Burning questions: Who speaks up? (Opinion)

Jaena Bloomquist
Jaena Bloomquist

Trees and introverts: a perfect pairing? Or are trees themselves the ultimate introverts?

Being a member of the latter group and having a considerable fondness for a certain member of the former group, an inscrutable Aspen named Rupert who occupies the right corner of my backyard, I have begun to wonder about that.

Certainly, neither of us talk much, at least around folks we don’t know well. But is it that we have nothing to say? I’d wager that Rupert has quite a lot to say, in his way. But he speaks in a different way than you or I do: With the rustle of leaves, the bending of branches under snow, the swaying of his upper limbs in the wind, the gentle shudder of a slim branch when a bird lands on it. Trees’ speech is subtle, and quiet, and slow.

The human public sphere, on the other hand, is a noisy place these days, with our 24-hour news cycle and instant online articles that anyone with an internet connection can comment on, send into viral status—or ignore. Social media provides yet another medium for people to speak up, for better or worse.

And when people do speak up, what do they talk about? To some extent it depends on the medium; something that goes viral on TikTok or Instagram is likely more lighthearted, while comments on news articles –particularly topics perceived as controversial such as racial or gender issues, civil rights, immigration or climate change– are often angry or derisive. How many folks, though, are quietly reading the articles or watching the videos and never speaking up? How many folks’ opinions go unheard?

Harkening to my favorite (well, not favorite, but most pressing) topic, climate change, there is an interesting disconnect between the level of interest and the level of talk. For example, looking at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication maps (see Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2021 – Yale Program on Climate Change Communication), last updated in fall of 2021, the overall percentage of the U.S. population who were “worried about globing warming” was 65%, while the percentage of adults who “discuss global warming at least occasionally” stood at just 35%. So nearly a third of the folks who are worried rarely, if ever, talk about it.

My guess? Quite a few of those quiet worriers are introverts.

Katharine Hayhoe, renowned climate scientist, states in her 2021 book Saving Us, “Talking may sound simple, almost too simple. But here’s the thing: most of us are not doing it. Even people who are alarmed and concerned about climate change tend to ‘self-silence’ on the topic, says Nathan Geiger, a communications researcher. They want to speak up, and they know it’s important, but they can’t get the words out of their mouths.” (Hayhoe p. 217)

I certainly identify with that dilemma. In fact, for me personally, it was only in the last handful of years, when wildfires started ravaging various parts of the American West on a nearly yearly rotation, that I finally started to feel that deep, gnawing unease: the growing realization that this topic must be talked about, and acted upon, if we are to save our kids (not to mention ourselves) from a future filled with ever-worsening weather events and their ripple effects.

So I, a pretty straightforward introvert (no ambivert here, thank you! Phone calls and doorbells are among the most frightening sounds in the world if you ask me), started speaking up, uncomfortable though it was.

I think Rupert is speaking up too, in his way. When his leaves droop in the smoke, or his branches bend and crack under the moisture-heavy snow, he is speaking.

If only we will listen.

Jaena Bloomquist is a Truckee resident and mother of two. She is a writer, editor, and climate advocate. She can be reached at

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