Six part UC-Vox collaboration explores solutions to environmental issues
The popular online media and news company Vox has collaborated with the University of California (UC) system to produce a Climate Lab six-part web series published on Vox’s YouTube channel. Four episodes of the six part series have been released, amassing a total of over two million views. Each of the first three videos has been featured on the “Trending” page of YouTube the day it was uploaded. The third installment, “Why your old phones collect in a junk drawer of sadness,” received over 400,000 views the first day it was released.
Researchers have partnered with Vox to advocate for climate change in an innovative and accessible way laden with anecdotes because, according to the show’s host M. Sanjayan, “we know that numbers numb and stories stick.” Sanjayan, an ecologist, UCLA visiting researcher and Emmy-nominated news contributor, hosts the six-part series.
“We need to change the way we talk about climate change,” Sanjayan said in the first episode, titled “Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change.” “This doom and gloom messaging just isn’t working. A problem this overwhelming — it’s pretty easy to turn away and kick the can down the road. Somebody else can deal with it.”
In the episodes, Sanjayan met with UC and non-UC researchers across campuses to explore climate change solutions in an innovative and creative way that can be accessible and relatable to a wide audience. Sanjayan interviewed researchers and thinkers in psychology, technology and food science, suturing environmental conservation science with other disciplines.
In the first episode, Sanjayan meets with psychologist Per Espen Stoknes, who explains climate change as a psychologically combative issue due to the fact that people become discouraged, overwhelmed and defensive when confronted with the issue.
In the same episode, Yale researcher Anthony Leiserowitz called climate change the “policy problem from hell” because it is so psychologically tenuous to grasp in present reality.
“Many Americans continue to think of climate change as a distant problem,” Leiserowitz said. “That this is about polar bears or maybe some developing countries.”
The second episode, titled “Going green shouldn’t be this hard,” features Lauren Singer, who can fit every piece of trash she’s accumulated in the past four years into a small mason jar. The third episode targets cellular and electronic waste, which is ridden with undegradable toxins and often comes to America overseas on archaic, polluting cargo ships. The remainder of the videos will be published every Wednesday.
Jon Christensen, an assistant professor and a journalist-in-residence for the UCLA Institute for Environment and Sustainability, spoke of his role in the Vox video series as well as UC President Janet Napolitano’s commitment towards climate research.
“I was senior editor on a report that was written by 50 researchers from around the University of California system, across all disciplines,” Christensen said. “It was called ‘Bending the Curve: 10 Scaleable Solutions for Carbon Neutrality.’ We know what it’s going to take to get to carbon neutrality by mid century, which is what we need to do to avoid the most disastrous consequences of climate change. One of the key findings is that that we’ve largely failed in communicating about climate change. I reached out to the UC Office of President to see if they would like to do a video series on climate change solutions. We reached out to Sanjayan because he’s such a fantastic science communicator. The series was produced by the UC Office of the President, and I stayed involved as an advisor and consultant on the research and stories.”
Christensen said that the final episode talks about how researchers can reach a maximum audience.
“Finally, we will have an episode about having diverse messengers,” Christensen said. “What’s really different about this series is that it’s playful and pithy, but you also get to meet people you don’t typically meet, from a tea party activist who cares about climate to an advisor to the pope, to young artists. What’s key about this is that we know a lot about the failures of climate change — we know it doesn’t work when it’s presented as a problem that’s too far away, too big, or too out of control for individuals to do anything about. That’s why it’s important to have different stories and different messengers.”
Sarah Risher, a third-year UC Davis environmental policy analysis and planning major and chairperson of the ASUCD Environmental Policy and Planning Commission, appreciates that the show attempts to bridge the gap between the public and scientists. Risher believes that there is an impending danger of climate change that must be subdued.
“I think this collaboration is a powerful tool to educate the public about climate science and climate change,” Risher said via email. “Climate change is the crisis of our lifetime and has not received the recognition it demands from our political administration and national media. I think these videos can help bring more people to the climate conversation and help them realize their individual agency to bring change. We really need all hands on deck to mitigate climate change’s destructive impacts.”
Stephanie Beechem, a member of the media relations team for the UC Office of the President, related Napolitano’s predilection to climate science with the new Climate Lab Vox video series.
“UC faculty have been deeply engaged in research and scholarship around climate change for decades,” Beechem said via email. “Climate Lab builds on the UC system’s longstanding commitment to addressing climate change, as well as our systemwide work on sustainability issues. UC President Janet Napolitano has made combatting climate change a key part of her agenda, pledging that the UC system will become carbon neutral by 2025. And at a time when the importance of federally funded research is being debated on a national level, as President Napolitano recently wrote, ‘It is more important than ever to stand up for science and research. Not only is it vital to our health and economic prosperity, but it’s key to our international competitiveness and to maintaining our country’s stature as a leader in discovery and innovation.’ The partnership is in line with other creative partnerships we’ve had in the past, including on the Fig. 1 video series with Discovery Digital Networks and the California Matters series with author Mark Bittman and the New York Times.”
Josh Dalavai, ASUCD president and a second-year political science and economics double major, believes that urgent action is required for climate change.
“I think this is a great collaboration because many people discount the damage of climate change due to its seemingly long term nature,” Dalavai said via email. “This is dangerous because we could potentially put ourselves in a position where we are reacting at crisis point in the future instead of proactively curbing our behavior now.”
Written by: Aaron Liss — email@example.com