I must have always loved animals, because I don’t remember ever starting to. Bugs, crows, frogs, and the rhinos on the nature programs on TV — I relate to them all. This interest in wildlife quickly led me to conservation, and climate change because, well, my animal peers couldn’t vote*, so I would.
But it wasn’t till 2021 that I dove into climate and sustainability research in a big way, and longer still till I found my voice writing about it.
Until then, I’d been studying engineering subjects tangentially related to climate, such as spacecraft that could be used for climate, how renewable energy sources worked, etc.
I felt like I didn’t know the terminology that was used in environmental circles. Climate is such an interesting cross-cutting problem that you need multiple approaches to really understand it — from the lenses of atmospheric science, ecology, technology, economics, policy and regulation…
Each with its own concepts, terms, and history.
So, I set myself structured reading projects, each about 3 months long, with a specific reading list. I made blog updates as I worked my way through, if you want to see how I did it.
Here’s the first one I did in Jan-Mar 2022 (setup, day 1, days 2–3, days 3–6, recap), where I got started with the basics, by reading the science and policy reports that were in the news at the time. It got me familiar with the types of language used.
Since then, climate action has become a much bigger and ongoing part of my life, and research just fits in with the rest. I don’t do these structured reading projects any more, but I still write about interesting tidbits I find in my Research Dispatch series. And I have a roundup of climate news over here.
Two years into my research quest, I gave a TEDx talk about climate change! It was a crystallization of everything I was learning, and an exciting, creative experience.
I believe finding our voices and bringing them to the climate movement is an important way to contribute. And if I can do it, you can too!
Puvungna (also spelled Puvunga) is a sacred site with a rich history and cultural significance for the Tongva, Acjachemen and other Southern California tribes. For thousands of years, Puvungna was a village, a site of gathering, and believed to be the place of emergence of the world and the Tongva people.
The greater boundaries of the site extended from SE Long Beach, through the Los Cerritos Wetlands to the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, consistent with the CA Native American Heritage Commission’s listing of the Sacred Site of Puvungna.
The wetland ecosystem of this site supports a variety of wildlife, including marine life and migratory birds.
The most accessible and well-known part of Puvungna is located on the campus of Cal State University Long Beach (CSULB), and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 as Puvunga Village. Today, a variety of community events are held there to celebrate the land’s history and highlight the need for protection.
Despite the site’s cultural and ecological significance, Puvungna is at risk from oil drilling, illegal dumping and misguided “restoration” projects that are actually anything but. You can read more about these issues here.
About a year ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to try giving a TEDx talk. I remembered reading on a blog somewhere that it was a good way to reach new readers, and I was looking for non-social-media ways to build a platform for my climate writing.
My best work happens from behind a screen in complete solitude, so this would be… different. But I really hate social media, so I’d do anything else that had a shot at working.
I started preparing to apply to TEDx events.
Full disclosure: I took a class on how to do it, because I don’t like figuring out logistical matters, and I prefer to pay someone who has. Still, the basics are simple, and if you want to give it a try, it’s very possible on your own. Each TEDx event, by location, has its own website and its own application form (e.g.). They mostly ask variations on similar questions.
If you want to try this, search the internet for TEDx events, study a few of their application forms, and identify the typical questions. Then, refine your talk idea and prepare stock answers to common questions. It helps when you apply to a TON of them.
The class was a shortcut to knowing the steps to take + training on public speaking. My super-short, honest review of it is:
Pricey, but did what it said it would.
The sales side of the organization was overzealous and made a bad first impression. The teaching side really knew their stuff.
While preparing, I worked on a climate-related idea for a talk. I’d been writing about climate and sustainability for a while, here onmy website and overon Medium.
The big thing I needed to do was simplify, simplify, simplify the idea. Subjects I’ve written entire blog posts or series about could only be referenced in a single line or phrase.
I didn’t love that — I like to build an argument with lots of supporting evidence and rigor, but I was willing to adapt to the much shorter medium. The key here (apparently) is to storytell, appeal to emotion, and entertain first.
So, I made an outline and filled out some 60-odd applications, including short pitches, a bio, video samples, etc.
Then I fizzled out a bit and turned my attention to other projects. I got the occasional acknowledgement or request for additional info from event organizers, but mostly silence.
Early this year, I got a call out of the blue, saying I’d been selected to speak at TEDx San Antonio. I punched the air and whooped when I hung up. I’d pitched my climate talk to a zillion events, and I got picked by the one event that had a climate theme.
I had under two months to prepare. I dusted off my old talk outline. Since writing it, I’d learned a bunch and developed even more ideas about climate and sustainability, and I wanted to include them in my talk. I more or less rewrote it. I did many rounds of brainstorming on paper:
speaking into a recorder while looking at my outline,
transcribing and cutting the transcript down into a new outline,
speaking into a recorder while looking at it, etc.
I did most of the development orally, because, well, it’s a talk, and I wanted it to sound like one. I can get a bit too structured when I’m writing by hand.
The event assigned me a ‘curator’ — basically, a past speaker to guide me through the process. He had lots of great advice and insights on how to develop my script.
