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Ryan Schleeter joins The Climate Center as its first Communications Director

Ryan Schleeter

I’m thrilled to join The Climate Center and help build the movement for a Climate-Safe California. As Communications Director, I’ll be focusing on new approaches to engagement and advocacy for The Climate Center that put you — our members, supporters, and activists — at the center of the story. 

The climate crisis is a particularly sticky problem for social movement communicators. Climate change is a sprawling, complex challenge. It’s as much about science as it is about social norms and politics. For a long time, though, environmental activists were not good at communicating about climate change. Our instincts betrayed us when it came to framing climate change for everyday people. We over-explained, pointing to the latest science but forgetting about the human stories behind our data. When we did tell stories, we defaulted to scenes of climate apocalypse that caused people to disengage, feeling scared and overwhelmed. And While we were trying to get people to listen to the facts, fossil fuel corporations were waging a decades-long campaign to sow doubt about basic climate science. 

Presented with a landscape steeped in fear, polarization, and defeatism, today’s climate communicators are taking a different approach. We know now that to succeed, movements need both science and stories.

Working with communications researchers and at Greenpeace — where I spent six years before coming to The Climate Center — I’ve looked for climate stories that make science accessible and change irresistible. The stories that compel people to action, not burnout. I’ve seen with my own friends and family how rooting conversations about climate in values like justice, freedom, and community as opposed to fear and polarization help more people see a role for themselves in the climate movement. 

As we shifted the way we talked about climate during my time at Greenpeace, some interesting things happened. We started to build power with new and sometimes unexpected allies. We released research on public health with the Movement for Black Lives and advocated for COVID recovery legislation alongside major labor unions, helping to advance social and environmental justice at the same time. And because of this more holistic approach, we started to reach more people. It turns out that people want to be part of a movement that allows them to act on their values, not just their fears. 

I came to The Climate Center because I believe in the ambition of our Climate-Safe California campaign. Our goal is for California to remove more climate pollution from the atmosphere than we emit by 2030, an achievement that would literally save lives. Not only are we going to reduce climate pollution, we’re going to create jobs, build more resilient communities, and improve public health at the same time. That’s a future worth fighting for. 

It sounds like a huge leap, but we have the science and technology to make this vision a reality. What we still need is the story. I’m honored to help write that story, and I hope to hear from you — the heroes of our story — every step of the way. Reach out to me at ryan@theclimatecenter.org or find me on Twitter. Together we’ll build the movement that wins a climate-safe future for California and beyond.