Coffee, Avocados, & Drought

Climate change solutions are commonly misconstrued in the environmental movement. When discussing climate change, we often talk vaguely about solutions with comments like: “Decreasing carbon emissions will help fight the climate crisis,” and “Preventing global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees celsius will conserve biodiversity.”

These phrases are true, but they imply that there is some mysterious silver bullet solution out there that will save humanity, and all the trees, and the cute little crag dogs, and the wildflowers–but there isn’t. 

There just isn’t a single solution for climate change. 

The same goes for drought, which is a big tangled mess in climate change’s knitting basket. This is because water use is so much more complicated than the amount of water flowing out of your faucet. As individuals, we use relatively small quantities of water, but we also use electricity created by thermoelectric power, eat food (like and 🥑) that needs to be irrigated, and scroll on phones that require mined metal. 

There is no possible way for one solution to unravel all of the deeply intertwined drought-associated problems. Instead, drought prevention requires a multitude of holistic solutions. 

So, what drought solutions are you most passionate about?

📚 Information Compiled by: @funkyfrances and @savadkinscroft

🎨 Graphics by: @savadkinscroft

How Drought Affects Wildfires

The next chapter of our drought series is here: let’s talk about drought and wildfires. 🔥

Remember when Smokey Bear was SUPER popular? Like, the level of popularity where you couldn’t go outside without seeing an excessively buff bear telling you that it was your job to prevent wildfires?

Smokey Bear has a more low-key presence these days, and there’s a reason for that: As fire science progresses and fire history is explored, we’re realizing that fire isn’t always bad. And more often than not, it’s actually really good for ecosystems to experience fire.

Take lodgepole pines for example, which can be found all over the western United States. These iconic pines have serontinous cones, which means, in order for the cones to release their seeds, they first need to be burned by fire. Simply put, these trees couldn’t have babies without fire!

Fire benefits more than just lodgepole pines, and we could list the benefits of fire forever and ever. But fire has become A LOT more complicated now that our drought situation is so severe and because humans cause so many fires (not just through pyrotechnic gender reveals, but also through campfires, cigarettes, and more).

If we could sum up current wildfire science into a few words, it would be: natural fires are good and have been used by Indigenous people for thousands of years, human caused fires quickly get out of control, we should have let landscapes burn over the past 100 years, drought is making fires worse, and we need to create systemic change to our fire mitigation practices asap.

📚 Information Compiled by: @stephanie_landry_giavotella and @savadkinscroft
🎨 Graphics by: @savadkinscroft
📸 Photo: Frankie Lopez

What is a watershed (and what makes a healthy one)?

Written by Kelly Loria
Cover image by Michael Browning

Take a step outside and look around–you are currently in a watershed. Since water follows the path of least resistance as it ebbs downward from high to low areas, a watershed is any land that drains water or snow into a body of water like a stream, river, wetland, or lake.

Watersheds are defined by topographic features like mountains, and can refer to very large (like really, really big) stretches of land. For example, the Mississippi River is one of the largest watersheds within the Continental U.S. and receives water from 33 states.

Because watersheds can span across vast landscapes, water is often dirtied by feedlots, enriched with fertilizers, and contaminated by oils, trash, and anything else it can carry–which is a problem because this water becomes our drinking water, shower water, and toilet water, all of which have the potential to affect our health.

Therefore, it’s super important to keep watersheds clean–but how do we know if a watershed is healthy enough to provide clean water? The answer: a list of healthy watershed characteristics created by the Environmental Protection Agency:

  1. “Dynamic hydrologic and geomorphologic processes within their natural range of variation.” 

    At first this sounds like gibberish, but broken down, it means a little something like this: Aquatic environments evolved to handle seasonal patterns of precipitation. This means that aquatic ecosystems need small, regular floods that submerge riverside floodplains to create sandbars, channels, and diverse aquatic habitats, which provide valuable nutrients for organisms and vegetation. For a watershed to remain ecologically intact so that it can provide economically valuable commodities and services to us hooomans, it needs to receive enough water and at the right times. Once this happens, we can extract water for our own needs without causing too much harm to the watershed. 

  1. “Habitat of sufficient size and connectivity to support native aquatic and riparian species.”

    When we build dams or water diversions, we block aquatic species from traveling around as much as they once did. This is called habitat fragmentation, which makes it challenging for certain species to find food and mates, or for migratory species to find places to rest and feed along their routes. Modern updates to aquatic infrastructure, such as fish ladders that connect rivers to reservoirs with water steps, can help mediate some of this fragmentation and facilitate aquatic species travel.

  1. “Physical and chemical water quality conditions able to support healthy biological communities.”

    Water quality is assessed based on both its chemistry (i.e. how much nitrogen is in the water) and physical features (i.e. temperature). The level to which water quality is monitored and enforced varies state by state, which means that states can have a regulatory standard that is lower than what is best for maintaining healthy aquatic life. This is important because whatever happens upstream–like fertilizer use–can have really harmful impacts on aquatic ecosystems in downstream. 

