Give Me Your Feedback(s)

It’s an ambiguous term with several personalities. A teacher might ask students for informal feedback on her teaching performance; a colleague might ask a lawyer for his feedback on a judge’s opinion. Feedback can be written, spoken, assumed and even communicated through body language.

Feedback also translates in the environmental realm. Would you be pleased to find out that the heating system on your airplane is broken? Would you suggest that a mountain climbing friend leave their warm clothes and spare oxygen at home? You hopefully responded “no” within seconds to these questions, but this easy consensus only makes sense because we’ve become accustomed to feedbacks that stabilize our environment at levels comfortable to us. Both an airplane’s heating system and a mountain climber’s warm clothing help to stabilize differing rates within temperature gradients, which cause stark differences in frigidity from Earth’s surface to a point 10 km above the surface.

Just as people, organizations and other actors respond to each other, the environment responds to its populations and its own functions. There’s even a watchdog blog named for feedback – appropriately named Climate Feedback – which has gained approval from the International Fact Checking Network at Poynter and presents its opinions on the media’s and political figures’ climate change claims. Such environmental feedbacks that receive the public’s attention involve elements from water vapor to carbon, which act together to amplify and stabilize current environmental flows. Of course, for something to be considered a true feedback, it must respond to a factor e.g. Earth’s level of warmth and then affect that same factor, according to Sarah Burch and Sarah Harris, co-authors of Understanding Climate Change.

In addition to issues raised alongside increasing carbon emissions and unsteady temperature gradients, we must consider a multitude of other amplifying factors, one being acidification. Rod Fujita writes that currently, acidification traps chemicals in oceans and restricts the amount of reflection sent into the atmosphere, causing Earth to further warm and perpetuating what he deems “a disastrous positive feedback loop.”

While there are feedbacks that can both increase and stabilize global warming, it seems that Earth needs something more radical. While we cannot add to the issue, we haven’t yet succeeded in alleviating it. If society chooses routes that lead to amplification, with effects that can dramatize exponentially, we direct ourselves toward warming – the opposite position that we should seek. If we choose only to stabilize, we can achieve equilibrium, a point at which the incoming quantity is the same as the outgoing quantity in some system. But we will be able to seek refuge in the status quo, which seems to bring comfort to too many of us.

Swatting Climate Change

In his Guardian blog post, Martin Lukacs asks readers whether or not they would encourage someone to shake out a towel in a fire; he asks his readers whether they would suggest that someone bring a flyswatter to a gunfight. Lukacs doesn’t need to state the painfully obvious answers, and instead, he uses these ideas to suggest that those who advise the public on climate change – those who often encourage individual action – may be “out of sync” with approaches that could actually reign success.

Lukacs employs his near-rhetorical question tactic in a way that targets his audience without eliciting guilt. He continues to engage his readers through utilizing a political lens strategy – pointing namely to neoliberalism – to explain societal gaps in climate change mediation efforts. Through this lens, Lukacs introduces several dynamic, less-well-understood climate change elements, including carbon emissions and renewable energy. Such elements become accessible and relatable to Lukacs’s readers, especially those who boast proficiency in politics but mediocrity in environmental studies.