Reflections from the road with climate advocate Shahir Masri

Shahir Masri

Athina Simolaris and Shahir Masri traveled the country for three months educating people about climate change.

Reflections from the road with climate advocate Shahir Masri

By Bob Taylor

Last May, the CCL community met air pollution scientist, Dr. Shahir Masri and educator Athina Simolaris as they planned their cross-country climate outreach journey. Having returned now from their 12,000-mile tour through 36 states, during which they organized over 30 climate events, 35 video interviews, and surveyed more than 300 people, I sat down with Dr. Masri to hear his reflections and lessons learned from this ambitious project.

Shahir MasriShare some of the climate stories you learned from individuals along your journey.

The climate concerns we encountered were incredibly variable. People in Nevada spoke of increased heatwaves. The state already gets triple-digit heat, but last year Las Vegas experienced an extra two weeks of triple-digit weather. Meanwhile, Reno set a new July heat record. One lady who raises chickens told us that she now knows at what temperature a chicken dies: 117 degrees Fahrenheit. We met a woman in Ohio who has seen about a third of her yard swallowed by a river that has been growing as the state experiences record flooding. We met a woman in Colorado who fled the East because of Lyme disease, which is getting worse as warmer temperatures benefit the pests. Now she’s considering moving again due to Colorado’s growing wildfire problem which aggravates her respiratory issues. We spoke with some Native Americans in South Dakota who are having their mobile homes destroyed by larger-than-usual hail. In the Midwest, farmers pointed to erratic weather patterns that have left some fields dry and others eroded by torrential rains. In the South, we met hurricane victims who have suffered tremendously. The stories were truly endless, and often very sad. Part of our project’s importance is to share these stories, so people can see that climate change is more than just “parts per million” or “future consequences.” It’s people’s lives and livelihoods, and it’s happening now. For more stories, click here to view our growing video archive and blog.

Has this experience changed the way you will advocate for climate action going forward?

I don’t think it’s changed my approach as much as refined it. The project has made me a more effective climate communicator by virtue of the fact that I’ve been practicing so much and learning what works and what doesn’t. You can be the most knowledgeable climate expert in the world, but if you can’t synthesize your points into a few easily understandable sentences, then you’re going to lose a lot of your audience. So, learning how to simplify the science, and then memorize those simplified points was useful both as a public speaker and in day-to-day climate conversations. In introducing people to CCL, I think I was most successful when sticking to values that matter most to people’s everyday lives. For instance, I emphasized the great CCL community and how it enables us to meet like-minded neighbors who will become friends and empower us to be even more effective climate advocates. As for carbon fee and dividend, I think the simpler the better. “If we want to stop treating the atmosphere like a free waste dump,” I say, “then we’ve got to start charging a fee to pollute.” People seem to understand that.

Beyond Debate Shahir MasriYou were hoping this trip would inspire people to act. Do you think you achieved this?

We certainly saw some evidence to suggest this. For instance, we gave a talk in Savannah, Georgia, that was hosted by CCL. As it turns out, Savannah didn’t have a CCL chapter. Well, now one is in the works, thanks to volunteers in the audience. With that said, more inspiration is needed. More education is needed. More action is needed. “On the Road for Climate Action” was an effort that we feel was successful. But our work is far from over. Although we’ve completed that three-month project, we think we may just be getting started. We don’t know exactly where the road will take us next, or how we’ll afford it, but we think the work is too important to stop. Perhaps we’ll secure some official sponsorship. For now, we’ve been incredibly grateful to small individual donations which have trickled in from across the country. We’ll stretch these resources as far as we can. 

Want to hear more from Shahir? Consider buying a copy of his new book, “Beyond Debate: Answers to 50 Misconceptions on Climate Change.” The book simplifies complicated science for the everyday person, thus serving as a handy reference tool to improve climate communication. CCL founder Marshall Saunders says, “Though Shahir has a doctorate degree in environmental health and is smart as can be, he writes in everyday language, making climate science readable and understandable. Clear up all doubt, read this book!” If you purchase a copy through this link, all proceeds will go to supporting Shahir’s climate advocacy.  

Bob Taylor is a volunteer in CCL’s Orange Coast chapter in Newport Beach, California.