(Image Above Not a Video)
No, this isn’t a post about climate denialism. I’m a climate activist, and I read a lot of posts and statements like the following.
We are facing the hottest years in the history of mankind. 50 million Americans are under a heat advisory. Extreme heat is killing people around the globe, causing drought and crop failure, as well as extreme flooding. It’s happening just as scientists warned us, only a lot more rapidly. It’s hot. We’re all going to die.
NOOooooo. All of the statements above are true. But please stop! Stop telling me only that it’s hot! It doesn’t do any good. It makes me feel fatigued, apathetic, and powerless. Sometimes it sounds like, “I told you so!” Despite our bias toward facts, we are not rational creatures.
A lot of media coverage is simply capitalizing on the sizzle of the heat problem. Many of us echo this approach in our social media posts. (See image above.) It’s like we’re trying to prove that climate change is real by focusing on the problem. This approach hasn’t worked in climate communications during the last 40 years. Did Martin Luther King Jr. just say, “I have a problem?”
My statement about heat above is missing something. Rather, ask … so what?
More people are becoming aware of the crisis we face with the climate. Hot weather, forest fires, drought and floods tend to do this. But how we communicate about it is very important. We need to attract people to our vision. This is the “I have a dream…” part of MLK’s speech.
Part of the problem is that fossil fuel companies and their PR firms want you to give up. Doomism is the new denial. They know that when we are defeated that it is much easier to sell us on the idea that only they can keep the lights on, keep us cool, or solve climate issues. We run the risk of persuading people that there is nothing we can do about the climate crisis by simply screaming, “It’s hot!” These companies have a vested interest in continuing their absurdity and will sell us another lie, like they will take carbon out of the air so they can continue pumping and burning fossil fuels. Buying into their doomism is especially easy without us supporting it. It’s easy when we don’t share our own alternative vision, our solutions, and our successes. People are be attracted to this approach. They want to know that the problem can be solved and they have agency.
So here are a few ideas:
- Talk to your friends and family. Share your story and what you’re doing.
- Focus on more than just the problem. Focus as well on our vision, our solutions, and our successes.
- Don’t get involved in trying to prove climate change is real, or arguing with denialists.
- Share our values and why we do this work.
What does this sound like? Here’s my story.
I have 1268 residences in my community with severe energy burden. No one should have to choose between paying outrageous energy bills in severe heat and putting food on the table for their families.
But local utilities and the Public Services commission they have in their pockets are blocking everything from rooftop solar to energy efficiency and electrification. Why? Just so they can pad their already obscene profits.
Our vision is a thriving community that is entirely equitable, delightfully livable and completely sustainable through our clean energy programs. We deserve a livable future for our families. Our city has committed to 100% clean energy by 2030. We’ve installed 258 solar rooftops with more on the way. Our schools and municipal buildings are installing solar and heat pumps. We are launching Revovize to bring energy efficiency and electrification to 3,000 homes. Why? Because we care about our families, our neighbors and our futures.
We know you do too. We’d be proud to have you join us <call to action>. Thanks for all you do.
All these statements are true. But the communication focus is the following. Values first. Then who, what, and why is violating those values. Then add our vision along with past successes (to combat cynicism.) Return to our values and a call to action recognizing that people may already share our values and might find themselves just like us.
Look, I’m not trying to discount the seriousness of the current signals we are receiving from the climate. It is scary. We need to talk to our leaders and demand action. It is urgent and business as usual is not the answer.
We do still need to connect what is happening with heat to climate, but this is insufficient by itself. We also need to talk differently to those who may not appreciate the gravity of our current situation. Inspire them. Call them to a greater purpose and ask for their help. We can make progress by making them feel like they are part of our movement already.
Thanks again for all you do.
We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking