Reframing Climate Change Now
by Susan C. Strong, Founder, The Metaphor Project, http://www.metaphorproject.org
Two big things have happened recently on the climate change front. The first, of course, is Peter Gleick's great personal sacrifice--his desperate gamble taken to expose the Heartland Institute's planned assault on climate science in our schools, funded by the Kochs and other fossil fuel interests.(1) The second big thing is coming from the kids themselves. Back in May, 2011 seven teenagers filed a total of ten lawsuits charging the federal government with violating the public trust by failing to take action against climate change.(2) The preliminary hearing has just been moved to Washington, D.C., though not yet scheduled. Powerful as these two new initiatives are now and will be as they unfold further in the courts, something else is needed right now, and fast. Climate change deniers are still winning way too much of the time. The arguments and methods we have been using for so long have already persuaded those who do respond to them. We have to stop preaching to the choir. That means we must improve the way we frame climate change for mainstream audiences, the "swing voters" on this issue.
Here's what I suggested recently in a talk given to a group of climate change communicators:
l. Say "climate change," not global warming. Yes, I know the planet is warming, but for the general American public, a few degrees of warming doesn't sound very scary. Also, if it has been snowing or freezing unseasonably where they live, some Americans find that unconvincing. People are a lot better at knowing if their "climate" is changing.
2. Talk about "carbon," not CO2 or Greenhouse gases. This should be obvious, but here it is, spelled out: Americans like to be clean, safe, and healthy. Too much carbon is dirty, unsafe, and bad for your health. Moreover, you can see too much "carbon" in the air. Seeing, touching, smelling, and hearing are very important channels of persuasion for many Americans. Co2 just sounds like something normal or geekish, and "greenhouses" are good, right?
3. Stop using charts and graphs to convey the message. Take the information they contain and make it into serious, elegant cartoon videos like The Story of Stuff, <http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/ >, and get them on YouTube. Be sure to also include some video or photo coverage of real local people doing local "climate protection" projects together. A wonderful example of a local project here in
4. Stop showing pictures of polar bears, or penguins, or even melting glaciers. Show pictures of children and people who are being or will be harmed by local climate change instead. Talk about local impacts! I mean very local, like disastrous floods, storms, weird weather, and drought in the place your audience lives. Follow this immediately with some examples of positive local action.
5. Use kids as your spokespeople; it's their future we are wrecking. Talk about "buying insurance" for their future by taking the steps we need to now, before it is too late. Make it clear that you don't mean insurance from some company; apparently, insurance companies have palmed off climate change damage costs to local or regional governments, another scandal that should be exposed, though not in a general public education campaign.(4) Just mention in passing that actual climate change insurance is woefully inadequate, and that it is up to us to take preventive action ourselves--that's the best insurance policy for our kids.