Future Imperfect podcast host Shane Carter is helping both young people and adults understand how climate change is affecting their California regions. We spoke to Carter about her journey through California as an environmental voice.
Can you tell us how you came to work in this space and arrived at Future Imperfect?
SC: I was a high school teacher for 18 years before I ended up in an office at UC Berkeley that does teacher learning programs primarily focused on international topics. I met Emily Schell (executive director of the California Global Education Project) because the CGEP work aligns pretty closely with my work. I initially pitched a podcast idea called Points in Between, which interviews people who came to the United States as students and experienced America through its schools. After we did that one, I wanted to do another podcast and had become really interested in the impact of climate change. I spoke to Emily about it and zeroed in on the idea of building it around the state climate change assessment.
How did you connect with Nancy Freitas, the scientific voice of the podcast?
SC: Nancy was finishing her MA at the time and was working to measure the impact of Arctic lakes in climate modeling. I reached out to her, and she read all of the California regional climate change assessments and discussed them with me. She listened to the student interviews and did additional research, which you hear from her in each of the episodes. She’s invaluable in making sure I’m describing the science accurately.
What is your ultimate goal with Future Imperfect?
SC: To help young people and adults understand how climate change is going to affect their homes—especially young people. When I interviewed youth for the podcast and asked about their understanding of climate change, almost all of them talked about it in global terms. Very few of them were able to understand what might happen in their own areas.
What has been your takeaway from discussing climate change with youth—what stands out?
SC: They always knew more about climate change than they thought they did. They might initially say they didn’t understand it, but then I’d say, “Well, tell me about a heatwave,” and then they’d be able to tell me this big story about its impact, how power went out, etc. So I wanted to try to make people who are listening realize that they have already experienced some of what we’re anticipating with climate change.
What is your sense for how youth feel about climate change?
SC: I’ve found that many of them have quite a level of anxiety about it. Even the young people I spoke to who are activists, they didn’t necessarily seem to me to be particularly hopeful. They just knew they were fighting an uphill fight that is almost existential. It was something they felt they had to do but they understood how big the fight was.
What do you think makes young people uniquely qualified to create change?
SC: They have less investment in the way things currently are, and a good future requires pretty significant changes. It’s harder for me at almost age 50 to think about that because I don’t want to give certain things up—I’m afraid of certain changes. They have less of that fear and can imagine a better future without the baggage of the past. Also, democracy at the local level requires more time than most working adults have. And it actually is a space where I think people in their teens could conceivably have quite an outsized level of power.
How do you think climate change should be reflected in school settings?
SC: I think it has to show up outside of science class. It’s something that should be showing up in literature, especially if people are reading science fiction; it should be showing up in history classes, in the form of climate history, in social studies, global issues in economics, and art classes. It’s clear to me that every type of skill is necessary both to try to curb carbon emission, adapt to climate change, and to imagine what that future world might look like. Science teachers have been carrying too much of that for a long time.
The podcast sees you explore different California regions with each episode—can you speak to some of what you’ve learned about them?
SC: It’s hard to point to one thing or region, but I think what I have learned more than anything is how the state fits together. And, as a person that grew up on the East Coast where water is plentiful, I’ve learned the extent to which California’s water system created the state and ties the state together today. I talked about this in one of the two San Joaquin episodes. It defines the physical geography of the state—you would almost be able to draw the entire state boundary based on just looking at watersheds in the water system.
What can we next expect from the podcast?
SC: We’ll have a Bay Area episode shortly and then the last two regions (Sacramento and North Coast). After the regions are finished, the plan is to focus on water and fire. We’ve spoken to people in agriculture and a climate historian and we’ll take it in more of a thematic direction.