What happens upstream matters. When aquatic systems receive high concentrations of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, it can cause rapid growth of algae (HABs aka Harmful Algal Blooms). Algae exists in all aquatic environments, but when they come in contact with nitrogen and phosphorus from outside of their natural habitats (like from fertilizers) they grow and grow and grow some more. When the algae eventually dies, the process of breaking down the huge amount of dead algae lowers the amount of oxygen available for other aquatic life, resulting in poor water quality. This is a huge problem for the Mississippi because it has 33 states worth of agricultural nitrogen and phosphorus to pick up before it pours into the Gulf of Mexico, which causes the infamous dead zone.  

Watersheds are very cool and are the whole reason we have water–but, not every watershed meets these EPA standards, resulting in contaminated water. That’s where you, me, and all of our friends come in. It’s our job to advocate for clean water. So, like always, contact them reps, baby!

Sources:

Drought in the Intermountain West

With record-breaking drought conditions spread across California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and beyond, the idea of a “hot girl summer” has taken on a new meaning in the Mountain West this year.

But what exactly is drought, and why does it matter to outdoorists (and everyone)?

Drought, in its simplest definition, is the lack of precipitation, which leads to depleted water supplies. At its worst, drought can last for decades and the lack of water can affect food availability, water quality, biodiversity, wildfire risk, livestock and fisheries health, the economy, human physical and mental health, job security, recreation, and oh so much more.

The intermountain west has been hit exceptionally hard by long-term drought. Since 2000 (that’s right—this drought can legally drink, y’all!), landscapes spanning from the Rocky Mountains to the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain Ranges have been plagued with wildfires, municipal water restrictions, and conflicts over water rights. This summer, the western United States is projected to once again be hot and dry, further straining our already limited water supply.

We’re diving into the science, sociology, and policy of drought over the next few weeks with the help of climate scientists, but we also want this to be a community discussion. So, we want to know:

How has drought affected you?

Research and graphic design by: @savadkinscroft
Photography: Jana Styblova
Map: via US Drought Monitor

What do today’s Conservation + Climate Announcements mean for outdoorists?

Today was a big day for climate and conservation in the United States. President Biden signed a series of new policies aimed at tackling climate change. From committing to 30×30 to replacing federal fleets with zero emission vehicles, there’s a lot to digest.

We encourage you to read the “FACT SHEET: President Biden Takes Executive Actions to Tackle the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Create Jobs, and Restore Scientific Integrity Across Federal Government” in full, but if you’re itching to dive straight to the more outdoor-related bits, we’ve pulled ’em for you to make it easier to understand.

Excerpts below are from the Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad Executive Order: 

  • “directs the Secretary of the Interior to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters to the extent possible, launch a rigorous review of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, and identify steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030. The order does not restrict energy activities on lands that the United States holds in trust for Tribes. The Secretary of the Interior will continue to consult with Tribes regarding the development and management of renewable and conventional energy resources, in conformance with the U.S. government’s trust responsibilities.”
  • “directs federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies as consistent with applicable law and identify new opportunities to spur innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure.”
  • “commits to the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030 and launches a process for stakeholder engagement from agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, Tribes, States, Territories, local officials, and others to identify strategies that will result in broad participation.”
     
  • “calls for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protecting biodiversity, improving access to recreation, and addressing the changing climate.”
  • “reaffirms that the President will host a Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.”

We are thrilled with today’s actions, but acknowledge that all these positive initiatives and commitments must be met with accountability and follow-through. As we shift our advocacy towards more proactive efforts, we must continue to resolve ourselves to remain vigilante that good policy is not just signed, but put into action.

Here are a few resources from around the outdoor community for more information on today’s big announcements:

Stay tuned with Outdoor Advocacy Project on Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates!

Outdoor Advocacy Climate Action Toolkit 2020

The outdoor community is directly impacted by the climate crisis. We are some of the first to see its effects. Current climate projections indicate that many US ski seasons will be cut in half by 2050, but rising global temperatures are affecting more than just our public lands, air quality, our water and snowpack–the livelihood of entire communities is on the line.

Climate change not just an outdoor issue, it is the largest social justice issue of our lifetime.

Environmental advocacy is a value built into the outdoor ethos, and we must continue to push ourselves to do and demand more of ourselves and the industry at large. The threats we face are unprecedented–we can’t continue business as usual. The future viability of our entire industry and planet is on the line, will we show up to do something about it?

Developed in collaboration with Big Mountain Dreams Foundation

We believe that we have a responsibility to act on climate. That’s why we co-organized Climate Rally 2020, a march and rally at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver on January 31. Alongside organizer Caroline Gleich and a community of climate leaders, we fired up the outdoor industry during Outdoor Retailer, and asked ourselves to commit to stronger, more intersectional climate action.

