The science is more robust than ever, but public awareness hasn’t risen. Political will is stagnating, and the climate is playing second fiddle to the economy on the international agenda. It’s not lack of information, argue Futerra, the sustainability communications agency. It’s a matter of presentation. “Climate change is no longer a scientist’s problem – it’s now a salesman’s problem”.
Their advice is to stop talking science, and start telling stories. Or to draw on 1940s advertising theorist Elmer Wheeler, “don’t sell the sausage – sell the sizzle!” In particular, the climate change future is hellish. It casts doomsday visions of rising seas, melting ice, killer heatwaves and freak weather. It’s a future nobody wants, but that seems inevitable. The doom is so vast and tragic that all action looks futile. The result is either paralysing fear, or denial. Neither of these gets us anywhere. It’s time to change the story. Say Futerra, “we must build a visual and compelling vision of low carbon heaven.”
It’s not a new idea. After years of wondering where I should focus my own energies, I bypassed the campaigning route to get involved in Transition Towns, precisely because they’re positive. Taking climate change, peak oil and the recession together, here’s a community-centred movement that starts at home, one town at a time, and moves together towards sustainability. It’s simple, one step at a time. It’s positive, and it’s powerful. It builds community, gets neighbours working alongside each other.
Keeping it positive and selling a vision is also what SmartMeme suggest, another communications agency, and describe in their book Re:imagining change.
So what do Futerra bring that’s new? Some interesting perspectives and observations, new ways to describe things. Images and stories are for the vision, which comes first. Facts and figures are for the plan, which comes afterwards. Make things as local as possible. Know your audience, both those that accept the challenge of climate change and those that don’t. And keep that positive vision front and centre:
“Open all and every communication with the promise of heaven. In just one sentence you can describe a desirable and descriptive mental picture of a low carbon future. This captures the imagination and taps into those starved and withered emotions: hope, a sense of progress and excitement about tomorrow.”
In our local Transition group, we talk about creating a ‘vibrant, resilient and low carbon Luton’ in an effort to avoid the idea of a dull and worthy green future.
Anyway, if you’re working on communicating climate change, Sizzle is worth browsing. You might find some of the media-speak a little irritating, but it’s an important reminder. You can download it here.
- feature image by Karsten Würth (@inf1783)