Ask a climate scientist: How to turn small actions into a mass movement

You’ve got climate questions. We’ve got answers — from a top-notch health and climate professional, Dr. Ed Maibach. 

Ever dreamt of asking a scientist all of your most burning questions about the climate? No need to fantasize. “Ask a climate scientist” is our brand new column where world-leading researchers share their personal insights into climate science and sustainable living.

To kick it off, we’re pleased to welcome back Dr. Ed Maibach, professor and Director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. If you’ve missed our previous interview, here’s his compelling explanation as to why we can’t win the climate fight alone, but only together. 

Today, Dr. Maibach will answer a few interesting questions we gathered from the Klima community, and share how we can engage our loved ones — big and small — in taking climate action. 

How can we explain the facts of climate change to kids without freaking them out?

Kids are braver and more resilient than we often give them credit for. Tell them the truth — that the people of the world need to get busy developing solutions to climate change — and then get them involved in climate action, ideally on a very small scale at first, to build a sense of efficacy and agency. 

With one of my sons, we started by asking all the neighbors on our block if we could replace their incandescent light bulbs with energy-saving ones, which turned out to be a fun project and also allowed us to get to know our neighbors better.

I want to fight climate change professionally. How did you get into this field? Any recommendations for someone in high school or college?

Every profession is going to be influenced by climate change in the years to come. Medicine, law, engineering, accounting, finance, city planning, you name it. Whatever you’re interested in doing with your life, whatever career you’re interested in pursuing, take as many extra courses as you can in climate change and/or sustainability, so that you can be on the cutting edge of using your career to help develop climate and sustainability solutions. 

I am vegan, don’t fly, don’t drive a car, and vote for the climate every chance I can get. Are there any other actions with outsized impact you recommend?

Acting alone is helpful, but acting together is powerful. Organize: Ask two friends to join you. After they do, ask them to ask two friends to join them. 

Eventually you will have a network of like-minded people who can act together, and exert influence on public policy makers and/or corporate policy makers. We’re stronger together.

My friends and family say they care about the climate, but they aren't doing anything about it. How can I get them involved? Is there a starting point you recommend?

You might start by asking them what, if anything, they might like to do to show their concern about the climate. They might appreciate the opportunity to think through the options with someone more knowledgeable, like you. 

 But first and foremost, I think we should give people opportunities to decide whether they want to change — without making a pest of ourselves, because being a pest is likely to lead to the answer “no thanks.” One of my favorite jokes is: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change. 

 And finally, our personal question to you:  What have you been working on recently?

I’m a health professional, and I spend time organizing other health professionals to engage as climate advocates. Earlier in 2021, some colleagues and I worked on a paper that highlights the inextricable connections between a stable climate and human health. 

Extreme weather events, including heat waves, storms, floods, and droughts are a direct threat to human health. And that’s why limiting global warming to 2°C is humanity's most important public health goal — and why climate solutions are health solutions. 

Have YOU got any burning climate questions you’re dying to ask? Send us an e-mail at hi@klima.com or follow us on social and send us your questions there. 

Nicoletta Maestrini
by Nicoletta Maestrini
Communications Assistant
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