Climate Crisis Weekly: How Americans can really talk to each other about climate change

  • How can Americans break through the partisan divide when it comes to talking about the climate crisis?
  • Scientists rank five types of soft drink containers from best to worst for the environment.
  • Small farmers globally are particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis. Here’s the help they’re getting.
  • And more…

The majority of Americans agree that addressing climate change should be a top priority. But perceptions of environmental issues and the climate crisis are divided between Democrats and Republicans, with the latter much more skeptical about climate change (although, for example, Electrek reported a year ago that both parties support solar, albeit for very different reasons, and Texas, a majority red state, leads the US on wind power).

Toby Bolsen, left, and Risa Palm

Georgia State University’s Risa Palm, professor of urban geography, and Toby Bolsen, associate professor of political science, did a Q&A session about why divisions occur and how communication breakthroughs might be made by experts and leaders about climate change. You can read the full interview by clicking this link, but here’s an excerpt:

One of your recent surveys asked who was likely to be most believable when it came to delivering messages about the changing climate — and found that climate scientists were low on the list. Why is that?

Bolsen: We still trust doctors and experts when our health is on the line. It’s just when we deal with this subset of scientific issues that have become infused with meaning and political identities, it undermines people’s ability to trust the science in the same way as if they were dealing with the information in a different context.

What do you think needs to happen to help move the needle when it comes to impactful climate messaging? What needs to change?

Bolsen: The politicization of climate science and the rise of extreme partisan polarization present formidable hurdles for generating the public consensus necessary for meaningful policy action. We have to move past a long-standing focus on “educating” the public about the “facts” of climate change as a way to generate support for action, because people are often motivated to interpret information in a way that protects their existing beliefs, political identity, and cultural worldview.

We have to recognize how different information-processing motivations can cause people to reject scientific information. Recent work suggests that climate messages are most impactful when they resonate with and affirm a person’s underlying values and identities. For instance, some recent work finds that Republicans respond positively to messages that emphasize market-based solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Our own work also demonstrates that when climate messages are linked with trusted in-group sources, such as Republican Party leaders emphasizing the risks of climate change, this information can be particularly impactful among Republican audiences. It is, therefore, crucial for Republican Party leaders to begin to advocate for meaningful climate action if we hope to depoliticize the issue and generate the public consensus necessary for change.

Palm: Simply providing more and better information to people will not necessarily change opinions. We need a strategy that will convince the general public that we need to make major changes, even if that requires individual sacrifices or doing things differently. We may need to change how much we travel, what we eat, or the kinds of buildings we occupy. We may also need to agree to participate with other nations in efforts to reduce carbon emissions, or even to adopt some of the geo-engineering strategies (such as carbon capture and storage) that could make society carbon neutral. Until people are convinced that we have a problem, that the problem is serious and that there are things we can and must do, little will change. And that would be tragic.

Ian Williams, professor of applied science, and Alice Brock, PhD candidate in environmental science at the University of Southampton in the UK, released a study of which soft drink containers were most damaging to the environment, and they published their results on the Conversation. Their findings will probably surprise you. Ranked from worst to best:

  • 5. Glass bottles (yes, really): Glass uses the most natural resources and energy to produce. Plus, they’re heavy, so more fossil fuels are burned to transport them. Glass makes a whopping 95% bigger contribution to global warming than aluminum cans.
  • 4. Recycled glass bottles: Some energy is saved in recycling, but it needs a lot of energy to melt the glass. During the process, the glass may release carbon dioxide again.
  • 3. Plastic bottles: Plastic is lighter than glass, but it breaks up into harmful microparticles that pollute land and sea. Plastic recycling requires less energy, but it can’t be endlessly recycled. So eventually it ends up in landfill, burned, or floating around in the water.
  • 2. Aluminum cans: Manufacturing them consumes less energy and resources. Cans are lighter than glass and aren’t made from fossil fuels like plastic. But they’re not perfect: Making them involves refining bauxite ore, which is a heavy metal that threaten the health of people and wildlife near mines.
  • 1. Recycled aluminum cans: Aluminium can be constantly recycled with no change in properties. Recycling an aluminum can save 95% of the energy used to make a new can, and no new material needs to be mined or transported.

The authors’ advice?

The best option would be to phase out single-use packaging entirely, and introduce a system of reusing containers. 

Reducing waste and reusing materials, where possible, should come before recycling something. By reusing bottles, we reduce the amount of single-use packaging that needs to be created, reducing waste and a whole host of global environmental problems.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a financial institution and a United Nations agency, works to address poverty and hunger in rural areas of developing countries. IFAD is focusing on resilience plans for small farmers who are being adversely affected by climate change. Smallholder farmers provide 80% of food in developing countries. This video explains the problems small farmers are facing and what IFAD is doing to help:

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) on Thursday announced the signing of a cooperation agreement to increase the adoption and deployment of wind and green energy worldwide. So along with that good news, we thought we’d share IRENA’s video that explores how green energy solutions can be the backbone of urban decarbonization efforts. Cities, which are home to 55% of the world’s population today, are responsible for over 70% of total energy-related emissions. Have a watch below:

Here’s what happened this week in #FridaysForFuture climate-change protests online. “Jayme” wrote a 30-second song about climate action and acknowledged the devastating blow Central America had to suffer from an extremely powerful Category 4 Hurricane Iota this week:

Speaking of Hurricane Iota, Chef José Andrés explains how the World Central Kitchen, which provides meals in the wake of natural disasters, is working to help the victims of Eta and Iota in Honduras and Guatemala:

Shindo Tenshin weighed in with friends in Kyoto, Japan:

And climate-crisis activists are out in Wiesbaden, Germany, writing, “Despite the rain and cold, the climate crisis is not waiting!”:

Check out our past editions of Climate Crisis Weekly.

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.