But the action doesn’t stop once we put down our signs and end our chants. We must continually be moving forward as advocates for climate justice–which is why we created the Outdoor Advocacy Climate Action Toolkit 2020. This collection of educational resources, collective action and tools will get you started and keep you going as a climate activist. Here’s a peek at what you’ll find here–and we’ll continue adding resources throughout the year:

  • Resources like Climate Science 101 and How to Talk to Your Family about Climate Change.
  • An outdoor industry and community sign-on letter for brands, organizations and individuals.
  • Voter registration and resources.

Sign the outdoor industry + community climate action letter

(read the sign-on letter here.)

Get registered to vote or check your voter status

(click here)

Learn the basics of climate science

(from climate scientists)

Explore the climate change glossary

(every term from anthropogenic to sustainability)

See what science says we can do about climate change

(again, written by, you know, climate scientists)

Learn how climate change affects more than just the weather

(click here)

How to talk to climate skeptics – and understanding who they are

(click here)

Learn how to talk to your family about climate change

(during the holidays or any time of year)

ED-OP: How to stay resilient + hopeful during a time of climate crisis

(click here)

If you own or work for an outdoor brand, check out OIA’s Climate Action Corps

(check it out here)

Additional Resources:

If you made it this far, we’re stoked on your commitment to climate action–high five! We look forward to continuing to expand this toolkit and add even more resources from around our community. If you’ve got a climate-related resource or tool we ought to be amplifying, shoot us an e-mail at team@outdooradvocacy.com.

How Climate Change Affects More Than Just the Weather

So, you get it. CO2 levels are increasing, global temperatures are rising, and weather patterns are changing. But, these aren’t the only reasons climate change is such a big deal. Climate change is affecting every aspect of our lives from the food we eat and the air we breathe to the health of our beloved wild spaces. Below is a shortlist of how climate change affects us, our food, our water, and plants and animals. It is far from exhaustive because climate science is forrealz complex. So if you take anything away from this article, make sure you know that climate change is affecting everything on earth.

Photo by Massimo Rivenci on Unsplash

People

We recognize that this needs an entire article, and we’re working on it! Here’s our summary in the meantime: Climate change is and will continue to have overall negative impacts on human health. As weather patterns change and pollution continues to increase, water and land availability are affected, both of which are essential to growing food, breathing clean air, and drinking clean water. Since food, water, and clean air are vital to human health, climate change has the strongest health impacts on those that are poor, elderly, young, and chronically sick. In the U.S., communities of color are disproportionately impacted because they are more likely to live near environmentally unsafe living conditions, whereas communities that have more privilege can avoid those areas. Globally, climate change will most severely impact communities that are dependent on fishing and hunting, or located in already food-insecure areas, water-scarce regions, and small island states.

Plants

Plants are a crucial part of our ecosystem because we eat them and breathe in what they “breathe” out. With climate change, plants everywhere are greening up and blooming earlier and earlier each year. This can affect their relationships with pollinators (potentially causing them to interact less often if their life cycles are out of sync), but also can serve as a very helpful indicator to scientists of the areas that climate change is most affecting. Not all plants are responding in the same way, with some experiencing population decline and some (often invasive species) responding positively. 

Animals

The biggest problem animals face when it comes to climate change is the loss of inhabitable land. As temperatures warm, species have to move to higher elevations to reach environments similar to their original homes. As of 2011, half of all species (including plants) have moved over 10 miles per decade (source here and here) to more suitable land. But, there is only so much land available at these elevations, which causes crowding and creates competition for food, water, and territory. There are winners and losers in this search for a new home and when a species is outcompeted, they are more likely to go extinct. 

Soil

Soil is the source of all life on land. Nutrients in soils are absorbed by plants, incorporated into leaves, fruit, bark, and roots, and then eaten by animals (including humans). These nutrients such as, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, and calcium are ultimately incorporated into DNA, muscle, bones, and other tissues vital to life. But, humans have significantly altered the nutrients available in soils by draining the soil of nutrients through over-farming and through causing excess nutrients to accumulate through over-fertilizing. This either depletes the soil of nutrients or acidifies it, respectively, both of which limit plant growth and ultimately limit food sources for animals.

Oceans

The ocean is really taking a hit when it comes to climate change because it soaks up excess heat and CO2. This limits the effects of climate change for us on land, but only for a limited amount of time and at huge costs. The ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic, which is leading to sea-level rise (warm water expands, and land ice is melting which is projected to cause 1-4 feet of sea-level rise by 2100) and extremely negative impacts on ocean life which then reduces fish stocks, food security and income from tourism. 

