Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire: Climate Change is Here

Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire: Climate Change is Here

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How to make the conversation about climate change urgent and accessible.

Whether you live in an affected area or have spent five minutes on social media we have all witnessed the effects of the over 400 wildfires burning across Canada. It has been made clear that this wildfire season in Canada is on track to be the worst on record, threatening the lives of many in the region in addition to causing air quality problems across all of North America.

For the first time since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, this climate change-linked extreme weather event hit both New York and Washington DC simultaneously, grabbing international headlines. In this and similar times of crisis, we see over and over the desire to share our individual experiences online. Uniquely, however, the fires burning across Canada have led to a partisan debate over climate change or arson, leading us to consider how to make the conversation around climate change more accessible.

BIG TAKEAWAY: Conversations around climate change are mostly made up of retweets and shares from other sources, creating a gap in the discourse of real voices on the subject.

  1. Climate change remains a politically divisive topic, with partisan figures remaining the loudest in the discourse.  
  2. Despite the recent high profile climate-related news, perceptions of the causes are skewed by partisan messengers. 
  3. People remain unsure of their own opinions, staying quiet in most spaces, and relying on the voices of these partisan messengers. 

SLEEPER TAKEAWAY: Pulling away from the partisan finger pointing and making the topic of climate change more accessible may actually encourage more actionable engagement. 

Over the last two weeks, conversations around climate change have visibly shifted. While almost everyone is concerned about the fires and the impact they are having on air quality in North America, partisan polarization remains present.

Republicans have quickly attributed the wildfires to arson activities and poor forest management rather than to climate change.

On the other hand, Democrats are continuing to highlight what climate change looks, feels and even smells like with the hopes that it will be a wake up call for many lawmakers.

Pointing the finger to the cause of the fires does not seem to be breaking through in a meaningful way. The discourse remains highly negative and is often mentioned alongside some of the most divisive political topics, including COVID, vaccines, and even the war in Ukraine.

The political nature of these posts can make the topic feel like a battle not worth engaging in. The conversations mentioning “climate change” consist largely of retweets of others’ opinions. Despite the high volume of mentions, only a fraction of conversations about climate change consist of original posts.

While the volume of mentions and interactions indicate that people do care about climate change, the low volume of original posts indicates that people are confused and not confident enough to share their own opinions. People seem to find it easier to just share the views of others rather than speak openly about their own opinions.

Bottom line: With the ongoing threats to the environment we should be encouraging more people to speak up about the climate, rather than pushing them out. By focusing less on the ‘blame game’ and more on what we can do to help we might inspire more diverse voices in the discourse.