Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S government that works to keep the public informed of the changing environment around them, announced that March 2021 and year to date were among the Earth’s top-10 warmest in 142 years of record-keeping. Just when we were thinking that the silver lining of the drastic reduction in travel as a result of the pandemic would have had the opposite — cooling — effect.
It’s easy when we hear such news to feel defeated, and to conclude that our individual efforts as consumers — and collectively as the business event industry — to conserve, reduce, reuse, and recycle are for naught and that it’s too late to make changes that will demonstrably benefit our environment.
But climate doomism is exactly what we want to guard against, according to Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University and author of the new book The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet — because it can be used against those trying to make progress in sustainability by those seeking to undermine climate action.
In an interview in Behavioral Scientist, Mann said that a way “to get past that feeling of being overwhelmed by the scale of the problem is the agency we feel when we actually start acting. If you lead people down a path of engagement, there’s a snowball effect that can lead to greater and greater engagement” even if we worry that the effort — think eliminating single-use plastic at events — doesn’t seem to make a big enough environmental impact. We need to do two things at once, he said: Take individual action and support systemic change.
Collective action — which the events industry can take for a more sustainable future — “is individuals banding together to effect change,” Mann said. “What is a collective but a collection of individuals? … When we band together, then we have much more power.”
The best available science, Mann said, “tells us that we can avoid catastrophic warming.” He said we need to pair a sense of urgency with agency. “There is reason for alarm,” he said. “We do face great risk, and there is great urgency.”
Nonetheless, Mann said there is “so much” that is making him feel hopeful about the climate, including new President Biden “who has been far bolder on climate change than anybody, especially his critics, anticipated.”
He is also heartened by the youth climate movement and advocates like Greta Thunberg. “For too long,” he said, we’ve allowed climate change “to be framed in terms that are scientific or economic or political, but it’s fundamentally an ethical dilemma. Those who had the least role in creating this problem are those who are going to suffer the most” — the developing world and future generations.
Climate change also intersects with “a larger conversation we are having now,” he said, wrestling with issues of cultural and racial justice. “I think we are going through a tipping point with all of those things, and climate justice is clearly wrapped up in it.”
And finally, the pandemic has also led us to rethink climate change — although not by having the side effect of lowering global temps as we had originally hoped. “As awful” as the pandemic is “and as much of a tragedy as it was,” Mann said, it “has forced us to confront our own vulnerability as a civilization.”
For those reasons, Mann said, “I feel like we are now in the best position we have ever been in to see meaningful, concerted global climate action.”
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.