This story is part of "Covering Climate Now," a week-long global initiative of over 250 news outlets.
Climate change is a leading issue of concern for many Americans.
A 2018 poll found 72% of Americans say global warming is "personally important" to them.
But as humans take in the science behind the climate, many are still figuring out how it impacts their daily lives, and how to talk about the environment with others.
Sara Peach has one approach to climate conversations: an advice column.
Peach, senior editor at Yale Climate Connections, has been covering the climate as a journalist for nearly 10 years. When friends and family started coming to her with their general — and personal — climate questions, she got the inspiration to make a public forum for others to bring forth their concerns in a one-on-one way.
“Anyone can send a question to me about climate change and I will do my best to go and talk to the experts and bring back an answer for you,” she says.
Her answers on “Ask Sara” aren’t about proving people right or wrong — it’s about confronting the reality of the situation, she says.
Peach gets asked a variety of inquiries, such as “How can I prepare my children for climate change?” and “How do I talk to my family about the effects of climate change?”
The latter question means a lot to her. Peach says being vocal about climate change is the first step in addressing it — so she uses her advice column as a vehicle for discussion.
“We're just kind of quietly worrying about it by ourselves instead of talking in our community about it,” she says. “And I think that is just so harmful to our chances of doing something about the problem because one of the most important things that anyone can do is actually to speak up to friends and family and say, 'I'm worried about this. Are you worried about it?’ ”
On talking to homeowners who may be affected by rising sea levels
“I think that what people have to understand is that long before South Florida washes away, potentially with sea level rise, people are going to start selling their homes and moving away and home values are going to decrease and quality of life is going to decrease. I encourage this letter writer to talk to her friend about it [and] to ask some questions like, 'Are you being affected by this now? Have you seen floods in your day to day life?' And just open up a conversation because this isn't a distant problem, it's here and now.”
On how to relate the issue of climate change to everyday life
“I'll give you an example. A lot of people really do love their pets. One thing that can happen in a natural disaster, as we're seeing more extreme weather related to climate change, is that people get separated from their pets or they don't want to evacuate because they don't want to leave their pets behind or pets end up in shelters. If you can talk about climate change and maybe connect your concern about extreme weather to people's love and devotion for their pets or something else very personal like that, I think that can wake people up and invite them to enter the conversation in a different way rather than just sort of automatically defaulting into something about Al Gore or Donald Trump.”
On some of the questions people ask her
“I got one question from a woman living in Boston who was wondering if one day malaria could spread to her city and wondered if she should do something to protect her family. I've had questions like, 'Will there be famines in the United States in the near future?' And then I get another set of questions that are really about, 'How do I talk about this? How do I bring climate change up during small talk at social gatherings? What kind of car should I get? What's the best car for the climate?' ”
On buying a beach house
“You know, I think that if it's your heart's desire I'm not going to say, 'No, don't do that.' But you need to understand the risks and think about the homes that people lost during the Great Recession and how many homes lost a lot of value and be prepared that something similar could happen to your beach home. And unlike the case in the Great Recession, the value may never come back because the house itself, even if it doesn't go underwater, if the roads connecting to it go underwater, the cost of insuring the place will go up. It may not be the investment that it was in the past.”
From Yale Climate Connections: Children's books about climate change
This segment aired on September 16, 2019.
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