I kept having to cut bits and pieces, since I had only 10 minutes to speak. I iterated on those words more than I have on anything.
I also practiced in front of people (just reading aloud, since I hadn’t learned it by heart yet), workshopping it with their feedback.
With each review, I was spending more and more of my precious minutes on the initial rapport-building sections. I started to think of the script like a prose poem or standup routine — entirely different in function than the articles I usually write.
It was uncomfortable, because I’m usually a get-to-the-point-quick person, and I like to build a strong argument. I made peace with it by assuring myself I’d make and release an annotated transcript with all the footnotes and references my heart desired. For the interested listener.
The event organizers had a preparation process with a couple of checkpoints where we speakers sent recordings of our talks for feedback. So I made several versions of those, focusing on the content and the words, and I kept checking with them that I was trending in the right direction. They reassured me that I was.
My script was converging on its final state. It had every point I considered important, and I’d cut everything I could. So, I did a few rounds of rapid memorization, section by section, talking really fast under my breath. I exaggerated the cadence of the words, and tweaked phrases in the script if they came out clunky or messed with my rhythm.
I tried working on the delivery a tiny bit, but I found it hard to do alone in my study. I never knew where to look when I talked.
Once I had it all in my head, I made a final recording for feedback before heading to the airport. It was finally time to go to San Antonio, a day early for a practice run.
In the university building where the event was held, I met the organizers, production team, and other speakers in person.
The production team were really experienced, and it was fascinating to watch them work. There was an improvisational, makeshift quality to the preparations, but they also knew what aspects were important to get right. There were sound checks and lighting checks, and we practiced entering and exiting the stage. Rehearsal was both organized and adaptable.
I was able to do a full run-through of my talk, but I was too distracted by all the instructions to deliver it quite the way I wanted to. Still, being on the stage and knowing what it was like gave me a confidence-boost.
By an amazing near-coincidence, my family were in town and able to attend in-person, so I picked them up after rehearsal.
I went to bed right after dinner, around 9pm. It would be an early start the next day, so I set numerous alarms on all my devices. I woke at 1am with a stiff neck, so I stretched it out, loosened up, and went back to sleep.
Then I woke at 7, nice and fresh. I showered, slung my blazer over my shoulder, and walked down to the university building.
A volunteer directed me to the green room (which I’d been to yesterday but I promptly forgot the directions), where a few of the other speakers were pacing and talking excitedly.
There was a rumored carafe of coffee on its way. I made a beeline for a plate of fruit on the table and went to work on some grapes and strawberries. I’d been craving fruit. I held the strawberry carefully over a cup at my chin. It wouldn’t do to get strawberry juice on my white shirt.
Someone called me to the stage for a final sound check, so I got mic’ed up and did a couple of paragraphs of my talk.
My fellow speakers had been very kind and complimentary about my talk the day before. So I didn’t need to worry about ‘making the talk good’ anymore, since at least some people thought it already was.
Though that added pressure too — what if I flubbed it at the last moment? What if this was one of those stories of “Oh that talk was actually good till the final delivery, can you believe it?”
The possibility just crossed my mind, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I was actually feeling pretty good. Most of my stress had been about the preparation process, like I’d forget or bungle some vital step. But I’d succeeded at preparing and I hadn’t overslept. I didn’t need to worry about that any more, just what was in front of me. I quickly visualized walking out and starting to speak, so I wouldn’t hesitate.
The last of the other speakers filed in, and a volunteer with the much-awaited coffee arrived. I carefully poured myself one-third of a cup, black. Moderation.
The first speaker went out. I was second.
Someone got me an index card, and I started to make a super-backup extreme-emergency flashcard with the start of every paragraph of my talk. Just to have in my pocket if I completely lost my place. I didn’t think I would — it was more of a safety blanket. I made about two-thirds of it when it was my cue. I scrunched the card into my pocket and followed the volunteer in the red T-shirt to the wings.
The previous speaker was finishing up. She sounded great, and that was encouraging. I bounced a bit on my heels, shook out my wrists. I stared up at the rope system that controlled the curtains, and various other objects. Fidgeted, breathed deep, felt the excitement.
So then I went out, looked around. Spotted my parents and sister in the middle row. I wouldn’t look at them again till the end, since I was afraid of being distracted.
I started speaking, nice and slow, so I’d have leeway to recall the next line if I needed it.
I had wondered what I’d do with my hands and observed the other speakers. I usually splay my fingers when I talk, but my middle and ring finger kept trembling. It was distracting because I didn’t want anyone to notice. So I pressed my fingers together into a karate-chop hand.
My voice sounded alright in my ears. I deviated very slightly from my script and recovered. A couple of people in the audience nodded along and smiled, and I felt reassured.
I got to the end and finally looked back at my folks with a big smile. I stuck around for the applause, for a long moment. I’d been advised to stay on stage till it felt awkward, so I did. I finally turned on my heel and marched off.
In the wings, a couple of volunteers and speakers thumped my back. Big grins. I pulled out my phone to a few nice messages from my sister and my friends who’d been watching the livestream remotely.
