How to Get People to Care: Carter Roberts

The situation is not good Photographs by Corbis

The southeastern U.S. is home to the most diverse population of salamanders in the world. Unless you spent your childhood in the woods seeking them out, all bright orange or black and yellow under their logs and rocks, you probably don’t care. When I was growing up in Atlanta, I did. Nature is not some abstract thing. That’s what kids learn through experience. Nature is all around us. To explain climate change, we try to identify oddities that are happening all around us. Flowers bloom earlier. There’s more water in the air, and it all seems to come down at once. Those salamanders I marveled at breed earlier in the spring and later in the fall than they previously did. So we try to be specific and concrete. We like to give people definite, positive steps to take. Earth Hour started with the World Wildlife Fund in Australia in 2007 and exploded. On March 31, we estimate that hundreds of millions of people in 150 countries around the world turned off their lights for an hour. When it comes to taking steps bigger than Earth Hour, the policy folks have identified what some smart practical steps might be. But the first step is almost always to point out a small wonder—a salamander, say—and remark, “Wow … just look at that.” — As told to Eric Roston 

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