The climate is a-changin’ — but the debate on climate change isn’t. As a result, climate scientists and environmental advocates appear to be fighting a losing battle: A recent poll of American attitudes toward climate change, put out in March by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, revealed that the number of climate skeptics in America is growing, and fewer voters view climate change as a scientifically affirmed or politically important issue.
With this news in mind, a two-man film crew has hit the back roads of America to, in their words, kick-start a new national conversation about climate change — one that might circumvent heated politics by focusing on local perspectives.
On the back of a sky-blue 1971 Royal Enfield diesel motorcycle (run on biodiesel when they can get it) Erik Fyfe and Albert Thrower are traveling across the Northeast, talking with individuals whose livelihoods have been influenced by climate change, including farmers, foresters, resource managers, and insurers. Their aim is to bring attention to the real climate impacts that small-town Americans are already experiencing.
Their project, called Slow Ride Stories, is predicated in part on another finding from the Yale climate change communication crew (who provided financial support for the video tour): Despite their skepticism, Americans are increasingly associating extreme weather events with climate change. This gave Fyfe and Thrower hope that honest conversations, held in diners and barbershops, might make a real difference to how the public perceives, and in time responds to, climate change.
“People are uncomfortable when the conversation turns to global warming. We want to change that,” Fyfe, a personal friend, told me recently when I caught up to the travelers on a weekend stop at Yale University’s experimental forest in northern Connecticut. (Fyfe holds a degree in Environmental Management from Yale.)
In one of their videos, a truck driver describes a recent storm that destroyed a historic building in his hometown of Haverstraw, N.Y. “Hundred-year floods? We’ve had three of those this year,” he says.
In another interview, a young sailor on the Hudson River wonders if he’ll make good on his dream to live aboard a sailboat. “If it’s going to be really bad here, in terms of how often storms are going to come through, then maybe this is not what I want to do with a family,” he says.
The interviews, which will eventually become a documentary film, are heartfelt and touching. They also give you a sense that Thrower and Fyfe are creating space to talk about climate change in America both by striking up conversations with strangers and by injecting a sense of humor and humanity into the debate.
“If people start talking, if they see their neighbors, people like them, talking about these issues, and that inspires new conversations — that’s success,” Fyfe says.
You can find the duo’s videos on their website. A selection of them will be featured here on Grist throughout the summer. We’ll start with their introduction: