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Researching to Find My Place in the Climate Movement

Researching to Find My Place in the Climate Movement

by | Mar 24, 2023 | Essay

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

This was originally published on on February 16, 2022.

I’m told it’s 2022 already (what! it’s FEBRUARY?), and I’m planning a major push to deepen my climate change education.

Though I’ve been interested in environmental matters since childhood, I only started trying to stay informed about the climate space recently. I want to build a strong foundation from scratch and learn all the relevant concepts, news developments, and terminology.

Words and phrases like Paris Agreement, Green New Deal, and COP26 go by in the headlines, I do my best to keep up with the developments, but I also like to go deeper after the fact. Reading the original agreements and reports can be fun because:

  1. It makes me feel cool.
  2. I’m looking for opportunities to get involved, and I want to know what initiatives are likely to come down the pike.
  3. I want the complete picture, not just the parts that get the most circulation.

Here is where I’m collecting the past research I’ve done related to climate change and sustainability.

I have a huge stack of reports I want to get through, all downloaded onto my tablet and ready to mark up, and newer reports keep coming out as soon as I’m about to catch up! So the next couple of months are going to be a big push.

How I’m Accelerating my Research Process

The main improvement I’m making is to plan out my research a bit more.

First I selected the documents I’d like to read.

  1. The UNEP Emissions Gap report, which was mentioned in a lot of the COP26 coverage I read. (If you are wondering what COP26 is, it was a UN meeting regarding climate change that occurred in November 2021. I wrote about it here.) It outlines how far short we are currently falling in meeting our climate targets.
  2. The initiatives that came out of COP26.
  3. The Taking Stock 2021 report, which assesses the outlook for US greenhouse gas emissions each year.
  4. An HBR article about supply chain transparency
  5. The 2015 Paris Agreement, which I read once, but haven’t written much about yet.
  6. The Green New Deal, a bill introduced by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez in 2019 — mostly as a history lesson, since it was not adopted.
  7. The US 2021 Aviation Climate Action Plan. Another document that came out of COP26.

I selected these because:

  • I want a big picture understanding of what precisely needs to be done. A part of that is understanding the current status.
  • I’m trying to give myself a crash course in the history of climate change policy. What did I miss?
  • I’m looking for tech roadmaps that speak to a coherent strategy on what needs to be developed. Then I (or you) can work on some of the enabling initiatives and know we are moving the needle. The aviation action plan is the first sector-wide action plan I’ve seen. I hope to find similar plans for every sector.

As you can probably tell, I like to have a big picture understanding of things and start with an overview so I have all the information I need to make decisions. This preference also affects how I’m planning out this research project.

The steps I’m going through are:

  • Skimming all the reports and summarizing their purpose. Also estimating how long each will take to read.
  • Prioritizing the reports and scheduling out 25-minute sessions to read them.
  • Sharing the research dispatches on individual documents as I go. Some documents may need multiple summaries.

I’m not a naturally organized person, but I have been planning out my projects in Kanban boards out of necessity. My previous approach to research was to jump from obsession to obsession. So this new approach is an experiment.


Skimming the Longest Tomes

I’m starting by skimming the longer reports I’ve chosen for the quarter. I’m doing this to give myself a teaser of what to expect and estimate how long each report will take to read.

For the longer documents, I’m giving myself two weeks to read and annotate each of them. For the shorter documents, a week should suffice.

I’m not typically reading these cover-to-cover as if they were novels. Rather, I’m familiarizing myself with useful information that I can come back to, and identifying more directions to pursue.

Here are the questions I’m asking myself while I’m skimming:

  • What is the document, in simple terms?
  • When is it from?
  • What type of language does it use — legalese, engineering-speak, or layman-friendly?
  • What am I looking for in this document?
  • How many (readable) pages is it, excluding appendices and references?
  • What cited resources do I want to add to my TBR (‘to be read’ as the Booktubers say)?

UNEP Emissions Gap Report

What it is: An assessment of climate mitigations pledged, implemented, and the gap that needs to be covered to limit warming to 1.5 deg or 2 deg C.

When it’s from: October 2021.

What type of language it uses: Policy, economics, and science.

What I’m looking for: I want to know the main areas of potential improvement.

I have questions like: what is needed in each sector?

  • How much investment is there already?
  • How can I (we) participate in these improvements, through our jobs, volunteer work, personal lives, communication, or lifestyle?

Number of readable pages: 63, excluding the references, since I don’t usually ‘read’ the references section. I just ‘refer’ to them.

Citation I’m adding to my TBR: September 2021 NDC Synthesis Report by UNFCCC.

Taking Stock 2021

What it is: An assessment of what US greenhouse gas emission trends are expected to look like, based on current federal and state policy made by a think tank called the Rhodium Group.

When it’s from: July 2021.

Type of language used: Mostly economics-related, but it seems pretty layman-friendly. (Which is good. I don’t know much economics yet.)

What I’m looking for: What is driving emissions in each sector? (And what can I and we do about it?)

Ooh. The section ‘Drilling Deeper: Key trends by sector’ — that’s what I want to know.

Number of readable pages (main): 15, excluding the Technical Appendix starts on page 15. I may refer to the Technical Appendix if I have questions, but I won’t read it in the traditional sense.

2021 Aviation Climate Action Plan

What it is: A policy framework for the aviation sector to become more sustainable, released by the Biden Administration.

When it’s from: November 2021.

Types of language used: Engineering, economics, policy.

What I’m looking for:

Answers to questions like:

  • What are the key enabling technologies for sustainable aviation?
  • What can we do to influence this?

Number of readable pages: 35, excluding the glossary.

Coming up

So that’s my skim of the biggest reports on my list! Next, I’ll skim the smaller links. Then I’ll be ready to get into the first big report in detail.