Climate communication often fails to engage, and here is what we've found out
In previous blog entries, we have begun to address some of the issues we have encountered when trying to learn more about Climate Change. In this entry, we’ll discuss our perspective on the gaps in climate communication. Tying with the Cuiz Game Design ‘climate values’, we’ll try to clarify that climate communication should be tackled from hope and not from fear, it should be learned & reinforced within a social setting. To make climate communication more relatable we propose it should be tailored for its target audience, in this case, a game.
What is the current situation for climate communication?
How did we get here?
As it stands today, communicating climate change has proven to be a hard task. There are several interests at play and, on top of that, there is the complication of translating thick and technical knowledge to most of us that are not educated in the matter. There are some whose interest is to dismiss climate change as an issue outright. Evidence of fossil fuel companies’ knowing the harm of their industry decades in advance1 tells us that there is much to be gained from lies and misinformation. On the other hand, the efforts to counter these lies with more lies on the “green side”1 seem to be different sides of the same coin.
Climate communication has suffered multiple shifts in the narrative that have been a direct result of multiple stakeholders trying to infuse their agendas into it. Because of that, the common knowledge that the public has on the matter has become somewhat convoluted and confusing. Thus, we need to change the way we approach climate communication to make it more engaging and clearer.
Currently, big corporations have changed their behavior towards what is known as “greenwashing”. This term was first used by the activist Jay Westerveld in 1983 to describe how hotel companies were encouraging clients to reuse towels to help the environment when, in truth, they were doing it to reduce costs4. This has become a common practice since, and now many companies try to appeal to the environmentalist side of clients in order to push their agendas in a very sophisticated way5. Many Fast Fashion giants like H&M and Zara6 have been accused of greenwashing but only a few cases have been taken to court. It was not until recently when a petrol titan such as Shell was taken to court for greenwashing in the Netherlands. This is such an important case since it creates a precedent for future greenwashing and companies will think twice before doing it.
Mechanisms of misinformation make it so much more necessary for climate communication to be precise, concise, and clear to those who are not educated on the matter. We need to increase literacy and make it in a way that is included in everyone’s daily life.
*A good example of clever climate communication is Ed Hawkins' warming stripes graphics, they portray global warming since 1850 as a series of color-coded stripes, purposely devoid of scientific notation to be quickly understandable by non-scientists.
Since the 1980s, when Climate Change found itself a way into conversations not exclusive to the scientific community, how we understand climate change and, more importantly, how we communicate it, has changed drastically7. Traditionally, when communicating complex topics such as climate change, the media have referred to the recipients as “the public''. Nonetheless, throughout the years this has proven to be erratic and imprecise and, with all the advances in communication and all the new media, we should be looking at “publics' ' instead of one unified public8. Moreover, Climate change has been conventionally communicated using complicated scientific language that not everyone can understand. Hence, the way we communicate climate must change to cater to different audiences9,10 and to make it in a way that is easy to grasp for those who are not fluent in “scientist”. This will surely facilitate the different audiences to engage more personally with the problem, rather than listen to it as something hard to relate to both because it is distant to them and because it is explained with complicated language.
Climate communication up to this date tries to convey the seriousness of the topic by appealing to the more “doomist” side of things and exploiting the fear behind it. While this is a very potent tool, and surely gets too many people through it, it also causes reluctance in many demographics, especially in those that are already in denial about it8. Clear examples of this are how many states that we are destroying the planet and that, because of us, cities will sink, and millions will suffer. While this is not necessarily wrong, it tries to convey the seriousness of the topic from a pessimistic and aggressive point of view. However, there are newer trends that want to shift the discourse towards a more hopeful and engaging tone through a more supportive predisposition. Some studies have shown that when the public are engaged with balanced optimism and with co-producing intention, it is easier for the information to sink in9. Encouraging climate action with support and hope seems to be quite fruitful.
1. Susanna Rustin. How we talk about the climate crisis is increasingly crucial to tackling it | Susanna Rustin | The Guardian. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/may/17/talk-about-climate-crisis-tackling?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other (2021).
2. Millman, O. Oil firms knew decades ago fossil fuels posed grave health risks, files reveal | Air pollution | The Guardian. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/18/oil-industry-fossil-fuels-air-pollution-documents (2021).
3. Mann, M. E. The new climate war the fight to take back our planet. Scribe (2021).
4. Whellams, M. Greenwashing. Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society 1676–1679 (2018).
5. Watson, B. The troubling evolution of corporate greenwashing | Guardian sustainable business | The Guardian. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/aug/20/greenwashing-environmentalism-lies-companies (2016).
6. Petter, O. H&M accused of ‘greenwashing’ over plans to make clothes from sustainable fabric | The Independent | The Independent. Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/hm-greenwashing-sustainable-circulose-venetia-falconer-manna-a9312566.html (2020).
7. Moser, S. C. Communicating climate change: History, challenges, process and future directions. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 1, 31–53 (2010).
8. Priest, Susanna. Communicating Climate Change The Path Forward. (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016). doi:10.1057/978-1-137-58579-0.
9. Mcloughlin, N. et al. Climate communication in practice: how are we engaging the UK public on climate change? The Climate Communication Project Project team Report authors and survey design Editing & Production. www.climateoutreach.org (2018).
10. Priest, Susanna. Communicating Climate Change The Path Forward. (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016). doi:10.1057/978-1-137-58579-0.