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Communicating Climate Change

For many years scientists have been trying to “sell” us the impacts of climate change – the problem is, many people still aren’t buying. Although widespread attention has been given to the threats of climate change and the impacts it is likely to have around the world, this hasn’t held us back from running headlong towards it. With a recent resurgence in denial despite the science behind it becoming increasingly more solid and unquestionable than ever, perhaps it is no longer just a scientific problem but more of a communication problem.

Communicating climate change to colleagues can appear very daunting, for many people it simply isn’t on their radar, it can so often mean encountering indifference or even mistrust. We need to learn how to sell the ‘sizzle’!

We have taken some tips from a report by sustainability and communication consultancy, Futerra on how to go about communicating a clear climate change message. The message is built around a simple 4 step narrative which focuses on “selling” the positive vision of a low carbon world rather than opening on a gloomy note addressing the negative impacts of climate change, telling people what they can’t do, or delving too deep into the science.

Step 1. Vision – communication should be opened positively, helping people to create a desirable mental picture of a low carbon future which reflects common values and needs. People are not necessarily disagreeing or misunderstanding the climate message, they are just not listening. Therefore, capturing the audiences’ attention is key. Futerra suggest the following tips to help with this: make things visual by describing what a low carbon economy would look like; link to national or local impacts and images; ensure it is desirable - find out what your audience would want; and leave out any dates and figures.

Step 2. Choice – following on from the above, the next stage is to address the alternative vision of unmitigated climate change and highlight the importance that it’s a choice of two paths. Link the problem with the solution and make sure to keep your audience at the heart of the story, for example, consider looking at climate change impacts on health (rather than perhaps using the image of a polar bear on ice). The idea is to make the audience recognise that a low carbon future looks pretty good and climate change looks decidedly unattractive in comparison.

Step 3. Plan – this is the part where you can set realistic, achievable goals for the workplace, where everyone can play a part – just like a save@work action plan!

Step 4. Action – Futerra describe this final step as “specific personal actions that everyone can do to help steer us away from danger and towards progress, freedom and a 21st century that looks better than 20th”. Keep actions specific and clear on how they will help you to reach that vision. Try the following - give everyone something to do but make sure there is a direct link to the vision; emphasise how each step will bring you closer to the goal; use numbers if you’re promoting specific policies or initiatives; always address personal payback “what’s in it for me?”; give your audience something to do immediately, not tomorrow or the next week, but right now.

Good luck!

Utopia Flickr
For more tips and information, we think you might find the following resources useful:

  • Sizzle – the new climate message report from Futerra Sustainability Communications.
  • Engaging your community about climate change by the Centre of Sustainable Energy. Although this is community focused, there are some useful tips for different forms of communication and dealing with tricky questions.
  • A general ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ blog by Grist magazine on talking Climate Change.
  • Skeptical Science is a website dedicated to explaining climate change science and rebutting climate change misinformation.

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