What can you do about climate change? David Roberts has a few thoughts. The creator of the newsletter and podcast Volts, he started writing for the environmental publication Grist in 2004. In his Terra.do keynote, he spoke with us about how things have changed over the last two decades—and how much clearer the path forward has become.

“It’s difficult to describe to people today what it was like in the mid-2000s trying to write about climate change for a living,” Roberts said. “For one thing—it’s hilarious—I used to come into work and really worry about whether I could find something to write about.”

At the time, the climate dialogue largely consisted of environmentalists and scientists “pounding the table about climate change coming to kill us all,” and not getting much attention or engagement from anyone “except this core set of right-wing climate deniers.” Huge amounts of time and effort went into just trying to win those people over, in what Roberts termed an “ultimately futile undertaking.” 

Climate action felt abstract: “It was sort of a do-gooder thing that some people adopted as part of their identity and most people largely ignored.” It wasn’t clear what anyone could do about it outside the wonky world of economists and carbon pricing. Recycle, maybe; change your lightbulbs. Buy a reusable tote bag. From a communications standpoint, this amounted to a tough sell.

The new climate communications landscape

Three things have changed since then, Roberts told a group of Terra.do fellows and friends over Zoom. A replay of his talk is on YouTube.

  1. “It’s not something that just environmentalists worry about anymore,” Roberts said, citing the passage of 2022’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act, the biggest U.S. climate bill in history, as evidence.
  2. In the media, climate change is no longer just a niche story for the science section, but something much broader and justice-oriented: “It’s income inequality. It’s the powerful taking advantage of the powerless. It’s corporate greed.” 
  3. An entwined cycle of policy and technology development in the U.S., Germany, and China forced deployment of renewable energy, driving down prices. “The basic building blocks of a clean energy economy have radically come down in price.”

“Those three things in concert have completely transformed this conversation,” Roberts says. “No one that I know is still losing sleep over how to convince climate deniers of this kind of stuff… All the arguments remaining are about speed and cost and distribution—who pays, who benefits, who gets hurt, that kind of thing.” Not whether to take action but how.

And that question, too, now has much more clarity. The story, Roberts says, is the global quest to build a non-fossil fuel world. “It’s been a long time since I’ve come into work and worried I wouldn’t have anything to write about.”

A billion ways to take action

In 2005, speaking to a room of people interested in learning and doing more about climate change, Roberts says he would’ve pounded the table about the looming crisis “until I was sure you were full of dread and anxiety. And then you would’ve said, but what do we do? And I would’ve said well, uh, you know… become an activist. That was pretty much it.”  Again with the lightbulbs and tote bags that feel so far from adequate.

These days, Roberts has a much better answer:

“There are a billion ways for you to enter this fight beyond your friggin’ lightbulbs. We need innovators and engineers developing technologies. If you work in a bank, you can get involved in trying to channel financing away from fossil fuels to clean energy. We need architects and designers. We need community activists to help communities become more resilient, to install distributed energy and increase resilience against weather events. We need local political leaders… who are building bike lanes and working for density... We need international aid and development… On and on and on. We need artists and storytellers to tell the story of this new world that’s being built—to tell the story of this grand, global, generational fight.”

In other words, there’s a lot more to do now than activism—which, Roberts added, is also worthwhile! No matter your skillset, interests, or passions, he said, “you have your hands on a little piece of this fight.” You couldn’t pick a better time to jump in, he concluded.

What is the Learning for Action fellowship?

Roberts was delivering a keynote to a cohort of Terra.do Learning for Action fellows—people from all over the world keen to learn and do more about the climate crisis.

Learning for Action is a 12-week online course; each week (6-12 hours) combines live sessions with instructors, experts, and other fellows, along with asynchronous learning and research. The goal is to equip you to understand both the problem and how you can apply your unique skills and interests to take it on.

To this end, you’ll learn about the underlying science of global heating, as well as an array of solutions areas including:

  • Climate communications
  • Finance and economics
  • Clean energy and electrification
  • Food and farming
  • Carbon dioxide removal
  • Adaptation

Thousands of people have invested in themselves—and in a future tackling climate change—through the Learning for Action fellowship. New cohorts launch regularly, so don’t wait to join.