Last November, on a frigid, wet morning, when the weather began to dip into uncomfortably cold temperatures, I walked into work followed by a co-worker known for his sarcastic remarks. Upon stepping indoors, he unzipped his jacket and proclaimed “I can’t wait to talk about the weather today! Did you see the weather? The weather is the weather!”
I immediately buckled over in laughter, mostly because I knew he was absolutely right. For the rest of the day, 90% of the nonwork-related conversations in my office would most likely revolve around how annoyed people were with the weather outside. Especially in my office, which is about as officey as an office can get (think The Office) and where people bond most closely over free donuts and coffee, the weather is one of the most common topics of conversation. Mostly because it’s the only common ground that our group as a whole seems to hold.
Usually, conversations about the weather irk me to my core, due to how surface level and insincere they seem. Whether I am at work or Walgreens, the last thing I want to talk about is the weather. Talk to me about anything else — family, health, politics. Hell, I’ll more happily talk about my morning bowel movement than have a forced conversation about how cold or warm the world outside is.
However, as much as insincere conversations grind my gears, lately I’ve been thinking about how conversations about the weather may be more crucial than ever in a time of changing climate. Because weather, like food, is a topic of conversation that connects every person. The weather connects us as intimately as having a body — everybody poops, and everybody feels the weather.
The weather is our common thread — it’s how we relate to one another living in this world. Amidst all of our differences, we all experience weather.
The weather is our common thread — it’s how we relate to one another living in this world. Amidst all of our differences, we all experience weather. And we all tend to have similar preferences one way or another. Even if our preferences differ — say your coworker loves the rain while you long for the hot sun — it’s a difference in preference that doesn’t cause trouble. We don’t hate people because of their differing opinions on the weather. It’s not an opinion like immigration or who you voted for — two topics that can start a bar fight within a matter of seconds. No one is getting punched over their love of snow.
Now, I know that weather is not the same as climate. So why, then, are we so willing to talk about the weather, but for the most part so unwilling (or disinterested) in talking about climate? Why is climate so political, and weather not? Because the topic of the climate has been made into a political issue. Because dealing with climate change involves changing the way our industries function and the way we behave, and we don’t like change. Because the industries that release harmful greenhouse gas emissions are deeply entrenched in money and power. And no one wants to lose money or power.
However, no one wants to live in 140-degree heat or have their house swept away by recurring monsoons. No one wants to pay for frequent flood damage in their basement because current infrastructure cannot prevent it. No one wants to get Zika because more mosquitos carry it with higher heat indexes.
We have no problem talking about the weather. There’s weather.com, the Weather Channel, and the weather man or woman. We love knowing what the sky will hold for us hour-by-hour, tomorrow, and a week from now. However, as a culture, we have yet to reach a point of being able to face the reality of what the future truly holds. And that is change. Big changes. Possibly balmy changes (if you’re in Chicago). And most likely, for many human populations such as those living in areas of the world like the Middle East that are expected to be unlivable, catastrophic changes.
Yet, even with the scientific consensus that yes, climate change is happening at a much more rapid rate than previously expected, and yes, if we do not drastically lower our emissions within the next few years the effects will be irreversible, the climate crisis is still profoundly absent from the media and cultural conversation in general. While weather.com is full of frightening images and videos of flooding, hurricanes, the solar eclipse, and a totally relevant Recommended Article entitled “Before the Bikini: Vintage Beach Photos,” rarely on the homepage is the connection between extreme weather events and climate change mentioned.
What if our weather correspondents started conversations around climate, as Chicago’s Tom Skilling has? What if climate news got as much press as the solar eclipse (and as Trump looking directly into it, which was absolutely amazing, might I add)? What if stories about our planet were as juicy as watching the Kardashians talk about waxing their own bikini lines?
Now, I am in no way recommending that you take on the role of climate change evangelist and insert an environmental factoid into every other sentence you speak. No one likes a Debbie Downer, and no one likes to feel that they are being bombarded, criticized, or attacked. This is why understanding effective communication is so important, as certain methods for engaging people around climate change are more graceful than others.
For me, I have found that first and foremost, being a fun person and someone that other people respect and enjoy being around has been one of my most effective methods for making people care about environmental issues. I realized early on that I don’t like myself, and other people don’t like me when I take on the role of an environmental police woman.
My work interactions have been my greatest teacher on understanding how to engage others around climate change, as the people I work with are middle age and above, and have a variety of political and personal beliefs. I don’t live in a raging liberal environment, and so I have learned the importance of being someone who represents the issue and speaks up when it matters, yet who isn’t one-track minded.
I believe this is crucial because environmentalists have been pigeonholed as hyper-liberal people. And in my experience, those who are more conservatively-minded often immediately tune out people preaching environmentalism due to a belief that they are just a bunch of flaming liberals.
This is where the weather comes in. If the climate crisis matters to you, yet you feel shy about engaging others around the issue, I recommend starting with the one area that connects all humans — and I’m not talking about poop this time.
Talking about the weather, and the weather events around the world can be an excellent segue to topics such as how we contribute to emissions and what steps we can take today to change our lives and influence political decision-making. Here at The Sky Sisters, switching to renewable energy for your home is our number one recommended change. 🙂
So, go ahead, talk about the weather — you’ll never have a lull in the conversation. And while you’re at it, bring up bowel* movements. People love that.
Lots of love,
*Note: Lucia brought up bowel movements four times within this essay. A new Sky Sisters record!