5 Tips on how to communicate about climate change
Rather than talking about whether the climate is changing or not, one should be concerned about how to prevent it as there is no doubt related to whether the climate is changing or not because it is.
Climate change may seem enigmatic at first when we dig deeper into the science behind it. However, it is easily comprehensible and if you want you can read my blogpost – is climate really changing?
These days more than ever conversations are taking place around the world centered around climate change and global warming. This is excellent news for our planet because to solve a problem we have to acknowledge it first. At times, people may find it difficult to talk about climate change and explain it to someone who is not that much educated or to someone who has little knowledge of science.
This blogpost will provide tips on how to effectively communicate about climate change.
1. You do not need (much) data:
The important catch here is that one does not need to tell people that the climate is changing or to make them worry about it as they already are aware. In other words, everyone knows that our planet is getting warmer. In spite of what media and politicians may want people to perceive, public awareness and concern about climate change is consistently high.
For people from the minority who are not aware, piles of data is still not required. One can communicate both the science of climate change and the urgency of mitigating it with some undisputed physics and three charts.
The Physics: carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. They absorb radiation from the sun which has been reflected off the earth and then re-emit this radiation in all directions, reflecting some of it back onto the earth. This heats it up. This is called the greenhouse effect. Do read the blogpost for more details - Is climate really changing?
a) CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased by an unprecedented amount if we look at the data of the last 800,000 years and this rise has taken place since the start of the industrial revolution. This is the direct result of the burning of fossil fuels. Moreover, it is happening at a time when, naturally, carbon dioxide levels should be decreasing.
b) Since the start of the industrial revolution, global average temperatures have skyrocketed because of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Humans have already caused 1°C of warming.
c) To meet the Paris Agreement temperature goals, emissions must peak before 2020 and rapidly decline to zero and for that to happen we have to make dramatic changes right now to keep the global average temperature below the dangerous levels.
2. Talk About what is already happening:
Most of the times when someone tries to convey the urgency of mitigating climate change, it is tempting to focus on the dreadful impacts we are likely to see if we carry on emitting at current levels as they sound big and dramatic, therefore, people may find it fascinating to talk about. However, big and dramatic is not always helpful, it can make the scale seem beyond what anyone can influence. Talking about things in the far-off future may seem so distant that it makes the whole thing unreal.
Rather one should talk about what humankind is experiencing already, 2011-2020 will be the warmest decade on record, with the warmest six years all being since 2015, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Arctic summer ice is declining rapidly, at a rate of 13% per decade since the 1970s. Extreme weather events, for example, heatwaves, droughts, and heavy rainfall are increasing in frequency due to climate change. These events lead to the loss of lives and livelihoods and social and political turmoil. These facts are real, present, and immediate and that is how one creates urgency.
3. Make projections personal:
Sometimes, it is worth discussing projections, particularly for people in areas that have not yet been affected as much – because everyone will be. If one does go into projections, he or she should get personal. When one gets personal it is easier to look at the impacts that climate change is going to have on that particular individual, this will motivate the person to act because now he or she can visualize how drastic the impacts are going to be. For example, if the humankind carries on emitting at the same pace:
- In Florida, sea levels will continue to rise, which means king tides (the very highest) will flood further inland every decade, resulting in houses uninsurable and potentially unsaleable.
- In Europe, heatwaves of the kind that occurred in 2003, killing more than 50,000 people, will become increasingly likely, leading to the deaths of millions of people in the coming future.
- In sub-Saharan Africa, a much higher risk of droughts will lead to insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity. Considering the fact that the increase in population is going to be highest in African countries, it becomes crucial that agricultural productivity is maintained because a higher population means more people to feed.
- In South Asia, countries such as the Himalayas which are the major source of water for billions of people will be affected badly.
4. Namedrop others who acknowledge climate change:
In every communication, the messenger is as important as the message. The world needs people who like to talk about climate change and not just the ones who are working on it. This principle extends to what one says as well, because referring to others, particularly when they are surprising, is a powerful trigger. Messengers like:
- The world’s biggest oil and gas companies, which acknowledge the reality of human-induced climate change.
- Investors, who are asking the CEOs of companies to consider the impact of their operations on climate change and the environment.
- Experts and decision-makers across the world, who say climate change is the biggest risk facing them.
- Insurance companies, who assess risk as their business.
5. Give people meaningful agency:
Finally, make sure that when one communicates about climate change, he or she gives people ideas for what they can meaningfully do. The important word here is meaningfully: too many campaigns over-shell insignificant actions such as boiling water in the kettle. There is no doubt that it makes a difference, but only a fractional one. People are not stupid; they know that cupfuls of hot water are not commensurate with climate change. This approach risks either diminishing the issue ( if boiling less water can solve it, then it cannot be that serious) or diminishing the individual (if that is all I can do, I am not going to do anything).
The most significant elements of most people’s carbon footprint are travel and home energy use, so tackle the difficult stuff first and one should talk to them about this, but recognize their responsibilities as well. Discussing what they can do as a part of a collective – in their community or workplace, for instance, less obvious actions such as changing one pension to a sustainable fund can also make a big difference over time.
In conclusion, it is crucial than ever that we start conversing about climate change and take dramatic steps to tackle it because the clock is ticking very fast and we have very little time left to prevent the catastrophic changes in climate, which will start an irreversible cycle of changes.
The article has been adapted from – https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/how-to-talk-about-climate-change-5-tips-from-the-front-lines/