In 2012 Laura Bates started the Everyday Sexism Project, a website where women could report incidences of sexism they had experienced in their everyday lives. It was a way of highlighting the issue at its most subtle, in our little interactions around the workplace and in public life. We know sexism, or racism too for that matter, at its extremes. We may not be so sensitive to it in its common garden varieties, and so it continues. By calling it out, in this case online, we can make sure that it doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s no longer okay, not something to be brushed off.
That’s something that Andrew Simms has learned from and is trying to apply to the world of climate change. Most of us are aware of climate change and might generally agree that we should do something about it. In practice, it never crosses our minds. It isn’t embedded in the media, or in our politics. In fact it is constantly undermined. The messages encouraging us to carry on driving, flying, and consuming as normal vastly outnumber the environmental messages we might encounter.
So Simms is calling out #DailyClimateDenial on a Twitter feed, and on the blog of the New Weather Institute. “Sometimes all it can take to break the spell is for someone to start pointing things out. So, the next time you see a patio heater outside a pub warming thin air and not much else, or other such acts of egregious daily climate denial, snap it, hashtag it, and share it.”
Part of me likes this idea. The silence around climate change is a huge part of the problem. We just don’t talk about it, and George Marshall has written very intelligently about why. Pointing out hypocrisy or blind spots could be helpful. I’m just not quite sure about the hashtag #DailyClimateDenial. It’s entirely true to the psychological definition of ‘denial’, where we live as if something isn’t happening. But we’re more used to using the word to mean refuting something, to say something isn’t true or didn’t happen – ‘we didn’t collude with the Russians’, that sort of thing. In a climate change context, denial has meant people who refuse to accept the science, and it may muddy the waters to start calling out hypocrisy or just inconsistency as denial.
For example, Simms calls #DailyClimateDenial on Elon Musk because he wants humans to visit Mars. Musk clearly gets climate change, and has invested a huge amount of time, money and effort into productive enterprises that are part of the solution. He’s also a billionaire sci-fi fan who dreams of inter-planetary travel. Those are not mutually exclusive interests. (I hope we get to travel to Mars too, eventually.)
So I’m not entirely comfortable with this particular campaign. However, Simms also says he was inspired by the ‘all male panels’ campaign, which picked on the specific issue of female under-representation on panel discussions. That was much more tongue in cheek, and made its serious point with disarming irony – often ‘congratulating’ organisers with a picture of David Hasslehoff giving a thumbs up. I suspect that a campaign highlighting the silence around climate change would be more successful if it had a bit more humour in it. Tone is important, and hashtags are more likely to be used and retweeted if there’s a sense of mischief about them, rather than just telling people off.
I can’t claim to have a better idea – maybe something about #ClimateSilence rather than denial? I’m not sure. If you can think of a better hashtag, let me know.