When I was chosen to help lead a global communications campaign on behalf of the Nobel Prize winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the run-up to the 2015 Paris Treaty Accords, I knew nothing about the subject.
Looking back, perhaps that was one of the reasons I was chosen. I came from the retail world, so I knew how to communicate in simple terms. Succinctly, our job was to help the over 800 scientists from around the world better communicate their massive and comprehensive reports assessing climate change impacts and risks. These scientists are not paid, and for them contributing to the reports goes beyond a labor of love.
In the end, our work was successful. The Paris treaty was signed by over 200 countries, the media began to report climate change as real versus giving space to climate skeptics, who tried to refute the science, and the scientists we media trained were able to express their research in more human terms. Our team won dozens of industry awards around the world.
That work has never left my mind, because rather than being a job, it became something far more personal. When you sit and talk to climate scientists about what they’ve studied, and what they’ve learned, what they know, and what they foresee it leaves an everlasting imprint.
For people who work on trying to get the public to better understand the severity of the situation, that climate change is real, that it’s happening now, and that we need to do something about it, that last part is always the stickler — how to make people, in government and beyond, care more and do more about climate change.
That’s when it hit me, in the middle of the night, that maybe if we looked at the Earth as a marginalized community, could we as LGBTQ+ people, a marginalized community, better relate to the Earth’s plight and do a better job advocating on its behalf?
Our community is under assault, unlike any time I can remember, and my memory goes back to the horrible days of the AIDS epidemic, and the inability of Republicans and the Reagan administration and people like North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms to do anything to ease the pain and suffering. These same people, throughout their careers, were also among the biggest climate skeptics on the planet.
Nearly four years ago, I wrote about the intersection of climate change and HIV, and how, coincidentally, through the years, our community has heralded major advancements and setbacks alongside those of climate change. In the years of 1985, 1990, 2004, 2015 and 2019, some of the most consequential environmental, health and societal moments overlapped. In 2015, for example, same-sex marriage was recognized, and the Paris accords signed.
In 2023, we’re seeing anti-LGBTQ+ laws proliferate, most prevalent here in the United States. At the same time, we’re experiencing our warmest year on record, and no one has to tell you about the catastrophic weather that crippled California with snow and rain, inundated Ft. Lauderdale with feet of water in a once in 1,000-year storm and destroyed so many communities in heartland states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
No one also has to tell you that something needs to be done about climate change, and there-in lies the kicker. How to tell people what to do about addressing climate change without boring them with science, making their lives inconvenient, or making them feel like they have to do something?
We can scare people by telling them that coastal cities will be flooded soon enough. Hurricanes will grow stronger, inflicting atrocious damage. Tornados will be more prevalent. Violent storms more serious. Snowstorms measured in feet not inches. Droughts causing migration. Too much or too little water prompting food shortages. Habitats for animals being destroyed. Food chains disrupted for every living creature. Think you’ll be spared? Just try and tempt Mother Nature.
We can tell them the horrors of burning fossil fuels. School parking lots are filled with SUVs, planes are packed full, coal still burns, big oil still rules, and there’s no infrastructure on our roadways to support the expected influx of electric cars. We recycle our paper cups, while we fill-up our 16-gallon gas tanks with petroleum. We melt down our plastic while we burn fossil fuels. We take and take and take, and the Earth can only take so much.
We all like to say that we’re doing our best to give our kids a bright future, but with all the behavior listed above, no one seems willing to admit that we’re not doing enough. We expect others to fight for carbon caps, for example, because those things will help someone else. As a severely marginalized community, we have enough problems of our own with anti-trans hate, anti-drag hate, book bans, classroom bans, homophobia, and violence.
But the Earth is marginalized too. Governments don’t do enough — climate expenditures that are dwarfed by defense spending. Corporate inaction — unless it helps the bottom line — now. Green initiatives that could be lifesaving are derided as being “woke.” Does this not sound like something that is marginalized and overlooked?
The Earth isn’t going to wake up one morning, and go, “Poof,” and make all the carbon in our atmosphere disappear. Carbon emitting countries like us, like China, like India, aren’t going to stop emitting, or admitting how much they are emitting. They are blowing smoke up Earth’s derriere. Things are getting worse instead of better.
Similarly, there seems to be a race to make the LGBTQ+ community more marginalized as the 2024 presidential, congressional and state legislative elections draw near. President Biden can’t wave a magic wand and say, “All anti-trans laws disappear!” Legislation against us is being introduced at a record rate. It’s like an atmospheric river washing over us, as we try to hang on.
The Earth is in serious need of more partners to help advocate for it. Without the Earth, we don’t exist. Thinking of it that way, should climate be just as important to us as our fight for equality?
Does the LGBTQ+ community, perhaps more than anyone else, understand the plight of the Earth, and how she is coming under more aggressive assault at the exact same time we are? Thinking beyond ourselves, should we take more of a lead in fighting for climate action? Through our own struggles, can we help humanize the ills of Mother Earth?
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.