Biodiversity

The term biodiversity describes the variety of life on earth, which is important because plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi are all interconnected *cue the Circle of Life*. No organism can all alone, and (generally speaking) the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more resources there are. Climate change causes a decline in biodiversity in many ways, but the biggest threat to biodiversity is the loss of habitat. Rises in temperature, extreme weather, and urban sprawl destroy the homes of organisms and force them to move to another similar environment. It’d be all fine and dandy if there was unlimited space for organisms to move to, but there isn’t. The limited environments for certain species to live happily ever after means that some species don’t make it, which creates a snowball effect for all other organisms on earth.

Food Availability

Excess atmospheric CO2 can be taken up by plants and in theory, this is a great tool we can use to help mitigate climate change, except for when it comes to our food. When plant growth increases due to higher levels of CO2,  they incorporate less nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, and other minerals into their leaves, fruit, and roots, all of which are essential to bone, muscle, and brain function (source here, here and here). This means the crops we grow are less nutritious and we will need to eat more to get the nutrients we need, which causes another issue: there is a limited amount of viable land to use for agriculture. 

Water Quality

When water gets warmer there is typically less oxygen in it, which leads to negative effects on aquatic life, and can lead to the excessive growth of algae that degrade water quality. More precipitation is expected to occur in the form of rain rather than snow (in areas that typically get snow). More rain means that more pollutants get picked up from areas surrounding bodies of water, and then carried into the water we consume. 

Chiara Forrester
Chiara Forrester

Chiara is happiest when she’s in the mountains on skis, a bike, or running. She also loves Ariana Grande (117 hours this year, thanks Spotify), making dinner with friends, and laughing too loudly at her own jokes. An ecologist who’s passionate about science communication and increasing diversity in STEM, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate in Boulder, CO, studying alpine plant ecology, undergraduate education, and the use of science in federal land management.

Savannah Adkins
Savannah Adkins

During some daylight hours, Savannah is a climate change scientist studying how dirt makes all of our lives possible. But her real profession is as a house plant addict, mountain biker, & attempter of skiing down mountains. In her free time, Savannah enjoys dancing around the house, drinking wine, and listening to the Grateful Dead. Oh, and making poop jokes… always making poop jokes.

Climate Change Glossary

Anthropogenic: A word to describe anything that is human-caused. 

Biodiversity: The variety of life forms across the world. For instance, areas with lots of species have more biodiversity than areas with not very many species. Organisms from single-celled to large animals interact with one another, so when biodiversity declines, so does the health of the ecosystem. For humans, in particular, the decline of biodiversity means a decline in natural resources, on which our lives depend on. 

Biodegradable: Ideally, a biodegradable product is one that can be broken down by processes like composting. However, just because a material breaks down relatively quickly compared to a non-biodegradable product doesn’t mean it is good for the environment. For example, biodegradable polyethylene is a plastic that breaks faster than other plastics, but it breaks down into microplastics that pollute our water sources and aquatic life (including the fish we eat, so those microplastics end up in us). 

Biofuel: A fuel sourced from renewable sources, which are typically plants, such as trees, corn, and sugar. These plants are burned for energy. 

Climate Change: Long-term changes in the Earth’s climate that include an increase in global temperatures, weather patterns, weather extremes, and changes to populations and ecosystems. The climate change we see today is caused by human use of fossil fuels because of land-use changes combined with the burning of fossil fuels that release Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxides, and other “greenhouse gasses”. Greenhouse gases trap the heat that would typically escape our atmosphere, increasing global average temperatures. Warmer air also causes more water evaporation, which forms more clouds and causes extreme weather events. Climate change is complicated, and this description is the bare minimum, so check out our Climate Science 101 article for more.  

Carbon Dioxide: CO2 is the main greenhouse gas that drives climate change. It is the byproduct of animal respiration and other life cycles but is also produced through any combustion reaction. This includes burning fossil fuels, wood, trash, etc. 

Carbon Footprint: The net amount of carbon (in the form of CO2, methane, and fossil fuel use) emitted by an individual, company, or during the manufacturing of a product.  

Carbon Neutral: A process where there is no net release of CO2. For a country or company to be carbon neutral, the amount of CO2 they release needs to be balanced out through carbon offsetting. 

Carbon Offsetting: You can think of this as being akin to “I ate a donut for breakfast so I’m going to eat a salad for lunch”. This is a way of compensating for emissions through funding or participating in efforts to remove CO2, methane, and other human-made greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. You can do this through investing in offset projects that work on renewable energy (i.e. wind, solar, hydroelectric), methane collection and combustion (conversion of methane to Carbon Dioxide, which has a lower global warming potential), destruction of industrial pollutants, land-use change and protection (avoids deforestation and promotes reforestation), and more. Make sure to research the project you are investing in to avoid scams. 

