Why climate change is the biggest comms challenge of our time
23 Jun 2022
“The world is in trouble. Continents are on fire, gases are melting. Coral reefs are dying, fish are disappearing from our oceans – the list goes on and on… Saving our planet is now a communications challenge. We know what to do, we just need the will.”
That was a quote from David Attenborough in 2020. And two years later, that will have been brought into question by the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), scientists belonging to the group say it’s “now or never” to limit global warming.
We have some of the biggest and brightest minds working on solutions; carbon capture devices, 5G-based smart grids, modular floating wind… the list goes on. As things stand, we’re so deep in the rabbit hole, it stands to reason we’re trying to use all our technological prowess to get us back out.
But technology isn’t the only solution to saving our planet.
Answers is nature
At Harvard, we’re working with Justdiggit, an organisation that provides nature-based solutions to climate change. Teaming up with farmers on the ground in Africa, the NGO helps restore dry land, with proven regreening techniques such as rainwater harvesting, tree restoration and developing grass seedbanks.
An estimated 37% of the climate problem can be solved through the application of nature-based solutions. And while this isn’t sufficient on its own stabilise the climate, Justdiggit’s methods are some of the fastest, most scalable and affordable ways to do so.
However, communicating these solutions to a continent of 1.2 billion people isn’t easy. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, the medium is the message. Which is why projects such as Justdiggit’s Stream to Regreen and Raindance festival are so important, helping to raise awareness in Africa (and Europe) through song and dance.
But language plays an obviously important part in this too.
In 2019, The Guardian decided to alter its own communication practices when it came to how the publication referred to certain terms. For instance, climate change is now rephrased as climate emergency, crisis or breakdown. Global warming is now global heating. As Katherine Viner, editor-in-chief said:
“The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity. Increasingly, climate scientists and organisations from the UN to the Met Office are changing their terminology, and using stronger language to describe the situation we’re in.”
Outside of that, there are wider communications challenges to engage populations elsewhere to not only reduce their own emissions where possible, but also proactively challenge their policy makers and fight for real change – not just for their children’s generations, but their own.
We need to address real people’s questions, such as: what does 1.5C of warming actually mean for my own livelihood?
If China, India, the US and other nations aren’t bothering to adhere to climate change policies and targets, why should we?
I’m struggling with the cost of living as it is, so why should I prioritise something that isn’t impacting me right now?
The comms challenge
So, as comms professionals, our real challenge becomes: how do we convince people that their voice matters?
We’ve got our own Climate Action Group within Harvard and our Group VCCP Business to develop policies, challenge the status quo and raise awareness about climate issues and other environmental topics.
But this is only a small part of the puzzle and requires change from an individual, corporate and government level to fully tackle. And a solid communications plan to go with it.
With so much else going on in the world, we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball.
Let’s see the wood from the trees and make a change.