The Importance of Not Always Being So Damn Earnest

three earnest men photo

In my last blog, I confessed my antipathy for camping. Today, I've got something a little hotter: two weeks ago, two Earthwatch colleagues and I took off our pants together behind the catering tent at a swanky cocktail party on the Charles River in Boston.

(Let me take this opportunity to issue our deepest apologies to the wait staff and to those unfortunate families touring the river on the famed Duck Boat tour that evening.)

What made the scene truly hot, I confess, wasn't our suite of Adonis-like attributes, but rather that we were doffing our trousers as part of Earthwatch's Beat the Heat Climate Change Campaign. We kicked off this two-month campaign (August 14-October 14) that night with a fundraiser at Boston's Museum of Science.Hoping to prove that there's more than one way to respond to the seriousness of a changing climate—and that not all of them need to be totally serious, all of the time—we took part in a photo shoot sponsored by Skirt! magazine, which has a habit of putting guys in drag for various occasions, sort of like an all-boys' school, but with far better fashion sense.

Yes, it was silly. Yes, I clearly need to hit the gym more. No, it didn't lower anyone's carbon footprint. (But the entire party was carbon neutral.) And yes, we took a risk and were aware that some might view our shenanigans as trivializing one of the biosphere's most critical environmental challenges.

But sometimes you've got to run the risk of looking silly in order to get the reward of being looked at—or, in this case, of having an issue looked at by new people.

The photo shoot got the party goers—many of them new to environmental causes—talking. Got them to loosen up. Got them wondering what motivated the three of us to don professionally compromising outfits in front of colleagues, strangers, and cameras, and got them asking questions.

As our guests went through the rest of the evening learning about the climate change research we fund, hearing from top-notch scientists, and getting a greater sense of why we need to come to grips with this issue at all levels—including the big, the small, and the silly—we saw that our decision to keep the event light and fun was working.

People got down on the dance floor, but stayed upbeat about the possibility of doing something to address a potentially overwhelming issue. The mood remained hopeful all night—even after we put our pants back on. While the cocktails no doubt helped, I think our little bit of staged sartorial whimsy did, too.

It was a useful reminder to me that, for many people, the environmental movement still has a rep of being only slightly more fun at a party than the Ancient Mariner at a wedding reception. Anytime we can avoid being beggars at a feast of potentially interested people, we need to find ways to do so. While we shouldn't glaze over, pretty up, or dumb down the bad news and the hard science, there's a lot to be gained by being deliberately silly, at times, in our efforts to engage people—to get them to listen by first getting them to laugh, or at least smile.

You don't always need a two-by-four; sometimes an ill-fitting Laura Ashley knock-off will do.

So, Treehuggers, I'm issuing a call for your ideas and stories: what's the silliest, funniest, or most off-the-wall thing you've done to engage someone about climate change? Or, if you've yet to get off the bench, what's the most oddball thing you'd consider doing?

Post your idea in the comments section here, and/or send an email—and feel free to send accompanying pictures or videos, as long as they're fit for public consumption—to me. If I get enough quality entrants, I'll announce both finalists and the winner in an October blog. All finalists will get an Earthwatch Beat the Heat tee, and the winner will also get some other cool stuff from Earthwatch I haven't cleared with my bosses yet.

How sustainably silly will you get over the serious challenge of climate change?

-George Grattan

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