Carbon Sequestration: The process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it naturally or industrially. The “natural” way CO2 can be stored is through growing trees and other vegetation because plants use COto grow (photosynthesis). This is why avoiding deforestation and promoting reforestation is important. Carbon capture and storage is an up and coming technology where CO2 is stored underground. Unfortunately, this method is not reliable because the technology cannot yet be implemented around the world.  

Climate vs. Weather: Weather is the day-to-day, short term changes in the atmosphere that includes temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, visibility, and wind.  Climate is the weather averaged over a long period of time either for a particular place, region or globally. Climate is usually averaged over a 30-year time period and gives us statistical information about normal weather patterns and the ranges of extremes.   

Deforestation: The permanent removal of forests, which releases massive amounts of CO2 through soil disturbance. When soil is disturbed, all the wee lil soil microbes (bacteria, fungi, and other cellular organisms) are introduced to new food sources and they grow way faster, which releases more CO2.  

Eco-Friendly: just like sustainability, this term is vague unless defined by the company that is transparent about the processes of the product. 

Feedback Loop: This is nature’s version of a never-ending Rube Goldberg machine. Or in science, when a portion or all of a system’s outputs are used as inputs that kick off another process. For example, ice typically reflects light because it is white (the same reason you’re hotter in a black t-shirt on a sunny day, because black absorbs heat while white reflects it). As the ice melts in the Arctic Ocean, there is a smaller area of ice that reflects the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere. This means that heat is instead absorbed by ocean water, which heats it up and increases the melting of the remaining ice. 

Fossil fuel: Non-renewable natural resources such as coal, oil, and natural gas, which are made of hydrocarbons (molecules made of hydrogen and carbon, aka dead things that have carbon in them) that have been pressurized underground over millions of years. When burned, fossil fuels create enough energy to move our cars, heat our homes, and make our clothes, but this releases much more COthan was being released to the atmosphere before the industrial revolution. 

Global Average Temperature: the mean surface temperature of the earth. This is different from local temperatures because the global average temp is found through thousands of satellite measurements, a network of over 3,000 temperature observation stations, and sea surface temperature measurements taken by merchant ships around the world. These measurements are averaged to find the Global Average Temperature. 

Global Warming vs. Climate Change: These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be. Global warming describes the increase of Earth’s average surface temperature due to human-made greenhouse gas emissions, while climate change refers to long-term changes in Earth’s climate. Climate change includes temperature, changes in weather patterns, variation in snow-pack, sea-level changes, and more. 

Global Warming Potential: The warming effect of each greenhouse gas. For example, methane has a warming effect 23 times higher than Carbon Dioxide. That’s why carbon offsetting projects include turning methane into CO(see carbon offsetting for more information). 

Greenhouse Gasses: Natural and industrial gasses that trap heat from the Earth and warm the Troposphere (the atmospheric layer closest to earth). These gasses include Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Water Vapor (H2O), methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O/ NOx), Ozone (O3), and more. Through industrialization, we have exponentially increased these gas concentrations in the atmosphere.  

Greenhouse Effect: The insulating effect of natural and industrial gasses. When light from the sun reaches the planet, it bounces back out as infrared heat. The accumulation of greenhouse gasses causes global temperatures to rise because they absorb heat that would typically bounce back out of our atmosphere.  

Greenwashing: The practice of making an unsustainable product appear eco-friendly.

Methane: CH4is a major greenhouse gas that is the main compound of ”Natural Gas”. It is also a byproduct of cow respiration, which is a major source of atmospheric methane that continues to rise as world populations rise and meat demand increases. Fun Fact: cow methane isn’t from their farts or burps, but from their breath. They actually can’t burp due to the design of their digestive system. 

Mitigation: Actions taken to reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions. 

Non-Toxic: This is an unregulated term. Therefore, one toxic chemical can be traded for another and be called non-toxic. Through manufacturing processes, all chemicals end up polluting water or soil because they can escape containment throughout the creation, transportation, and use of the chemical. 

Ocean Acidification: The ocean has the ability to absorb excess COfrom the atmosphere, which in one sense is great because it acts as a buffer to climate change. However, when water and CO2 mix, it creates Carbonic Acid, which makes ocean water more acidic. This affects marine life by killing coral reefs (which are home to many economically important fish) and prevents marine animals from building shells and skeletal structures (also affecting economically valuable organisms, such as oysters). 

Pre-Industrial Levels of CO2: The Industrial Revolution introduced fossil fuel combustion to the western world, which allowed our lives to become exponentially more convenient. Pre-Industrial CO2 levels were about 280 parts per million (ppm) and were 412.4 ppm as of December 16, 2019. We can find historical CO2 levels by analyzing the air trapped in ice cores

Recyclable: Ideally, a recyclable product is broken down and used to make “new” products. However, while many materials are technically recyclable, recycling them is not practical. Most recyclable materials are not actually recycled because it costs too much money or requires even more fossil fuels to recycle them.  

