Climate AdaptationThe First Rule Is: Don’t Talk About Climate Change

The First Rule Is: Don’t Talk About Climate Change

Karl Dickinson
Karl Dickinson
Change matters. It takes courage. As a writer - and citizen - I am inspired by stories of those who challenge the 'we've always done it this way' attitude. We can do better - it's time to listen to those who go against the grain.

How to communicate about climate in a way that drives real and sustainable change

  • The problem: The doom and gloom language we constantly hear around human-caused climate change makes people feel helpless. Without hope there is no motivation to act.
  • Why it matters: By adopting better ways to communicate about climate, we rally people to do what is needed to preserve the environment we love – the only one we have.
  • The solution: Take a fresh and personal approach using positive language that offers achievable solutions. In the face of a global-scale challenge, remember that individuals can only do so much – and celebrate when they do.

For so long, urgency has dominated the way we talk about climate change. We trust this to motivate preventative action, but progress has been slow because the scope is too grand: humans do not think in existential terms.

To use a well-worn phrase, time is running out. Rehashing tired cliches and the same old messages won’t help solve this conundrum. The way we communicate needs to change.

Downscale Your Targets

As a writer for, I interview people leading on some of the most impactful sustainable urban transitions in mobility, energy, infrastructure, construction, food systems, etc.

Whatever their sector, the end goal is always the same: cutting harmful emissions and creating equitable, liveable cities. In other words, they’re fighting climate change, they just don’t frame it that way.

These change-makers tackle the effects of climate change, the component parts that affect us as individuals at a local scale.

In doing so, they make the challenges relatable and the solutions tangible. This forms the core of effective climate messaging.

Get Personal

Our CityChangers are a diverse bunch but share one common characteristic: they tell stories of hope.

This is reassuringly fresh. It stands out against the grim picture of urgency that climate messaging usually paints, leaving us feeling helpless and disconnected.

Remoulding communications to focus on positivity creates a sense that individuals can make a difference. That’s what we need to hear.

Humans are emotional creatures, so bring this to life with good news stories – case studies – told by peers and how it affected them – how it gives them a buzz.

In an urban setting, for example, greenery has plenty of practical advantages – from cooling to water management – but for the people who live there, it’s about how they feel: closer to nature, calmer, happier. This resonates widely.

Galvanise this with positive reinforcement. Praising accomplishments is a powerful tool for turning climate action into long-term lifestyle habits.

Get Practical

Praise is often overlooked, however, as goalposts move.

Take recycling: now a staple household chore but, as one expert told me, recycling is only “the worst good thing” you can do after reducing, reusing and repairing.

As our know-how evolves in line with science, so too must our messages. But be careful not to undermine the goodwill of those engaged in some form of climate action. Doing something is always better than doing nothing and criticism quickly leads to disenfranchisement and inaction.

People will only act, however, if they know how.

Messaging fails because we have a habit of dropping the “climate change bomb” without offering up practical advice.

Every message should include simple guidance – a clear and achievable call to action. The good news stories we share should demonstrate what change looks like and how easy and effective it is.

We must communicate what individuals stand to gain personally.

So, while the UK government targets home energy retrofits as a means to cut carbon emissions, the conversation should focus on household’s return on investment – lower energy bills and warmer homes – rather than national climate targets.

And don’t feel that you – or your audience – must solve every challenge at once.

Choose the idea that promises the biggest impact and knuckle down for a longer-term strategy or take on a series of less substantial quick wins that cumulate to a bigger impact and offer up frequent chances to wax lyrical about how well your public are responding to the crisis.

Taking on climate change requires, counterintuitively, shifting discussions away from the bigger picture and focusing on the solutions – not the problems – making them relatable and attractive. We need to spell out what is asked of people and when they do it, their efforts and achievements should be acknowledged. Overall, it is practical knowledge and positivity that will enable us to win the war of climate urgency.

Just, avoid calling it a crisis.

This article was originally written for Apolitical. View the original post here.

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