Stephanie Bernhard in Full Stop:
If you want to see an expression of pure despair, ask a college freshman to parse Rachel Carson’s rhetorical choices at 8:00 in the morning. That’s what I’m doing this semester for a composition class I’m teaching at the University of Virginia. The course is called “Representing Climate Change,” and our collective goal is to discover and deploy effective methods of talking and writing about our looming environmental crisis. The task is daunting. Climate change is at once really easy and really hard to write about. It’s easy because there is so much to say, and hard because progress toward a solution is so slow.
But what do I know about the fossil fuel industry? I study literature. I am not a scientist. My specialties are agrarian novels and Modernist aesthetics, not cloud formation or sea ice. When making arguments, I have to trust the vast majority of scientists who agree that humans are changing the climate, that the changes will have huge and unpleasant effects, and that we should really get our act together and fix the problem. The scientists’ job is to perform and publish the research that supports these claims. My job — and my students’ job — starts where peer review ends: we need to make scientific evidence digestible and believable to a general audience. Since solving climate change requires mass engagement, how we talk about the problem matters as much as the science that confirms its urgency.