can find it here report.ipcc.ch/ar6syr/pdf/IPCC_AR6_SYR_SPM.pdf.
Here is our favorite graph from the SYR:SPM:
^ This graph shows how we have some gaps between implemented policies and climate targets right now. If those policy gaps aren’t closed, this planet’s temperature is going to hit some unmentionable numbers (hee hee, unmentionables…). That’s some pretty hot climate data, babe, don’t you think?
Another rather hot climate data source is the Global Carbon Budget Project, which can be found at globalcarbonproject.org. We recommend the “Summary Highlights” section, where you can see quite clearly the present rate of emissions. (It’s a little silly that this site acts as if there is even a carbon budget left, considering we surpassed the dangerous level of 350 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 back in 1988… but hey, we can still try and lubricate the situation by keeping things below 1.5°C, right? Am I right??)
Tip #6. – Don’t Forget to Finish – with Solutions
Try finishing off every sexy, radical encounter with climate data with some solutions. Be careful that you avoid solutions that don’t make sense, as this can turn into “toxic positivity” that can ruin the whole encounter. (No one likes to be told that everything will be fine unless there’s good reason to believe that.) That’s why it’s important to talk about solutions. There are lots of smart, pragmatic ways to get to net zero while also keeping sight on all of our social justice goals (Spoiler Alert: this is a positive-sum game — the more equity for everyone, the better the climate outcomes that can be achieved).
Last year, Slingshot published a step-by-step data-backed plan to get to zero emissions within five years, which can be found here: tinyurl.com/ZeroEmissionsPlan. Our plan isn’t the only way to get to zero emissions, but it’s at least one way, and it’s the best we could come up with in time for our publication deadline. This plan is like a jigsaw puzzle with 15 pieces, and if we can collectively put all the pieces into place, we’ll get to net zero within five years. If you’re struggling to find a good way to finish a hot climate data encounter, try going through the plan and having everyone pick which of the 15 tactics is their favorite. This can be a nice way to acknowledge how all of us have different, unique things we can contribute to the project of getting to net zero, while focusing on solutions — and diversity of tactics — can be a great way to leave things on an upbeat note after a hot, sexy climate data encounter.
Steering towards climate solutions is going to mean working together to build awareness of what’s going on. And that’s where data positivity comes in.
Remember: Consume that climate data responsibly, cute stuff! 😉
And yeah, in case you were wondering, I’m not an Extrovert, I’m an Ecovert. <3
— This message has been brought to you by the Berkeley Center for Half-Baked Ideas