It can be difficult to fathom why people are divided in their views about climate change in the first place. In environmental conferences, scientists and other academics who have gone through years of research to be worth their salt tirelessly explain and present factual basis to support the claim that the planet is in big trouble. When it comes to climate change effects, there should be no debate there. There’s very little room to deny or misinterpret cold hard facts, isn’t there?
And still, there are individuals who do not believe in climate change. For people in the grey area of the spectrum, this is mainly because they have not yet experienced climate education (and this is remedied, simply, by deploying climate activists to spread the word about climate change.) But there are also individuals or groups who actively deny climate change. Their motives can be quite clear: they are protecting government or business interests, specifically those who belong in industries that have been proven to have caused major environmental damage in their business operations. These individuals or groups can be powerful and convincing, and their diversion tactics can cause audiences, especially those whose minds are not made up yet, to doubt the message sent by environmental speakers.
This is where a climate change speaker comes in. Aside from putting in mobilisation work, such as showing up in protests, drafting calls and demands, and regularly updating their knowledge and research, a climate change speaker or climate activist also has the responsibility of improving the way they communicate climate change. The goal is to convince individuals across all demographics to join the environmental movement. This skill is filed under a subset of environmental action: climate change communication.
Climate change communication focuses on the framing
Effective climate change communication prioritises the way the message is said over the message itself. Science communicators usually bombard audiences with scientific evidence, and the big words and numbers can be intimidating, especially to those who do not have the same background in scientific education. If science communicators want to communicate to audiences outside of the scientific community, they have to use the language of those audiences -- not their own scientific community’s language. Language here does not mean English, but “language” as in: what mental tools does a person or group use to grasp a concept?
The key is in the framing of the message. For example, one framing technique is getting familiar with the lifestyle of the audience and then using aspects of that lifestyle to coat the message with. If a climate change speaker is speaking to students, for example, he or she will use parts of their daily life to introduce the climate message: they might introduce the problem of air pollution by starting with a hypothetical scenario of a student’s morning commute. Or if a science communicator is speaking to a faith-based group, the group may benefit from parallels between parables or religious stories and the current environmental condition.
This is how climate change communication achieves its desired results. When you lay down the facts in a way that’s easy to digest, you are more than likely to convince individuals to believe in your message.
Climate change communication uses a little poetry
Despite the many changes and advancements in human society, one thing that really stayed with us is our penchant for telling and hearing stories. In the case of climate change communication, what proved to be effective is parallelising the Earth’s climate history with stories that people may be more familiar with. For example, when climate change is framed as a “war”, people are more likely to associate climate change with concepts like: destruction, death, struggle, cooperation and groupthink, and most of all, the promise of victory. The metaphor of “war” instills in audiences just enough fear to produce courage, determination, and interest in joining the ranks of other climate activists.
Another effective metaphor is the medical metaphor, where the Earth is likened to the human body battling a life-threatening disease. The Earth produces symptoms (in the form of melting glaciers, droughts, and heat waves), and there’s an uncertainty in the prognosis, and treatment involves managing side effects -- but if we want to go straight to the cure, that is possible with cooperation.
These are only some examples of storytelling styles incorporated in climate change communication. With continued effort, more of these can be discovered and developed.
Effective Climate Change Communication Is Needed Now More Than Ever
Every day, the planet and its inhabitants suffer climate change’s effects. The worst part is that the degree of suffering varies across demographics, positions in the economic ladder, and the health of politics and governance in a given area. People who live in urbanised areas and are relatively more well-off than others can simply turn their air-conditioner on when the heat becomes unbearable (even though that actually makes air quality worse). But there are poorer areas whose residents are so affected by increasing global heat that they end up getting displaced -- they move out of their homes in search of one with better weather or a more reliable water source. Oftentimes, they do this without a guarantee that they will be successful, but they do it in the name of survival anyway.
The biggest challenge for a climate change speaker therefore is how to instill empathy in people. How might one person from one side of the world empathise with those who live far away? How might human beings empathise with animals or marine species whose survival is being threatened by climate change? Most importantly, how can science communicators convince governments and other powerful groups to act on the problem now?
Experienced environmental speakers will know what to do. In Australia, one of the key people organisations can count on for climate education is a long-time environmental activist and former MP member Ian Cohen. Ian’s active participation in the Australian environmental movement has enabled him to gather important insights on Australia and the world’s environmental issues, and his message is one that many people look out for during environmental conferences.
Interested in having Ian over at your next event? Just head on over to the Ian Cohen website to schedule an appointment. For your enquiries, don’t hesitate to leave a message on the contact form found on there.