I grew up watching Texas thunderstorms from the garage, sitting on the hood of our family car with my dad. Against rain splatters and lightning crackles, he would explain why sometimes the lightning only occurred between clouds, and why other times, it would almost hit the tree in our yard. But certainly, it was only after many years (and many thunderstorms) that I started to actually understand what he meant by “the importance of ice nucleation in cloud charge distribution” or “vertical wind shear for atmospheric convection.”
From my dad’s love of science, I developed a deep appreciation for the intricate nature and environment around me. But at the same time, I became keenly aware of just how convoluted and restricted science could be: for a non-scientist, complex information is difficult to untangle and largely inaccessible if not appropriately communicated. The historically-exclusive reputation of science often manifests itself through the common misconception that “the more confusing it is, the more scientific it is.” In my small Texas town, this translated into a distrust and lack of engagement with science, marked by a sharp division in scientific beliefs between the local media, neighbors, teachers — and my father and his colleagues.
My father studies climate change. But climate change — and to a lesser extent, sustainability and other environmental topics — has in the U.S. been a difficult topic to talk about, given the politics and social spheres surrounding the issues. Growing up between my father and the rest of the city, it struck me as a strange paradox, having to defend facts and graphs that have been proven true countless times. But for all my “if you would just look at all the data available,” I was met with “I just don’t believe it” or “Not much I can do, anyways.” I found myself wondering why science and nature could no longer serve as a call for action, or even be trusted. Even more, I wanted to know what could be improved. I wanted to know the proactive steps that someone who cared about science could take to create trusting and meaningful relationships with the public, how science — particularly controversial topics — should best be communicated.
But from my childhood, my experiences and even my own studies, I’ve found that perhaps the answer is much more simple than I had first thought. Perhaps, more important than the preaching, the graph and fact-sharing, the personal and impersonal attacks, are the personal stories — those that portray how climate change or sustainability has affected our lives, our narratives and more. Perhaps, when we frame these often abstract and seemingly distant issues in our own perspectives, it’s then that those around begin to understand the
human impact of environmental issues. At the end of the day, as fellow humans, we share the same fundamental values of love, support and friendship, and when we begin to see how nature shares that with us too, we open a door to talking about sustainability and climate change that bypasses any political or social divide. So — as I share my story with you, I want to hear and share your story: that story — of you and nature — is the most impactful of all.