The momentum is explosive. On Friday September 20, student strikers from the global Fridays for Future movement will be joined by crowds from other climate groups such as the Sunrise Movement and 350.org and people everywhere, for what is expected to be the largest global climate protest in history.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who traveled to New York on a zero-emission sailboat, will be leading the event along with other celebrity activists. As the United Nations gathers for its annual General Assembly, the pressure for policy action is on.
While companies can (and should) do more to help combat climate change, on an individual level you can make a difference. It starts by having frank conversations in and out of the workplace. Here are 11 tips for how to talk about climate change:
1. Create a sense of urgency.
This is the chief weapon in Greta Thunberg's toolbox. "I want you to panic," she famously told the crowd at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is." For evidence the situation is urgent, see the report published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October of 2018. The report says that in order to keep the planet's temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, above which disaster would occur, the global population needs to cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and down to zero by 2050. In other words, there are just 11 years to act.
2. Global warming will affect young people and future generations.
By not addressing it, older people in positions of power are effectively stealing from the livelihoods of their grandchildren. In the case Juliana v. United States, currently making its way through the US federal court system, a group of children has asserted that the government has "violated the youngest generation's constitutional rights to life, liberty and property" through government actions causing climate change.
3. Don't be afraid to bring up science.
Greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide and methane stay in the earth's atmosphere for months to years and trap heat from the sun, increasing atmospheric temperatures. GHG emissions, and global temperatures, have increased dramatically since the Industrial Revolution.
4. Don't be afraid to bring up religion.
Over 900 religious leaders from different denominations around the world endorsed the "Faiths for Forests Declaration and Action Agenda" in August. In 2015 Pope Francis published an encyclical, Laudato Si, on the environment, saying "Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years."
5. The effects will hit everyone, everywhere.
Rising temperatures cause shifts in ocean and air currents that exacerbate extreme weather events. "It's a new normal and I really do think that global weirding is the best way to describe what we're seeing," climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe said in 2011. Glaciers melt, sea levels rise, and more flooding occurs. Weather changes also increase droughts in some areas and raise the risk of forest fires.
6. It isn't the planet that needs to be saved; it's people.
As the earth's temperatures, weather events and ecosystems shift, there are alarming scenarios for humans who live in coastal areas and in areas where the water supply could run out. As animal, fish, insect and bird species fail to adapt to ecosystem changes and die off, the risk to the world's biodiversity is massive. Food scarcity is a likely result.
7. Widespread population displacement will be a chief result.
People displaced from rural areas where agriculture is no longer viable become climate refugees. Often they migrate to cities, which suffer from population explosion, poverty and crime. So far, the poorest populations are the most affected by climate change. Indigenous populations are also being disproportionally affected, such as tribes in the Amazon, which burned dramatically this summer.
8. Burning fossil fuels not only contributes to climate change, it also pollutes the air.
"It's time that we wake up. It's time that we wake up and talk about what really matters," Arnold Schwarzenegger told the Associated Press in 2017. "Here's what really matters: that 25,000 people are dying every day because of pollution." Global warming is also a major health risk, exacerbating the spread of diseases like the Zika virus.
9. The U.S. is the second worst carbon emitter after China.
The U.S and its inhabitants need to do more to cut emissions; it needs to be an environmental leader on the world stage. The Green New Deal introduced in Congress in February said, "Because the United States has historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, having emitted 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions through 2014, and has a high technological capacity, the United States must take a leading role in reducing emissions through economic transformation."
10. Fixing it will require a massive cultural shift.
The consumer culture is fueling climate change, or, as climate activist Bill McKibben writes in the New Yorker, "Money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns." McKibben believes people aren't doing nearly enough to halt the progress of climate change, and writes, "I suspect that the key to disrupting the flow of carbon into the atmosphere may lie in disrupting the flow of money to coal and oil and gas.
11. Last but not least, this is democracy in action.
Megan Gardner, a senior at Grinnell College and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement's hub there, has a message for politicians. "I think the biggest thing right now is to show lawmakers how dedicated and how passionate the younger generations are," she writes. "They should be scared for their job if they are not willing to put their best foot forward and fight for a livable future." I know I'm ready for young people to show us how to get things right.