Reforestation: Replanting trees in areas that were once a forest. This increases carbon sequestration. 

Renewable Energy: Energy created from sources that can be replenished in a short period of time. Common renewable energy sources include wood, water movement (dams using water to generate power), geothermal (heat within the earth), wind, and solar. 

Tipping Point: A threshold of change that will have irreversible effects once we pass it. Tipping points common in media include exceeding 2 oC of global temperature rise and ice collapse. On top of this, a tipping point in one ecosystem can lead to a tipping point in another ecosystem creating a cascading effect across the globe.

Sea-Level Rise: This is caused by two main factors. First, as global temperatures rise, glaciers melt and release more water into the oceans. At the same time, as the water gets warmer it expands.  Since the early 1990s, global sea levels have risen 2.6 inches and continue to rise about 1/8th of an inch per year. This is dangerous for coastal communities whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by this rise. More water and higher temperatures also cause an increase in evaporation, which increases cloud formation, which changes weather patterns and is why we can have increased rain in one area and severe droughts in another. 

Sustainability:  Environmentally, this is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain ecological balance. This is vague, so a company needs to define its own sustainability standard and be transparent about the tradeoffs involved. Defining this will include knowing the sources of all materials and supply chain emissions. 

If there are additional words or a term you would like defined, fill out the form below!

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Climate Science 101

Climate Science can get extremely complicated and it’s easy to get bogged down or overwhelmed by the details. So, without further ado, here are the very basics of climate science and how it’s affecting our planet:

Climate change is happening because we are throwing the Earth’s carbon cycle out of wack. Carbon is an element that is essential to life because we eat it, incorporate it into our bodies, poop it, and breathe it out. For us humans, carbon makes up about 18% of our bodies, and our food is made of 50% carbon (source). When we eat and digest this food, our bodies break the food down into less complex molecules, which produces energy that we use to run, dance, skip, and even Netflix and Chill. 

Lots of other organisms do this too. On Earth, carbon moves between the atmosphere, soil, and oceans because plants and animals transform carbon from one type of molecule to another (source). In essence, the CO2 we breathe out is used by plants to make sugars to grow (through photosynthesis) (source). Yes, plants literally turn air into food and it’s rad AF. Animals then eat that fruit, leaf, bark, or root and transform the carbon in the plant into different molecules that provide energy. During this energy-making process, CO2 is made as a waste product and humans, worms, tigers, bacteria, and almost any other living animals breathe it out for plants to use again. Pretty cool, eh? And since there are billions of plants and animals on earth, massive amounts of CO2 are taken up by plants and released by animals every day. 

At one point in time, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air through animal respiration was roughly equal to the amount of CO2 taken up by plants (source). 

It looked a little something like this: 

But then we found fossil fuels and we threw the carbon cycle out of wack. Fossil fuels made our modern-day lifestyles possible. Clothes no longer took weeks to make by hand, traveling 25 miles no longer took an entire day on horseback, and when your best friend Sofía moved three states away, she was no longer gone forever. Fashion, entertainment, travel, and freedom to do as we please are what fossil fuels brought us, but there’s a trade-off for these luxuries.

Fossil fuels are made of carbon, just like you, me, the plants, and the bees (source). But, fossil fuel carbon was hidden underground for millions of years until we started extracting it (source). When we burn fossil fuels to run our cars, turn on our lights, and make our clothes, large quantities of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. This means that there is now more CO2 in the atmosphere than plants can absorb, which changes more than we could have ever imagined (source). 

Excess CO2 in the atmosphere traps heat from the sun — instead of heat from the sun bouncing out of our atmosphere, it bounces right back toward us, which causes global temperatures to rise (we’re talking the whole world here, folks, not just the city you live in). Higher global temperatures increase the amount of water in the air because more evaporation occurs — you’ve seen this happen when water droplets form on the inside of a lid covering a hot pan. More water in the air forms more clouds and ultimately alters weather patterns, which causes extreme events like droughts, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires (think Australia, California, and Puerto Rico). Extreme weather affects not only humans but plants, animals, our food and water supply, air quality, sea-levels (they rise), and more.

The new carbon cycle that includes fossil fuels looks like this:

These are the very basics of climate change. Not everyone has the time to know every intricacy of climate change, but we all need to know the basics to take action. At the end of the day you, me, the government, and big industry are all on the hook for this, but you, me, the government, and big industry can make the carbon cycle balanced again.

For actionable steps to take against climate change, read: What Science Says We Can Do About Climate Change.

If you want a fabulous visual of climate change, watch this Bill Nye the Science Guy video.

PS: If you can’t access any of the primary sources we’ve cited in this article, reach out and we’ll send you a copy!

