Despite Trump’s loopy protestations, climate change is causing havoc. At the same time scientists and governments are struggling to get the message across. We’re mired in a weird inverse proportion scenario where the more frantic global warming warnings get, the less people listen. We need to work together to turn things around. We’re failing so far. So how can we pull it off?
Putting the climate change message across
Is climate change simply too scary to contemplate? Personally I can’t think of anything more frightening than being threatened by the very planet you live on. When an entire planetary climate rebels against you, there’s not much recourse. You’re stuffed. Is that why so few of us want to absorb the climate change message?
Maybe the news is so bad that we’ve tuned out. Endless bad news does, after all, result in compassion failure. But this isn’t just a matter of ignoring something mildly inconvenient. Assuming climate change continues at the current rate, our children and grandchildren will suffer. Air pollution will kill more of them. Global warming will make their lives difficult, if not dangerous or even impossible.
If you fly just once a year, you contribute a lot more than your fair share of CO2 emissions to the party. Fly frequently and you’re a chronic emissions sinner: not a popular message but a true one. Road traffic generates 20% of CO2 emissions, but I bet you drive even though relying on fossil fuels means you’re adding to the problem every time you get into your car.
These terrifyingly negative messages, powerful as they might be, are not working. If a very real threat to our precious offspring doesn’t galvanise us, what on earth will?
Is selling climate change a communications issue?
So threats don’t work. Maybe a lack of balance is the problem. At the moment you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing we can do about global warming, that it’s too late, that there’s no point in even trying, that individual efforts are meaningless.
As an ex-marketer I know that positive messages are far more potent than negative ones. And almost every piece of climate-related news I’ve ever some across majors on the negative. Perhaps it’s time to start talking about climate change triumphs?
As any New Scientist reader knows, there are countless good news stories about the sterling efforts scientists and others are making to slow the warming. Many are inspirational, whether they’re individual projects or profound changes brought about by villages, towns, cities, even entire countries. There are plenty of people pulling out the stops to defend our kids’ future, but we rarely if ever get to find out about them.
I think we deserve better than the current stream of relentlessly terrible climate news. If we redress the communications balance we might free up some badly-needed optimism and get everyone moving in the right direction, working shoulder to shoulder. On the other hand people might still wander around with their fingers in their ears. But at least we’ll have tried every angle.