Hannah Hollinger

Hannah Hollinger

"Smartening up" on climate change with Susan Hassol

Skeptics are becoming few and far between as climate change impacts become more apparent. The floods in Miami, the drought in California, and this week’s East Coast blizzard warnings are just a few examples of these changes. Despite these events and the overwhelming scientific evidence confirming the presence of climate change and its accompanied human-induced amplification, pushback is still present.

The second guest of the Interdisciplinary Studies Speaker Series representing the environmental sustainability concentration, Susan Hassol, brought her knowledge as a Climate Change Communicator to UCF on Thursday. In her career, she has studied how to communicate the planet’s need for sustainability to these skeptical individuals.

Hassol is a firm believer that “the science is not finished until it is communicated.” Instead of dumbing down the science, Hassol encourages rather to smarten up on how to communicate effectively. She says, “The only thing that is dumb is speaking to someone in a language they don’t understand. We need to instead speak in ways that make sense to them.” For example, President Obama went to Alaska to see the 75 gigatons of ice lost to glaciers in a year. This number, equaling 75 billion tons, meant nothing to anyone until Obama used imagery to help visualize. He explained that ONE gigaton of ice would cover the entire National Mall in Washington D.C. from Congress to Lincoln Memorial, and would be four times as tall as the Washington Monument.

Despite these vivid visuals of the current impacts, she finds that if we talk less about the threat and more about the opportunity, everyone will be on board to deal with climate change. Partisan groups are most receptive to implementing clean energy, supporting her statement that “maybe we shouldn’t talk so much about the science and we should talk more about the solutions, because this is where everyone agrees.”

With that, she leaves attendees with hope for the future. She gives us advancement points already underway: (1) Climate is finally on the agenda, both politically with President Obama and morally with Pope Francis; (2) China is engaged; (3) Emissions and economy have decoupled. Our economy can grow and our emissions can flat line; (4) The cost of solar power has dropped; (5) Solar capacity is growing; (6) Wind capacity is rising; (7) Renewables are half of new energy coming online globally; (8) Businesses are engaging. Clean energy is good for the bottom line; and (9) the Paris Climate Agreement.

She says that climate change is simple: It’s happening now; it’s affecting Americans; and it provides important opportunities. Most importantly, there is something we can do about it. The future is in our hands and we have a choice.