Talking About Climate on This American Life

Last week while running errands I tuned into the NPR program “This American Life.” I caught the first act of “Hot in My Backyard,” the story of how climate change is impacting Colorado and how Colorado’s State Climatologist, Nolan Doesken talks about it — or doesn’t.

It was an interesting story that left me thoughtful and sad. The reporter had interviewed three other scientists (not Doesken), none of whom will tell the public what they know about climate change. They are making plans to take care of themselves in the difficult future ahead, but they weren’t telling others how to prepare. And who can say that isn’t wise. In four states, climatologists have lost their jobs because they talked about climate change.

The state climatologist who was the focus of this story, Nolan Doesken, seems like a very earnest and honest person. He’s a conservative whom farmers and ranchers have turned to for years for the information they rely on. And he’s so fearful of talking that he’s avoided saying anything for years. When he does finally say something – and the reporter is there to hear it – it’s so little that people don’t even recognize the import of what he’s said.

It’s disheartening that someone who has the trust and respect of the community – someone just like them – can’t find a way to communicate the truth of this dire situation we all face. A person like myself could never reach those people. But when a person in their sphere cannot or fails to communicate the message, how can we hope for the situation to change?

Of course, I can say that because I believe the situation can – and must – change. He may not believe that. Bubbling up throughout the interview I heard what may be the underlying reason for this failure to communicate: a belief that there is nothing anyone can do. That would make sense. After all, why damage relationships, why make people mad, why risk one’s career if there is nothing anyone can do?

He may believe that – lots of people do – and that’s what makes me sad. We really don’t know what we could do if we threw ourselves at this challenge the way we did the space race or the fight for victory in WWII. However, if we succumb to the belief that there is nothing we can do, it ensures there is nothing we will do.

About thinkofitasanadventure

We are a 50-something couple living in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. We attended a sustainability conference at our local high school in November 2010, with keynote speaker Richard Heinberg from the Post Carbon Institute. What we heard shocked us deeply. We finally understood the need to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We immediately began to change the way we live. We joined together with other folks in our neighborhood to learn more, to do more and to have fun doing it! We're part of Transition Longfellow. We're choosing to change now and to "think of it as an adventure." If you are on this journey too, we'd love to hear from you.
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9 Responses to Talking About Climate on This American Life

  1. Liz Peterson says:

    I recently bought EcoMind (Frances Moore Lappe) for this very reason. It takes a positive approach to what we really can do to address climate change. I’m only in a few pages, but the positive focus caught my eye. And within even just a year, huge things can change. In Minnesota we have gone from potentially institutionalizing discrimination in our constitution to legalizing gay marriage. That’s a big shift in less than a year. Maybe we will see a climate change shift of equal or greater magnitude. One can hope.


    • Baraa says:

      The poor, the lower middle wroikng classes pay the majority of tax’s which are then taken away from the majority and the most needy to feed the upper classes and business elites “which are the ruling classes” with huge tax cuts and subsides for enormous profits and with upper class welfare for health and education while the majority pays for it through their tax’s, but lives without!Austerity measures or tough budget cuts are what our leaders and governments force on to the majority but never force or implement on the business elites and upper classes, in fact the upper classes and business elites get more tax cuts and benefits while the poorer and wroikng classes pay for it.All leaders, politicians are customer service and sales representatives for the ruling minorities and change the laws and rules to suit their masters. That is why they will never listen to your cries and pleading as they are too scared to govern for the majority that have voted to put them there.It is the ruling classes that holds the human race back, they stop all technological advancements in global wide clean renewable cheap/free energy, education and cures for diseases as they want to maintain the slave & master society but they are only there because we the majority allow them to rule over us. All funding and research should be on fusion technologies, these technologies will give us unlimited energy and from that a new clean worldwide economical reforms could be implemented. The ruling classes will try to stop it, the politicians don’t care, so it is up to us the majority to make it happen.


  2. Anonymous says:

    I found the state climatologist story very hopeful. He finally saw the light last year and now firmly believes that climate change is happening. Also, This American Life got the word out about how many people in high places feel they need to be silent. Paul Huttner admitted on his blog that he is not allowed to say the words climate change on the radio. But he makes it very clear he believes it on his weather blog. As the word gets out about this, it will be harder than to cop to what these climatologists know.

    Also, the other two parts of the shows were equally positive I thought, a republican who lost an election coming clean about his concerns for climate change, and what is happening on College campuses around 350 work. The glass was half full during the whole program, I felt.


    • Hi Elizabeth – We’re lucky in MN to have two meteorologists who are willing to talk publicly about climate change: Paul Huttner and Paul Douglas. I haven’t heard them talk about it on air, but they speak all over the Twin Cities. I heard Huttner at Policy and a Pint this winter. And Paul Douglas wrote a wonderful piece that I saw reprinted widely, including in the Huffington Post (

      I’m glad you found it hopeful. What I find hopeful is that “This American Life” had a show about it.


    • Vian says:

      The only viable soiotlun to counter the catastrophic effects of global warming is to greatly reduce the human population. This would halt all negative global warming effects and begin to reverse those effects toward returning earth to an ecologically balanced and natural order. The greater the reduction of human population the greater the return to normalization for the earth. Green conservation programs are meaningful for our future however, these programs are overly optimistic for our current situation. These well intentioned green programs will not work because the result will only encourage a growth in human population. The more available food, shelter and energy that is afforded humanity, the more children they will produce. More people simply means greater human consumption of precious earth resources. The survival of the earth and the survival of humans as a successful species is totally dependent on this significant and timely reduction in human population. This human population reduction may come as the result of a natural earthly process or through a voluntary human decision. It may also come from the realization by one civilization that the continuation of that civilization in an environment abundant in natural resources on an ecologically balanced and beautiful earth will only be possible through the elimination of competing civilizations.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Leslie, I caught the whole show driving back from school and had been meaning to email you about it. Please tell the TL list about it too. I found it VERY encouraging.


  4. Karlie Cole says:

    It is sad – seems like “climate change” is the new “c” word (used to be cancer). But we must be able to talk about it – even if (and I don’t think this) there is nothing we can do.


    • I’m taking a climate literacy class through Coursera right now ( Part of that class looks at the conversation.


      • Mostafa says:

        GW has a counter effcet GC (Global cooling) This is caused by a increase of water vapor in the air , which make higher updrafts on thunderheads, carrying heat higher, faster to the upper atmosphere. Then the heat is radiated to space and the air and water vapor is super cooled to bring cold down to a hot planet in record amounts. Currently everyone is noticeing that our weather has hit a DEW point and things are different. We are not prepared for how cold our winters are going to be too, everyone is expecting warm winters, but water is a refrigerant. The freon of the Earth as well as a green house gas. But water vapor does not sit still, it carries heat at different pressures and tempartures. With more water vapor in the air cold desends to the Mountain tops and we have snow when it should all be gone (Seattle) and Mt. Fuji does not have snow on it. I dont think Ive seen that before until this year. Point is GW and GC is here, be advised.


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