Savannah Adkins
Savannah Adkins

During some daylight hours, Savannah is a climate change scientist studying how dirt makes all of our lives possible. But her real profession is as a house plant addict, mountain biker, & attempter of skiing down mountains. In her free time, Savannah enjoys dancing around the house, drinking wine, and listening to the Grateful Dead. Oh, and making poop jokes… always making poop jokes.

Chiara Forrester
Chiara Forrester

Chiara is happiest when she’s in the mountains on skis, a bike, or running. She also loves Ariana Grande (117 hours this year, thanks Spotify), making dinner with friends, and laughing too loudly at her own jokes. An ecologist who’s passionate about science communication and increasing diversity in STEM, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate in Boulder, CO, studying alpine plant ecology, undergraduate education, and the use of science in federal land management. 

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

How to Talk to Climate Skeptics – and Understanding Who They Are

It feels really good to have people agree with you. In fact, it feels so good that we tend to only surround ourselves with people who have the same viewpoints as us. But when we come across someone who doesn’t agree with us, our natural instinct is to become immediately defensive and double down on our own opinions. It’s challenging to have conversations outside of our comfortable social bubbles, but to fight climate change, we need support from more than just the people who look like us and talk like us. In this article, we hope to provide you with a better understanding of why people think the way they do and equip you with some tools to engage in a constructive climate conversation. 

We all agree with each other more than we think.

Most people generally do believe in climate change – that fact probably isn’t very surprising. The data actually tell us that only about 16% of Americans don’t believe in climate change. Right now you might be thinking you’ve got a pretty good idea of who to blame for that 16% (other than Obama; thanks Obama). But as it turns out, we’re pretty bad at trying to predict who the climate believers and skeptics are. Us believers might assume that skeptics aren’t as highly educated or informed, but that’s not the case: general attitudes about global warming are unrelated to scientific literacy and education. You might be thinking, “what about… Republicans?” Wrong again! Data from multiple surveys actually show that the majority of Republicans believe in climate change. 

Why are people resistant to climate change policies even if they believe the science?

If majorities of both Republicans and Democrats believe in climate change, then what’s holding us back from coming together on climate issues? The answer, per usual, is each other. Republicans might not be skeptical of climate change, but they are skeptical of Democrats – and Democrats, in turn, are skeptical of Republicans. Psychologists have repeatedly shown that individuals tend to favor party over policy. That is, voters are more likely to support policies that are put forward by their own political party and reactively reject policies that are put forward by the opposing party, with little regard for the policy itself.  Unfortunately, these partisan allegiances seem to extend to climate policies as well, with Republicans opposing climate policies in large part because they are often proposed by Democrats. 

But there’s hope in this big ol’ mess. People cannot and should not be reduced to simply “Republicans” and “Democrats” – we are all so much more than that. And a path forward is right in front of us: if we’re able to distance ourselves from political labels and traps, we can uncover our commonalities and focus on solving this gigantic problem together. Of course, this is easier said than done. But a better understanding of the human mind and motivations for why people oppose climate policy can help us empathize with others, and offers us a much better chance at a constructive conversation.

Cognitive dissonance and the psychology of climate policy resistance

Now for the fun part: Let’s learn about a neat little psychological trick that, if you’re like me, will have you questioning nearly every decision you’ve ever made and shake you to your core: cognitive dissonance theory! 

Let’s unpack this theory with a simple example: Chiara’s a huge BBQ fan. She loves herself a fat slab of ribs with a side of corn dogs. As a scientist, she’s well aware that the meat industry is a huge contributor to climate change, but every week she heads to the butcher anyway. That mental discomfort she feels when a belief she holds (knowing that eating a lot of meat is bad for the planet) contradicts her actions (eating meat anyway) is what we refer to as cognitive dissonance. And people hate being in a state of dissonance. It’s sort of like being super hungry. It’s uncomfortable, we hate it, and the longer it persists the more motivated we are to get rid of it.

So how can Chiara reduce her dissonance? She can either change her actions to align with her beliefs, or she can change her beliefs to align with her actions. The first option means she has to quit eating meat, but she really doesn’t want to do that. The second option requires her to change her underlying beliefs about eating meat. To justify her actions, she can tell herself things like “my meat consumption won’t make a difference in the long run” or “I drive a Prius to work so I don’t need to stop eating meat”. If she’s feeling a particularly large amount of dissonance, Chiara might even seek out information that claims the meat industry isn’t contributing to climate change, or even that climate change itself isn’t real. By altering her beliefs about climate change, Chiara can keep eating meat without experiencing dissonance. And just like that, we’ve taken one of the authors of this article and turned her into a climate change skeptic (don’t worry, she’s not). 

This theory is powerful because it not only explains why Republicans are more likely to oppose climate change policy but also why anyone else whose values or actions are discordant with climate policy proposals might oppose them. For example, consider the case of Frank, a landowner in northern Texas who’s fallen on hard times. He’s approached by an oil and gas company to install a natural gas well on his property in exchange for royalties that will allow him to provide for his family. Though he was previously sympathetic to climate policy, Frank now finds himself in an elevated state of dissonance, where his family’s livelihood is intimately tied to the fossil fuel industry. To reduce his dissonance, Frank will likely start to downplay his beliefs around climate change.

