Engineering Connections for Climate Change

I’ve been thinking a lot about connections. About how we construct them between other humans, about what that means, and about why it’s so difficult to engineer any kind of meaningful connection between us and our environments.

There’s that familiar saying, ‘To know the true size of the desert, you must walk it,’ and I fear that it may be true, because the only meaningful connections I have with others regarding climate change and the Antarctic is either with those who have walked it like I have, or with those who study it intensely, such as other geologists and environmentalists.

I don’t want this to be true. I want everyone to be able to know the weight of these problems, I want everyone to be able to take it seriously without having to resort to going there or being so heavily involved with it in their lives. I don’t want this to be true because it means that no change is ever going to come if it is.

I want to talk about the emotional dimensions just as much as the physical ones. I want to have a serious conversation where we talk about the temperatures on the West Antarctic peninsula and what this means for penguin populations just as much as I want to reveal the immense isolation and reverence of walking in pristine snow with a blanket of heavy snow-cloud above me, ice crystals hovering in the air and resting on my brow. It’s a world apart from status updates and commuter woes, a world apart from the place of constant connections. But it’s still a connection, albeit a deep, slow-moving one.

When I think about it on my own, a kind of calm overcomes me. It’s a sad sort of calm. It’s the kind of calm that heralds stormy seas approaching. It means something has to change.

I think what it means is that we can’t just think about engineering solutions to the Earth’s physical problems (ice melt, climate change), we have to think about engineering solutions for how we make our interpersonal connections, how we get the message across seriously to other human beings.

There have to be solutions as to how to do this. Increased science communication has already been shown to do good in educating people on the physical side of the problem. Maybe re-marketing this science communication for an incredibly non-sci market would do the trick, but it would have to be carefully considered so it doesn’t become another novelty ‘Breathtaking Earth Photos’ style communication; there are so many of those at the moment that they start to lose poignancy. The message would have to cut through somehow, and I don’t know how that would work in an Internet-based consumer market. If it’s not something that’s instantly consumable or easily-understandable it’s hard to push across. And it runs the risks of being branded with the hippie tag, which turns a lot of folk off instantly. The fact is, the way we humans perform our social interactions has changed massively since the Internet became prominent in our lives over the past few decades, and the way we talk about some issues hasn’t quite caught up.

I can interact perfectly well with other scientists on social media but they already have a vested interest in such topics – other folk it’s harder to get involved. For instance, I’ve had many a time in real life meeting with friends where my feelings on climate issues are brushed over in order to talk about the latest film or celebrity mishap, and I’ve had many a time on social media where my glacier photography has been ‘outed’ as a screencap from some popular videogame.

Glacier in the Lemaire Channel - totally just a screencap from Skyrim!
Glacier in the Lemaire Channel – totally just a screencap from Skyrim!


I am always of the thought that if somebody I care about is interested in a thing, I treat it seriously, because it matters to them. Even if I have strong moral objections to that thing, it’s still a serious issue. And I worry about what we’re doing to our human connections if we stop taking seriously the things that matter to us – because if we don’t take them seriously we’ll never question those things, we’ll never understand them, we’ll never move on.

How would you get your friends at the pub interested in such a thing?

How would you get your friends on Facebook interested?

Or is it a bit of a pointless issue and should we be approaching it from a different angle?

If anyone has any thoughts or ideas, hit me up, because we need to start engineering solutions for the human connection on climate issues.