Memes, Metaphors, and the Military

When Proposal 3 – the Michigan Renewable Energy Standard – was voted down in the November election, many things came to mind.  However, I am not ashamed to say that one of the recurring ideas was a meme in the style of “Courage Wolf”. I thought, “Even though Proposal 3 was defeated, this doesn’t slow us down.  We are still going to fight for renewable energy truly no matter what.“  And a meme was born.

My first foray into making memes

But then I thought, memes are EXACTLY what would make these environmental discussions easier and more fun, these small images and text convey a lot of info concisely and with the humble tone of humor. Furthermore, why not use other literary and visual tools?

This idea has evolved into a “toolkit” of visuals, metaphors, and stories that could be easily passed on to you all (via Facebook, our blog, Twitter) and that you could then retell and share easily with your coworkers, friends, and family….. Or it could inspire you to find your own analogies and archetypes…. OR, even more simply, could solidify our understanding of the intersections of people, culture, and environment.  Someone asks you about the difference between climate and weather and you are prepared to tackle this complex and abstract topic (See #2 below for some help) with ease (and a view visual and literary tools in tow).

These visual and language tools can be humorous, unique, and created and shared democratically.  Sounds a little like crowd-sourcing – using a distributed network of people to accomplish a lot.  It also is just good communication!  Stories touch us emotionally and are often easy to remember.  Humor can diffuse extremely polarized dialogues and -oddly- bring rationality to a discussion.  Like me, do you love maps and all things visual?  These pictures, ideas, and stories that we can share with you all form a toolkit of effective climate change and renewable energy communication that are based on the power of story-telling, humor, and images.

This new segment of Ann Arbor 350 will take 3 main “flavors”:

1: MemesI definitely can relate to this windmill

Examples: the Courage Wolf meme above or the Renewable Energy meme to the right.  Memes are images, hashtags, phrases, characters, truly anything that speaks about the human experience.  They are much like the archetypes or trope conventions in high school English class: the hero figure, the angsty teen, the wise sage.

Rolling the Climate Dice

2: Metaphors and other linguistic tools

Example: Have a hard time explaining climate change?  One word: dice!  Our Earth’s climate is a set of dice.  And the faces represent our day to day weather events.  You roll the dice of climate and you have a certain probability of getting certain weather patterns.  Climate change or global warming “loads” the dice - imagine shaving a corner of one of the die’s down or adding more dots onto the faces. Now when you roll the dice, you have an increased probability of getting certain weather events.

3: Unusual stories and actors:

In climate change communication, we often focus on the “average American”.  Although it’s inspiring to hear about how the “average American” is aiming to reduce his or her carbon footprint, how about we talk about the fact that the military is greening their energy supply?  Surprised to hear that?  I was too!  Or maybe we can talk about the small island nations in the world that ran meetings underwater as demonstrations of their acknowledged vulnerability if we continue to pump carbon dioxide into the air!  These stories are unusual and memorable and speak volumes to the similar actions of seemingly different people fighting for alternatives to fossil fuels.


If you are still a little confused with what this exactly is… don’t fret – much of it will become clear as we develop these tools and share them with you all.  Stay tuned for the blog and Facebook posts of this new series! In the nature of this initiative, please feel free to share your stories, images, and linguistic tools too!


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