Students of Global Change Ecology have a reputation for being creatively engaged citizens and Steffen Schwardmann is no exception. Having just completed his second semester at the University of Bayreuth, he has also launched a podcast, Stories of Climate Change Hope. I invited Steffen to an interview to better understand where he’s coming from with the podcast and where he hopes to go with it.
When did you first become interested in climate change?
Well, the very first time I heard about climate change was during the geography lessons in high school but did not pay so much attention to it then. When I was pursuing a B.A in Political Science in 2015, I became much more interested. At that time, I attended a seminar on climate policy which was held at a similar time as COP 21 in Paris. However, at the time, it was all too abstract to be honest. It is interesting how one can learn about climate policy without knowing too much about the Earth’s climate system itself. This has changed since I began studying Global Change Ecology at the University of Bayreuth. Here, I spend a lot of time on this issue and related topics. It has already helped me a lot to expand my knowledge and satisfy my curiosity.
What inspired you to become more engaged?
There are the numerous young people who are concerned about our future, who are brave and have inspired me. I am amazed to see these young people who do not mind if others criticize them or maybe they mind but go ahead anyway. And I am like, “Hell yeah, I need to do more!” We shouldn’t underestimate young people. And then a few books influenced me that I’d recommend. The first is Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall, founder of Climate Outreach, a British organization using social science methods to find better ways to communicate climate change. Marshall argues that when communicating climate change, we need to focus on our common values and the social environment. We do not see the world from the same frame, right? One key insight for me is how important it is to approach those circles I am usually not in contact with. This is something general: You learn more from the people you do not understand than those you meet every day. Two other books that inspired me a lot are Active Hope – How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, and Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein.
Do you consider yourself a climate activist?
This is a very good question. I have asked this myself a couple of times. In the past, I always regarded activists as engaged people who would go out on the streets and voice their concerns by protesting or through mass demonstration. However, I have realized that one can be an activist just by staying indoors and using social media, maintaining a blog or being a podcast host to voice their concern. So, this is especially interesting for the more introverted among us —we can all be activists. I guess with the podcast I have found something dear I like to do. Someone else might find something different. Being out in the open and voicing your opinion can create anxiety. In May, when I published the first episode, I was very nervous and asked myself “Is it good enough? Will people like it?” One must start at some point. As a podcast host I accepted that with every episode I will improve. So, yes, I consider myself an activist.
What were you hoping to add to the many conversations about climate change already in place?
There are a lot of science-based podcasts and podcasts with a topical focus on solutions to our crisis. But what comes short? When the news of a grim future is spread, we need to be aware that this can create anxiety and even depression for some people. So, with my podcast, I do not just want to spread hope, but also aim at getting people engaged with climate change. Engagement can help to get a different perspective and action helps through struggle. And that is essentially why I invite working people, engaged people, concerned people to talk about their personal story of commitment to solving this issue. To me personally, it is of the utmost importance to spread diverse narratives. There are so many different perspectives and reasons to become more engaged. To underline this diversity, I need to invite more people from groups and organizations that can share a new point of view, beyond green and ecological framing. One podcast that inspired me is called Climate Crisis Conversation – Catastrophe or Transformation hosted by Verity Sharp for the Climate Psychology Alliance.
What, if any, is/was the learning curve in recording and publishing your own podcast?
In the beginning, I only had some knowledge of using a microphone from my high school days in a rock band. Besides that, I did not have much experience. This is what makes podcasting so great. It is very easy to start and get into it. You find all kinds of tutorials, reviews, and manuals online. In comparison to three months ago, I feel much more confident now.
Who would you like to host on your show and why?
Oh, there are a few potential guests I’d like to invite, e.g. a concerned mom, a concerned dad, a business owner, a start-up owner, someone working in public administration, an electrician, a mechanic, an economist, a farmer…. I’d love to invite more people whose voices aren’t heard in the public so strongly. If you know someone who’d like to talk about climate change, hope, anxiety, or something related, they can get in touch.
What is your goal in having the podcast? What do you wish to accomplish?
I feel the podcast needs more followers to have a bigger impact. My goal is to spread a little bit of hope every other week, making people more resilient, underlining that everyone can become more engaged. You do not need to call yourself an activist to be engaged; even talking to your friends and family about climate change is something worthwhile. My personal goal is to get more familiar with podcasting, find like-minded people, work on my own anxiety by having all those inspiring guests, and create something beautiful, something I can be proud of.
What is your long-term vision for the podcast?
My long term vision? Hm…. Until December I’m figuring this whole podcasting thing out. Then, next year, I want to try to have let’s say a more structural approach. What do I mean by that? One would be to broaden the scope, not just cover the topic of talking about climate change, but include biodiversity, land cover change among others. Second, have one topical focus every quarter, e.g. drought and farming or climate justice. Third, let the podcast be more interactive, e.g. letting listeners join the show, hosting live shows, making the podcast more exciting by adding other elements like sound effects or more music.
What is one insight, point, or consideration, about climate change communication that you would shout from the rooftops so everyone could hear?
Okay, so imagine me shouting from the rooftops: Listen! Create a dialogue! You do not have to understand everything, every opinion, every point of view! Decrease polarization! Overall, stay respectful!
You can find Steffen’s podcast Stories of Climate Change Hope HERE as well as on Podbean, Spotify and Apple Podcasts. If you would like to contact Steffen, he welcomes you to do so via email at stories.climatehope[at]gmail.com.