Concern about climate change is going up, yet willingness to take action is flat-lining. Getting people to care isn’t enough. We need to tell new stories of climate winning.
Let me tell you a story.
Now, I’m fairly new to the “climate scene” – but having worked with large NGOs, foundations and funders, curated for TED and TEDxLondon and co-hosted a #1 climate podcast for the past three years – I’ve learnt a tonne about the climate communications challenges we face.
And I have some insights into how we can make it better.
Picture this: incredible scientists over the last 40, 50, 60 years have dedicated their lives to trying to convince everyone about the effects of pollution and a heating planet.
Millions of kids all over the world took to the streets in 2018 and started the Fridays for Future movement – protesting to get world leaders to sit up and listen.
Pacific Islanders, Indigenous Peoples, communities of colour, Global Majority: anyone who’s lived through extreme weather events – have been telling us for decades– you’re destroying our homes and our communities.
And it’s been working.
Concern about climate change is going up an extra 17%, compared with a decade ago.
And yet it feels like nothing has changed.
Governments keep using the excuse that, “we need to prioritise the economy”.
Businesses keep using the excuse that, “people don’t want to buy green products”.
And public willingness to take action is flat-lining.
If people care more, why aren’t we taking more action? Making the changes required?
Q. We have the solutions we need – why are we not running with those solutions?
A. Hopelessness and despair created by those with vested interests are controlling the narrative.
Clever storytelling, legal clout and financial and political influence – some of the best campaigners and PR experts have been bought by the bad guys and used to spin up the tightest grip across every piece of critical infrastructure that keeps modern life working. (for a deep dive into Petroganda – the fossil fuel industry’s favourite narratives check out DRILLED)
The insight? Getting people to care isn’t enough.
“No-one wakes up in the morning and says it’s a great day for decarbonization.” – John Marshall
These iconic words are from John Marshall Potential Energy Coalition , a climate marketer who’s run 3 billion ads on what it takes to hit a home run when talking about climate change.
Last year I was interviewing John for the Climate Curious podcast when he revealed the number one message that is most effective across all demographics: LOVE.
“Think of doctors and nurses on the floor of an emergency department. Because of their training and their professional expertise, they instinctively and intuitively know how to deal with that endless stream of emergencies that is coming through the door. There is a person having a heart attack over there. Someone is bleeding heavily. They just know how to respond to that. Now, if you put me, as a layperson without any medical training, on that floor in the hospital, I’ll be running around like a headless chicken. I would not know what to do in that situation. And the problem is that when it comes to climate change, most of us are like the headless chicken. Most of us are like the lay person on the floor of an emergency department.” – Kris De Meyer
Wow. Mic drop moment, right?
It was for me.
We are all becoming increasingly aware about the massive climate storytelling challenge that we face – and for me, the solution we need, was crystallised during these two (and many other) conversations.
Let’s zoom out: the climate storytelling challenge
Last year’s Edelman’s Special Report: Trust and Climate Change told us just that: “3 in 4 are worried about climate change but the majority are pessimistic about solutions.” And the report goes on to show that:
“Fear-based communication may have gotten people to pay attention to climate change, but we need optimism to take action.”
So, while we’ve spent decades getting people to care, those who want to keep trashing the planet for profit have used those very same narratives to make people fearful, worried and pessimistic.
So, what now?
I believe we need to tell stories of winning. Stories of how we’ve used solutions to come together and make people’s lives better.
This different approach will enable us to lift out of this cloud of doom. To show us all that change is possible and inspire us to act.
In that same report from Edelman, they found that people are more likely to be optimistic if they:
- Having trust in institutions on climate,
- Believing companies will keep their climate commitments,
- Seeing climate progress and news that gives them hope,
- Believing solutions will provide a personal and societal benefit,
- Believing climate-friendly lifestyles are attractive.
3 and 4 stood out to me.
It’s all about the ‘how’
It doesn’t matter how much you care, if you don’t know what to do and how to do it.
- HOW have communities come together to cut out big utilities and create their own, cheaper, energy?
- HOW have parents made councils reduce speed limits and traffic near schools to reduce air pollution and rates of asthma?
- HOW has the world come together to heal the ozone layer?
- HOW have we supercharged the global transition to electric vehicles?
- HOW did Ecuador vote to halt oil drilling in Amazonian national park?
Like Kris De Meyer told us in his TEDxLondon Talk, being on the floor of a medical emergency room and being shouted at to “do something” doesn’t make you any more able to perform open heart surgery, if you’re not a surgeon!
“If we don’t know how to overcome the barriers that exist in the system and other people, then no amount of caring more can lead to doing more,” Kris says.
I.e. care and concern doesn’t always translate into action.
We want people to know and believe that the narrative we’re being sold by the fossil fuel industry, by global financial institutions and by governments is BS.
We need to give people the confidence and optimism to challenge the status quo.
We need to believe we can win.
By seeing how we have won.
So, in response to this, I’m dedicating myself this year to launching a new storytelling project: Climate winners – stories of success from the frontlines of climate action.
- I’m creating it for every single person who has ever felt “climate hopeless”.
- I’m creating it for every single parent who worries about their children’s futures.
- I’m creating it for every single person in the global south who saw their stories being cherry-picked, misspoken and manipulated in the international media.
- I’m creating it for every scientist that’s sat dejected in their office that their life’s work wasn’t enough to convince people that we needed to do something.
- I’m creating it for every startup or entrepreneur who knows their idea has the potential to change the world, but is struggling to find a way to articulate it in a way that gets it land.
How can you get involved?
I want to hear which stories of success that motivate and inspire you.
Drop me a DM if you’d like to talk about ‘Climate Winning’.
We’ve got six years left.
Let’s make 2024 count.