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[Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Field Notes focus on climate policy leading up to the Mixed Paper/BSA presentation of the World Climate Simulation game on Nov 7th, 2015. More info here.]

#PopeInUSA

On his first visit to the United States, Pope Francis immediately leveraged his massive media coverage to take a bold stance on climate issues. Infuriating conservatives who decry that science should be left to the scientists[1], the Pontificate, himself trained in chemistry, spoke quite bluntly. “Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation…To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”[2] At the UN, he went on to blame the Western world’s “selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity” and the “quietly growing ‘culture of waste.’ ”[3]

Character by character across multiple platforms, his message has taken flight. Hashtags on twitter like #climatechange and #climateaction skyrocketed (even @mixed_paper tweeted one out [4]). The New York Times penned numerous articles and pumped them out in almost real-time. Other media outfits followed suit, and within a few hours there were countless articles driving discussion on the issue of climate change as a social imperative. Articles following the Pope’s trip remain among the top shared articles on major news site.

According to Anna Aurilio, director of Environment America’s Washington D.C. office, “the pope’s message is helping to rally the public in a way that politicians can no longer ignore.” [5] Using his media coverage and societal standing, Pope Francis was able to disseminate this critical idea: that leaders need to take responsibility to actively mitigate accelerating climate change. He criticized world leaders for not making this issue a priority, and asked that the United States and other leaders take a more prominent role.

But how can we accomplish this as a nation? In an era where American politics seems stalled and nearly half the nation’s politicians have the gall to deny that climate change exists [6] it can be easy to lose hope. We must demand long-term and comprehensive solutions from our policy-makers, and as citizens we must hold these leaders responsible. Social media is one platform helping spread awareness and bring these issues to the table.

The First Selfie President

From his inauguration speech, Barack Obama promised to make climate change a major focus of his presidency. Suffering early setbacks in creating a carbon cap-and-trade system, he is using the end of his second term to re-focus coverage on the issue.

His visit to Alaska last month was the first by a sitting US president. On this trip he took to social media to show the visible plights of climate change in a place warming at twice the global average. He spent time visiting one of many native Alaskan villages which are being swallowed up by the sea.

“Part of the reason why I wanted to take this trip was to start making it a little more visceral and to highlight for people that this is not a distant problem that we can keep putting off,” the president told [his interviewer]. “This is something that we have to tackle right now.” [7]

What he went on to say shed some light on the role of public awareness: “Historically, politics catch up when the public cares deeply. And when people couldn’t breathe in L.A., the state of California starts saying, ‘You’ve got to get catalytic converters.’ When the river catches fire in Cuyahoga, the people of Ohio and, eventually, the people nationally, say, ‘That’s getting kind of out of hand.’ ” [8]

His parting words for the state? “Let’s get to work.” [9]

Climate change is trending.

This era of social media is allowing citizens to take a more active role in their own governance. New platforms of communication like twitter and facebook are spreading ideas and creating change before our eyes. It is just one tool in addressing the issue of climate change. So tweet on, fellow citizens! Spread the word about climate change, inform yourselves and others, and help push for more long-term climate policies!


 

One last reminder: if you are interested in the issues of climate policy and negotiation, join us for a Mixed Paper/BSA presentation of the World Climate Simulation game. More info (and registration!) here.

-Lukas, Mixed Paper Design

-Lukas, Mixed Paper