How to Contribute to Climate Action via ContentBy Stephanie Walden April 19th, 2022
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Over the past few years, we’ve seen a familiar news cycle emerge. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a new report detailing lackluster global progress on climate action. The hot takes arrive shortly after. Headlines are bleak, often hinting at imminent cataclysm. Doomscolling ensues.
It’s hard to brush off these claims of inevitable apocalypse, especially if you, like many freelancers, work in media. But rather than wallowing in fatalism or succumbing to apathy, some creative professionals are using content to drum up optimism and action.
Take Alaina Wood, a TikTokker (@thegarbagequeen) who’s been profiled by the New York Times and The Verge for her witty and frank posts explaining possible climate solutions. She’s amassed a following of around 317,000 at the time of this writing.
Wood has plenty of company. The market for climate-tech-focused content is heating up. In 2021, PricewaterhouseCoopers published a report on the “state of climate tech,” noting that the industry saw a 210 percent growth rate in year-over-year investment between 2020 and 2021, as well as an explosion of more than 3,000 startups in that same timeframe. Google Trends shows that the term has been on the uptick for the past year or so.
Back up a sec. What is climate tech, anyway?
Climate tech is an umbrella term that encompasses both physical and digital technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, remove carbon from the atmosphere, or facilitate adaptation to a changing climate. It might refer to software products that allow corporations to track the carbon impact of their cloud operations, drones used for reforestation, or machines that literally pull carbon from the air (a process known as “direct air capture,” or DAC).
“The climate crisis is a much more widely accepted reality than it was even ten years ago.”
According to Beyond Buzzwords, the term “climate tech” became popular relatively recently—in 2020—even though companies focused on such solutions have existed for decades. It’s related to, though not synonymous with, other once-buzzy concepts like “cleantech” (technology focused on making the energy industry less harmful to the environment) and its predecessor “greentech” (technology that mitigates or reverses human impacts on the environment).
All this is to say—we’ve been here before. Notably, previous iterations fell from public (and investor) favor due to shaky returns. A major clean/greentech bust occurred sometime around the 2008 financial crisis. Around 90 percent of the cleantech startups funded between 2006-2011 did not return even the funds invested in them.
But as Nick van Osdol, creator, investor, and co-founder of the Keep Cool newsletter pointed out, a few things have changed this time around. For one, renewable energy sources are now—for the first time—price-competitive with fossil fuels. Secondly, the climate crisis is a much more widely accepted reality than it was even ten years ago.
“We have five to 10 years more/better data on the adoption curves and efficiency gains for tech like rooftop solar, which lends a real case study for other tech, be it electric vehicles, heat pumps, etc.” he explained. “That said, I’m not convinced you won’t see market cycles continue to do their thing.”
Trendy terminology aside, van Osdol pointed out that the label of “climate tech” is less important than the legitimate impact of the companies and initiatives involved. His mission with the newsletter is to explore and drive awareness of that impact. “Keep Cool tries to dig deep into some of these companies and technologies, but also zoom out and try to find useful connections across all of them,” he said.
He also hopes that compared with some of today’s other popular buzzwords, climate tech is here for the long haul. “Hopefully the ‘dips’ [in interest] are more shallow in climate tech than what I expect to see with other industries like Web3, which is also all the rage,” he said. “One is more critical to our survival than the other.”
Examples of climate tech content
There are nearly countless ways that climate tech intersects with other industries, from auto and travel to B2B marketing. There are even fine jewelry companies reportedly creating diamonds from carbon pulled out of the air.
As such, climate tech content comes in many different formats. There’s good, old-fashioned print—legacy publications that were traditionally much more lifestyle-focused than scientifically inclined are now featuring stories about climate action. Climate writer Emily Atkin, author of the popular newsletter HEATED, recently published an eight-page spread called “The Razor’s Edge of a Warming World” in GQ.
Freelance creatives can also write directly for climate tech organizations. There’s a massive range of platforms in the space, including non-profit blogs and content hubs published by major corporations. There are also dedicated climate media companies like Pique Action, which produces “anti-doomscolling micro-documentaries” on technology solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.
And then there are the newsletters. I personally subscribe to about six, including van Osdol’s Keep Cool, which details everything from sustainability-focused startups to how world events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine impact the energy industry. For the more business-minded reader, there’s the Climate Tech VC newsletter by Sophie Purdom. Bloomberg also curates its own collection of climate-tech-focused news in its Bloomberg Green Daily email. For independent journalists, platforms like Substack and Patreon can be lucrative—but you’ll need to build your audience from scratch.
Of course, climate tech content goes beyond the written word. If you’re a designer, you can work directly for startups to build websites, create infographics, or design ebooks that help audiences visualize climate solutions. If audio is more your thing, you can turn to podcasting. Then, there’s an emerging slew of TikTok stars like Wood, who use the popular, short-form video format to expound on pressing issues via an intimate-feeling medium.
This was the only way to stop him from meowing in the background 😹 #goodclimatenews #ecotok #climatechange #climatecrisis #sustainability #climateoptimism #climatesolutions #sumatranrhino #solar #tennessee #tva #boston #ev #alaska #ipccreport #climateaction
“I like TikTok because it’s an open dialogue where [people] can ask me questions,” Wood told The Verge. “It feels like having more of a one-on-one conversation.”
Become a climate tech content creator
If you’re interested in breaking into climate tech content, here are a few baby steps:
- Familiarize yourself with relevant terminology and industry lingo.
- Subscribe to existing climate tech newsletters, podcasts, or blogs.
- Connect with relevant industry experts on Twitter, or begin publishing your own content on LinkedIn.
- Create a list of companies or publications you’d like to make content for.
- Craft your first few pitches.
Finally, you’ll want to read up on the practice of greenwashing—when a company purports to be environmentally minded for marketing purposes but isn’t actually taking impactful action—to detect if the brands on your radar actually stand behind their sustainability claims.
Van Osdol recognizes that not everyone who consumes climate-focused media constantly is able to stay positive—but for him, the work is more hopeful than disillusioning. “Reading about, studying, and talking to founders who are working on climate tech every day makes me [feel better] about the future,” he said. “When you dig in and focus on individual people, firms, and technologies and all their potential, I think you’re much more likely to find balance, if not some hints of optimism.”Image by Visual Generation