16 July 2023 |

Crazy times call for better climate comms


Crazy times, guys.

That was probably the most trenchant quote from my conversation with Hazel Thayer, who’s the face of Pique Action’s new climate and climate tech YouTube series, UnF*cking the Planet.

Just kidding. But it was a direct encapsulation of this moment in time. I’ve gotten several messages from people in my life this week who basically asked, “What the f*ck is happening?” concerning the slew of catastrophic weather events worldwide this summer. 

Neither Hazel nor I are meteorologists or cover the weather. But we do focus on the intuitive follow-up question of “What can we do about it?”

Pique’s new show, UnF*cking the Planet, brings an equally irreverent and informational tone to climate tech solution coverage. It’s a tone and style Hazel built on Pique Action’s TikTok first and now lives on YouTube in a longer format. The title is also an homage (whether explicit or not) to the uncouth approach to climate communications pioneered by Lowercarbon Capital, a notable venture firm that invests in climate tech. 

I was a long-time fan and first-time caller with respect to Hazel’s content. And as a creator myself, I was excited to dive into the ins and outs of her process and perspective. Here’s what I learned.

What to unf*ck first?

There were two things I was most interested to ask Hazel about:

  1. Of all the potential climate solutions, how do you choose what to cover
  2. What’s your theory of change with content, and how do you measure success?

Number one is essential because, much like entrepreneurs or investors, media and content creators’ decisions regarding their coverage matter. The attention economy, much like financial capital or human capital (people to work for you), drives results in business.

So my question to Hazel was effectively, how do you decide what to unf*ck first?

Hazel noted her decision-making criteria are encapsulated by focusing on solutions “that people are screaming about online but that no one has the full story about.”

For instance, in their first video, Hazel and Pique’s Action’s team – which includes Adam Felber, who previously wrote for Real Time with Bill Maher for.a decade – dove into fast fashion

There are a lot of opinions about fast fashion out there, ranging from “H&M is evil” to “individual actions don’t matter, so who cares how many cheap clothes I buy.” That makes it an important topic. Fashion is a significant contributor to climate change and pollution, and there’s a lot of disagreement about the extent to which we should focus on ‘solving’ it and whose job that is.

McKinsey says the fashion industry isn’t doing enough emissions abatement (more here)

Another topic that fits that mold and which Pique Action recently released an episode on is carbon capture and storage (“CCS”), as well as the differences between CCS and carbon dioxide removal (“CDR”). This is a set of topics that even climate tech people and activists disagree about. 

Here’s the thing with respect to these topics. They’re all important, and all potential solutions matter. That’s why covering the solutions people are ‘screaming about’ is a smart approach; these are topics we risk spinning out on for years (or decades) without making progress (and they will grab eyeballs). 

How do we know when it’s successfully unf*cked?

The second question that was key for me, around the theory of change and measuring success, is one I like to ask because it’s hard for me to answer well. I liked Hazel’s perspective here, and I intend to steal it and pass it off as my own once enough time has passed (kidding… maybe?)

For one, it’s tough to straddle the edge between what onus we should put on consumers versus businesses and policymakers. Hazel agreed, musing:

What’s the middle ground between “There’s nothing we can do” and “Change your lightbulbs and recycle and take shorter showers?”

That said, she’s also clear on how the most important thing is for everyone to be solutions-oriented and what she thinks consumers’ role is. Specifically, she hopes to get people to 

Learn about solutions, talk about them, and then demand them (whether by organizing, boycotting, or other.)

As an example of what this can look like, in her short-form TikTok career, she liked to talk about how agriculture subsidies make it harder to be vegetarian and vegan. In her words, no one on social media talked about this before she did. But she precipitated – or seeded, if you will – the conversation; nowadays, a lot of people talk about agricultural subsidies for dairy and meat producers on TikTok (believe it or not).

That’s the power of successful climate communications and content. You can seed, shape, and see the conversation shift. Oil companies did this successfully for decades, just in the wrong direction. Which means proactive, honest, and positive mythbusting to counteract their efforts is vital as ever. 

The net-net

I’m bummed we can’t get everyone to care about climate solutions with good ol’ fashioned sincerity. But my feelings don’t impact the climate (thank god). And I’m glad there are folks like Hazel who bring humor and levity to climate comms in a way not all of us can. 

I presume newsletters like this one, that are more dry, tbh, still need to exist. But Hazel will do a 10x better job than I will at appealing to younger generations, folks with a more consumer-oriented mindset, and people who prefer videos. We need that diversity.

Finally, I also asked Hazel whether and how she stays optimistic when she spends much of her time researching and producing content on climate solutions. As I echo, she noted there’s no ‘silver bullet’ technology. But she’s encouraged by the fact that:

People are talking about climate change more; the term ‘climate change’ is actually in headlines when we talk about heat waves, for instance. There’s a critical mass of people talking about this who are concerned about it.

Said differently, climate change is in the zeitgeist. Much more so than it was five years ago. And while less tangible than EV or solar PV adoption curves, it matters a great deal