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'We’re already on our way' to a more sustainable future, Earth Day Keynote speaker says

Old Well

While the weather is a popular topic for small talk, climate change as an environmental issue isn’t typically considered a dinner table conversation — but Susan Joy Hassol is on a mission to change that. 

On Tuesday, Hassol spoke to a crowd of students, staff and community members for the 2018 Earth Day Keynote address, hosted by Sustainability @ UNC. 

“We often talk climate change as an environmental issue,” Hassol said. “But it’s not just an environmental issue because if you don’t think of yourself as an environmentalist, as most Americans don’t, you might think it’s not your issue. So I think it’s really important to remember that this is a story, the climate change story, that’s about our people, our economy, our food, our water, our security, our safety and our way of life.”

Hassol’s career as a climate change communicator, analyst and author has manifested itself through various platforms. Hassol is the director of Climate Communication, works for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is an communication adviser for the World Meteorological Organization. She has given a talk on Science and Solutions for a Tedx event at the University of Montana and was the senior science writer on all three National Climate Assessments. 

In order to effectively connect scientists and the public, Hassol advised to connect on values, seek common ground, engage trusted voices, change the narrative and focus on other benefits.

Stephen Lapp is a senior at UNC and an intern at Sustainability @ UNC. He hopes to use some of the strategies Hassol outlined as he prepares to transition into the professional arena. 

“For my job, I will be talking to a lot of local governments about water systems,” Lapp said. “While this might not have to do anything with climate change, my view and their view might be different. So I think just the broadened skillset of widening a conversation and being wary of who you’re talking with is important.”

Cindy Shea is the director of Sustainability @ UNC and a co-sponsor for the event in conjunction with the Three Zeros Environmental Initiative. Shea said she invited Hassol to speak to promote climate change awareness on campus. 

“Most people coming tonight understand that climate change is a real threat, but it’s not universal,” Shea said. “We’re hoping that by giving people some tools to be able to communicate about climate change that people will feel more confident, and it will spur them to action to have those difficult conversations with people who may not be convinced that this is a clear and evident near-term threat.” 

Hassol said she sees climate change as an issue that’s real, urgent and induced by human action, but she remains hopeful. Citing news articles about collaboration between Democrats and Republicans on renewable energy initiatives, Hassol said she sees the progress that has been made in our own local communities.

“Here’s a real reason for hope,” Hassol said. “Of new electricity that’s come on line in the U.S. and globally in the last couple of years, two-thirds of that new electric capacity is renewable, mostly solar and wind. That’s really impressive. So we’re not starting from scratch. We’re already on our way.”

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