Why numbers are terrible. [and what we can do about it]
I’ll admit, numbers have always thrown me for a whirl. Math? Yeah, it was never was my strong suit. You could say I spent my school years just a bit afraid of these daunting little things scribbled across papers. So, what was the problem with numbers? They’re a foreign language if you ask me. They require a unique and informed skill set to be able to truly make sense of, comprehend, and solve. So what do scary numbers have to do with climate change? Unfortunately, a whole lot.
We can sit here and talk about carbon levels in the atmosphere, fossil fuel reserves left in the ground, climate refugee figures, the list goes on. The numbers behind climate change are way scarier than those pesky math problems of my younger years. Climate science isn’t a new science. We’ve known these numbers for decades. We’ve had climate models predicting this mess for a long time. Numbers, apparently, fall on deaf ears.
The solution? Ditch the numbers. The climate movement isn’t, and will not be won by explaining how scary a pie chart is. We’re not in a good spot with this movement. We’re not winning. For years we’ve been stuck presenting the facts with no real progress. Science, as powerful as it is, has a purposeful lack of emotion. With the effects of global warming starting to settle in, we’re seeing the real life direct consequences of our carbon addiction. This is no longer a battle of science, it’s now the greatest drama of human history. Hidden in all of this bad news and struggle are beautiful stories.
Students at Washington University in St. Louis have been staging a sit in for over two weeks in protest to their school’s ties to Peabody Coal. In late March a group of Earth First! activists locked down a road to fracking sites in Pennsylvania for 6 hours. Meanwhile, Greenpeace was busy doing huge banner drops in Proctor and Gamble’s headquarters with climbers in tiger suits. These stories are only a few of many. Resistance to the fossil fuel industry is cropping up all over the world.
Make no mistake, this is a David vs. Goliath story on every count. People from all walks of life are joining the fight. We’re much shorter on resources, money, and political pull than our opponents. Our creativity and the inspiration it is able to spur are our most valuable assets. Activists hanging on ziplines in tigers suits carries far more emotion than devastating levels of carbon in our atmosphere. We’re the underdog for now. As we start changing our tactics from graphs and climate models to heroic stories of everyday people stepping up to defend their homes the tide will turn.