Life on a Scorched Planet: Are we Paying Attention Yet?

Written by: Julianne Sweeney, Lachlan Wright, Shaidu Shaban, Joseph Wasswa

We live in a time when nearly any information is available at our fingertips and breaking news stories reach our cell phones before the major news outlets. As a result of this fast-paced information overload, warns New York Times writer Justin Gillis, we are losing our long-term memory. When talking about climate change – the “grand challenge of the 21st century -” this loss is especially concerning.

On April 4, 2019, Justin Gillis visited Syracuse University as the first speaker in the Environment, Policy and Sustainability seminar series. His talk, titled “Life on a Scorched Planet: Are we Paying Attention Yet?” began with a reminder of how the U.S.’s approach to climate change mitigation has changed in the last 5 years. As a former science writer for the New York Times – including the award-winning multimedia series “Temperature Rising” – Gillis is no stranger to climate change science, misinformation, and the interplay between politics and climate change awareness and action.

Following a politically-charged introduction, Gillis shared stories and images of the places he has traveled to see the impacts of climate change firsthand. Rather than a sense of despair, Gillis remains hopeful. He believes in the younger generations and their demands for change. The solution, he says, will come from voting, mass mobilization, and cleaning up the energy sector by amplifying renewable energy development and after that, “electrifying everything.” Gillis’ visit provided trainees an opportunity to discuss different science communication techniques and the importance of understanding the audience when framing a conversation about climate change.