An important takeaway here is that people who are acting to reduce dissonance by justifying their actions or a choice they made aren’t intentionally lying to you. Rather, they’re lying to themselves. This can all come off as very condescending, so it’s important to keep in mind that we are all guilty of this same conduct. For instance, you might really care about a farmer’s ability to support themselves, but then find yourself in a state of dissonance when that farmer’s choice to frack on their land clashes with your stance on environmentalism. To reduce dissonance, you’ll recharacterize the farmer as an ignorant and greedy opportunist. This doesn’t mean that you don’t understand the farmer’s financial motives, it just means you’re making it easier for yourself to sleep at night when you later vote to remove his access to that type of revenue. 

Now that we can understand a bit more about where people are coming from, and recognize what we have in common, what are the key ingredients to a constructive conversation?


Do it face to face. People have better first impressions, less conflict, feel more emotionally connected, and are more vulnerable when having conversations in-person rather than online. 

Paint a picture of a more positive future. Most narratives around climate change solutions paint a painful picture of a difficult future that will require substantial individual sacrifices. But if we do things right, the changes we make to address climate change could lead to a healthier, less expensive, more equitable, and guilt-free future. And while we understand why you want to convince Uncle Joe that climate change is scary and real, focusing on positive solutions is more effective in engaging people. It’s also critical in breaking down the cognitive dissonance that arises when we tell people that if they care about climate change, they’ll have to settle for a lower quality of life. Instead, focus on how policy and economic shifts could give us a better life even in a world undergoing climate change. We highly recommend listening to Ezra Klein’s conversation with Saul Griffith on this topic.

Leave party politics at the door. Like we said above, people tend to interpret information as positive or negative depending on which party presents it, so the less political you can remain the better. Further, using language like carbon “offsets” instead of carbon “taxes” can make people more amenable to your argument.

Use personal anecdotes and story-telling. Using stories, anecdotes, or narratives is an effective way of communicating science with non-experts, and local stories can make people want to engage more. Content presented in this format is also easier to understand.

Demonstrate vulnerability and show that making mistakes is okay. We need to do a much better job of normalizing the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes and change our minds – we’re all human! Most importantly, we must learn to forgive people when they do admit a mistake, and allow them space to change their minds. Attacking others for their views will only cause them to become more entrenched. Be vulnerable yourself; maybe share a story about a time you experienced dissonance and justified a poor choice, but were later were able to admit to yourself that you were wrong.

Show empathy and actively listen. Remember that you need to have a conversation with this person rather than direct your best monologue at them. Take a breath and prepare to actively listen. Remember that you have other things in common with them and that you both have reasons to hold the opinions you do (see all of the above). Going on a tirade that makes the other person feel steamrolled, misunderstood, or patronized will not be productive. People typically stick with the common opinion of their social group, so to reach someone, it’s important to maintain a positive relationship with them. Treat them with respect and kindness and show gratitude when they are willing to engage in a conversation with you. 

Talk about how strong of a consensus there is about climate change among scientists. Simply talking about how almost all climate scientists (97% to be exact) agree that climate change is real, pressing, and human-caused has been shown to increase climate change acceptance across party lines. 

Provide a brief mechanistic explanation of the greenhouse effect. Giving a brief explanation of the greenhouse effect increases climate change acceptance. You can even show them a fun video with Bill Nye. If you want to explain it yourself, here’s our two-liner: We’ve thrown our carbon cycle out of whack by burning fossil fuels, which means that we are now releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Excess CO2 in the atmosphere traps heat from the sun — instead of heat from the sun bouncing off the Earth and back out of our atmosphere, it bounces right back toward us, which causes global temperatures to rise. Check out our Climate Science 101 article for more, or if the person you’re talking to has misconceptions about the science of climate change, check out our article on addressing specific climate change misconceptions

<strong>Shane Schwikert</strong>
Shane Schwikert

Shane is a teacher, researcher, and data enthusiast at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he wailed his way to a PhD in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Cognitive Science. His hobbies range from dirt biking to backcountry skiing to gold panning, and he is an avid rock collector known for assembling his treasures in strategic piles throughout his apartment.

Chiara Forrester
Chiara Forrester

Chiara is happiest when she’s in the mountains on skis, a bike, or running. She also loves Ariana Grande (117 hours this year, thanks Spotify), making dinner with friends, and laughing too loudly at her own jokes. An ecologist who’s passionate about science communication and increasing diversity in STEM, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate in Boulder, CO, studying alpine plant ecology, undergraduate education, and the use of science in federal land management.

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.