We are tired of urging for climate action. Is it time for a new narrative?
By Beth and Kaitlyn
The skill we think that everyone should have is communication. Climate change has been a hot topic over the past year (no pun intended). Unfortunately, humanity has less than ten years to reverse its catastrophic effects (Watts, 2018). How does this statement make you feel? People commonly react to this type of communication with feelings of fear and hopelessness. The climate crisis is real, and it is scary, but by no means is it an impossible task. The world continues to face the climate crisis, not due to a lack of solutions, but rather, due to our inability to effectively communicate them (Hayhoe, 2019). Scientists have been suggesting solutions to the climate crisis for decades. However, they have rarely been listened to. We must transform the way we communicate these issues. The responsibility of climate change communication lies not only on the backs of scientists and politicians but also on us. We must start by outlining the problem and suggesting clear, tangible, and relevant recommendations to solve the climate crisis. That sounds simple enough, right? Well, it is! To be good communicators in a time of global unease, we must know our audience, apply climate change to their world, and recommend tangible actions in their lives.
Fear does not motivate us; knowledge does.
The question is: How do we do this?
Know your audience
Values and motivations are the ingredients to behaviors. For example, when we care about our family members, we will do absolutely anything in our ability to protect them. Similarly, we can be captivated by stories of heartbreak and suffering from young leaders such as Malala Yousafzai and or Greta Thunberg (Blumberg, 2020; Thunberg, 2019). We can sympathize with their stories and align them with our own life story . Storytelling is one of many ways that communicators can engage others about real-life experiences with climate change. Whether it is a flood or a wildfire, our lived experience with climate change is becoming increasingly common. To inspire the best response, we must tell stories about climate change that:
● Start with the heart. Everybody cares about climate change for some reason; we just have to find out what it is! Whether it may be how it affects their livelihood, community, or their favourite activity. We must empathize with our audience and begin telling our stories by talking about what matters the most to them. There are always ways to connect with people about what matters to them because climate action is fundamental for an equitable, just and sustainable society. Plus, it pays off financially. Think, “What are the underlying values someone has?” and go from there. A group of financial advisors may care more about the economic effects of climate change. In contrast, a group of backpackers may care more about its impact on the natural beauties of Mother Earth.
● Address a collective experience. Understand that caring about climate change can be a universal experience. No one needs to be part of a particular political party to care about climate change; they simply need to understand how it affects the things they care about.
Create a shift in thinking. When we use personal stories to connect to real-world issues and scenarios (not abstract ideas) and touch on issues that matter to the audience, we inspire our communities, friends, family, and the global community to take action.
Introduce climate change into your audience’s world
Once we understand what motivates us, we need to connect the dots to solve climate change in our daily lives. Over 70% of the U.S. general public believes that climate change is happening as we speak. However, even with this high statistic, only 30% believe climate change will impact them personally (EESI, 2019). We understand that climate change is upon us, but we often hold it at arm’s length, distancing ourselves from its reality in our lives. Countless disaster researchers have shown that people rarely act on issues until the effects have been realized in their communities, at which point, mitigation is too late (Coppola, 2007). As humans, we are conditioned to focus on a ‘recovery’ response and not on ‘mitigation’ or ‘preparation’. However, the climate crisis provides us with no option for recovery and a road that cannot be rebuilt after destroying the only home we have (unless life on Mars becomes an option… and fast!). If we can showcase the benefits of acting on climate change immediately and dismantle its barriers, we can educate more people about climate action (McKenzie-Moore, 2011).
Provide them with solutions to act
The communication gap between climate change and climate action lies with the people who take in information. We are constantly consuming and being influenced by messaging in the news, social media, and every internet angle. However, our current messaging around climate change lacks hope and tangible calls to action. We always speak of doom and gloom and that there is nothing we can do about it. But messaging isn’t only a one-way conversation - we have the ability to change our behavior and influence others to do the same. There is no silver bullet to solve climate change, but countless solutions that exist need to be communicated effectively to move the wheel. But ultimately, without hope, there is no action. We’re here to tell you that climate mitigation IS possible. We know the answers. Science has the answers. We must remain hopeful, we must act, and we must encourage others to act as well.
Now more than ever, we need to create a vision of a better future, especially as we plan for a post-pandemic world. It all starts with communication.
We would love to hear about how communication impacts your life. Please fill out and share our global survey.
About the Authors
Beth Eden is the Project Lead for a pilot project with Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Youth initiative focused on communicating science and evidence-based recommendations for sustainable development and climate change to the general public. She was previously the National Youth Network Coordinator for SDSN Canada launching SDG alliances across universities and colleges in Canada. She recently graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies in Environment and Business and currently works as an international sustainability consultant focusing on youth, climate, and SDG related projects.
Kaitlyn McLay is the Research Coordinator for a pilot project with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Youth that intends to effectively communicate scientific research to the general public. Her love of the Earth and her passion for environmental healing guided her to study Community Development with Environmental and Sustainability Studies at Acadia University, where she recently volunteered with SDSN Youth as Acadia University’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Coordinator.
● Blumberg, N. (2020, April 24). Malala Yousafzai. Retrieved July 01, 2020, from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Malala-Yousafzai
● Coppola, D. P. (2007). Introduction to international disaster management. Butterworth Heinemann.
● Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) (2019, May 24). What’s Wrong With the Way We Communicate Climate Change? Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.eesi.org/articles/view/whats-wrong-with-the-way-we-communicate-climate-change
● Katherine Hayhoe. (2019). The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it. TED. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BvcToPZCLI
● Mackenzie-Mohr, D. (2011). Fostering sustainable behavior: An introduction to community-based social marketing. British Columbia, Canada: New Publishers Society.
● Thunberg, G. (2019, January). The disarming case to act right now on climate change. Ted Talks. https://www.ted.com/speakers/greta_thunberg
● Watts, J. (2018, October 8). We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN. The Guardian. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report