When the words “climate change” get dropped in a conversation, people in the room have mixed reactions. The words could induce fear, dread or a sense of hopelessness in some and others may not even understand what it means. No one really knows the best way to talk about climate change … except for Gina McCarthy. In the words of Neil Swidey from the Brandeis Journalism program, “you guys are in for a treat” for what she has to say.
The President’s chief advisor on domestic climate policy, Gina McCarthy attended a virtual panel discussion with Brandeis Professor, Neil Swidey (JOUR), on how people should engage in discourse about climate change in a way that will make people listen. McCarthy has established a reputation for being one of the nation’s most respected and effective leaders on climate change, even having served as President Obama’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the past. Throughout the panel, McCarthy shared her insights on many of the questions that Swidey had prepared.
“If I don’t ever have to say the word climate, and I can motivate everyone to jump on clean energy and shift away from fossil fuels … Hallelujah.” Throughout the discussion, McCarthy emphasized how clear speech is key when initiating change, mentioning that being unable to communicate with people simply means “you’re gone.” McCarthy highlights how trying to communicate all the science about climate would overwhelm people, making it difficult to understand and initiate action. She believes that figuring out exactly what motivates people, helps them put things into perspective and real progress can be made. In McCarthy’s words, “it’s really all about communicating in a way to motivate the kind of change that science is demanding.”
When asked about what goes on behind the scenes when pushing different climate policies McCarthy had a lot to say. She explained how the issue of climate change is now being pushed to every cabinet-level in government, especially the department of transportation. McCarthy claims that the transportation sector is the “largest emitting sector” of greenhouse gas and needs to find a way to become “cleaner.” “When you have all of the big three automakers in the US committing to getting 100 percent of electric vehicles by 2035, that’s amazing”, said McCarthy. McCarthy also suggests that people need to hold major companies accountable for the emissions they produce.
McCarthy spoke a little on the ban on Russian oil imports given the current political tension between Ukraine and Russia. While the US needs fossil fuels, McCarthy believes that the US needs “clean energy” now more than ever. She claims “it’s the only way to independence from people like Putin” who would take advantage of the fossil fuels they control.
McCarthy gave her opinion on the media and how climate change coverage is often portrayed. McCarthy believes that the more people cover weather events that are happening and put them into context with climate change is more likely to induce fear among viewers. Displaying solutions to climate change like encouraging clean energy and how it can produce potential job opportunities seems to be the best plan of action. “That’s how we know we win. When we no longer have to talk about the problem and all we do is dwell on who has the coolest car next,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy strongly believes that hope is everything. Fear would only cause you to “put your head in the sand or run away,” said McCarthy, suggesting that hope is the only way people can face the difficult reality of climate change. She believes that hope is what gets people excited to take a stance and initiate action. Her final message to the students at Brandeis was to take advantage of the climate justice initiatives and clubs on campus and raise awareness of the issues surrounding climate change. If not, McCarthy would “come chase you, and find you and track you down”.