Jennifer Hirsch

Re-Thinking “Place” as a Strategy for Climate Engagement

For many years, the iconic image of climate change, and the alarm bell for climate action, was the lone polar bear standing precariously on a small chunk of ice. Over the past five years or so, that image has been marginalized, as experts in climate communication and engagement have successfully argued that it serves to distance people from the climate change issue rather than engage them, because it seems too separate from their everyday lives. In response, many researchers, communications experts, and practitioners have begun to advocate for a place-based approach on what is sometimes referred to as the “hyper-local”: narratives and images of climate change and climate action as it relates to people’s backyards. My research and engagement work on climate action in Chicago also points towards the importance of focusing on place—but in a different way. In this presentation, I will present findings from ethnographic research conducted in nine Chicago communities, and examples of my work building on that research to engage diverse populations in climate action, to begin to construct a broader model of place. The model I propose builds on what people care about to link the local to the local, the local to the regional, and the local to the global. I believe that this model has more potential not only to engage diverse U.S. populations in climate work, but to push that climate work in more creative directions.

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