This was fun, and I wanted to do it again! I had it all memorized. I could go right back out and do it a couple more times — get it even more perfect. Getting applause is nice, isn’t it? Doesn’t happen often in my day-to-day life of writing alone.
I bounced back to the green room, refilled my coffee cup from before all the way to the top, and started filling my face with strawberries. I could get as caffeinated and spill as much strawberry juice on myself as I wanted now.
The rest of the day, I wandered around the building, relaxed and in a celebratory mood, watching and cheering the other speakers, chatting with attendees, and generally being aimless.
It was a blast, and I think I have the public speaking bug. Who’d have thought?
Another InkPrepNoWriCember update, this time about environmental stuff!
Here, I’m making a drawing for a collaborative art project I’m doing with an environmental group. The drawing is about ways to be strategic about environmental action, and new metrics we can use.
Specifically, alternatives to the idea of our individual carbon footprints.
A lot of people try to strategize their environmental action by minimizing their carbon footprint. And this isn’t bad or anything. They’re basically trying to affect the economy, through their market participation. And the hope is that enough people do this, that the market for environmentally unfriendly products dries up to the extent that companies feel incentivized to make these changes.
The problem is the carbon footprint as a metric leaves out a lot of avenues for action by focusing entirely on your buying decisions. And that is one way to influence our collective carbon footprint (which is what actually matters).
But it’s not the only way. And arguably, it’s not even the best way.
The other problem with optimizing your personal individual carbon footprint is that beyond a point, any action you take is just a form of perfectionism without making much of a difference to our collective carbon footprint.
As you probably know, the changes we make as individuals have a much smaller impact than changes made by governments and corporations. So our individual choices in consumption only matter to the extent that they affect governments and corporations.
Our perfectionism about our carbon footprints is awfully convenient for big corporations.
Researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes write: ‘The very notion of a personal “carbon footprint,” for example, was first popularized in 2004–2006 by oil firm BP as part of its $100+ million per year “beyond petroleum” US media campaign.’
So the overemphasis of personal carbon footprints has basically been a way of deflecting focus from the parties really responsible.
And the changes that we need need to come from governments and corporations, among other entities.
And we might be thinking, Well, I’m not a government or a corporation. So what can I do?
And what I’m trying to express here is that there’s actually a world of possibilities of things we can do. We have influence over governments, corporations, culture, or social groups. And we knew that we had influence on them through our buying actions. But there’s also other ways.
For example, companies care about their brands, and so they care about your opinion of them. So expressing that opinion affects them, and incentivizes them to change. And likewise, voting, speaking to representatives, speaking to other voters, all of these types of advocacy, have an influence on governments and society and culture at large.
So I think a small tweak in how we measure ourselves and what we optimize for when taking environmental action can make a huge difference.
And whatever progress the environmental movement has made, it has been made by groups of individuals working together. If we’re more strategic about it, just imagine how much more effective we could be and how much more progress we could make.
So that’s what I’m trying to convey with this drawing.
Novel update: I finally finished reading my draft. I read it more or less backwards – I started with the last few chapters than the middle at the beginning.
As I got closer to the beginning, the writing got better and better, which was encouraging, because I’d spent a lot of time revising the first portion of the novel. It was so much better than the rest, so now I’m excited to repeat the same process on the remaining chapters.
So that’s what I’ll be doing next. I’ll be reacquainting myself with the editing process I used on the first chapters, and making a plan to apply it again.
For a while now, I’ve been curious about how climate advocacy works at the city level. A city sits right at the sweet spot of being accessible for most of us to talk to, while being able to make impact at scale.
It turns out there is plenty to do in my area of Redondo Beach! (If you’re local to Redondo Beach and want to help out, hit me up at kannapan[at]deeptikannapan.com.)
Here is a brief timeline of my explorations so far:
Jan – Mar 2022: As part of my first Research Quest, I read about the city-level intiative of pledging and tracking emissions reductions called Race to Zero, and got curious about Redondo Beach was part of it. It wasn’t.
June 2022: I started calling and emailing my city council members to ask if we wanted to join Race to Zero.
August 2022: While waiting for replies to my emails, I wrote letters to the editor to my local newspaper, urging all the neighboring cities to join Race to Zero. While doing this, I got a series of introductions to my local climate advocacy groups. My calendar started filling up with meetings with them – it was like getting the co-curricular fever in freshman year.
By this time, I had found and started reading the Redondo Beach Climate Action Plan that was adopted in 2017. I started pivoting my goal away from Race to Zero and toward looking for ways to help with the climate action plan.
So I started enquiring with the city about how progress with the plan was going, and I also finally worked up the courage to go to a city council meeting. I wrote about it here.
October 2022: From my enquiries, I learned that there had been no action to speak of on the Climate Action Plan. Hoping to help that change, I started reaching out to contacts at the climate advocacy groups I joined.
Everyone I spoke to was super-encouraging and bursting with tips and knowledge. So [after a brief interlude to freak out about the US midterm elections], it’s time to put all of those ideas into action!
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This page will be where I post updates on this project as it continues!