Over the past few years it has struck me how the climate change movement and the numerous presentations I have watched in person or online try to move people to action through fear and numbers.
First, lets address the numbers issue. All too often referring to large scale problems whether it is gun violence, road trauma or other major issue refer to numbers as a means to get people to take action or adjust behaviour. However, over the past twenty years I have noticed that people cannot grasp numbers too well especially those of large proportions (e.g. millions or billions) as it is not a number they deal with on a day to day basis. Also, time and numbers also creates a numbness and is why people often switch off when listening to people discuss the impacts of climate change because for some people they can’t see the impact of sea level change when discussed as a problem that will impact in 2025 or 2030 or 2050. Due to the nature of people’s attention spans being ever slowly reduced to seconds, it is hard to expect them to think in years and decades.
Second, fear is often the way we try to get people to listen and to change behaviour. The fear of consequences is what our parents used, teachers used and governments use to change our behaviour. However, like numbers this continual method of use fear and consequence to change behaviour is waning with people starting to realise that they can live with the consequences as it the impact is spend over so many that it has little impact on their day to day lives.
How do we get the message of the importance of climate change and the need as a species to take hold? There is two methods we need to use – group action and visual solutions.
Group Action – We often try to get people to change individually (through fear and guilt) to make an impact, however often it falls on deaf ears as they feel that changing their own lives doesn’t have a big impact on problems that are larger than life. Therefore, it is better to education people about groups (community, city, state, country, worldwide) they can join and how they can get the message out to broader audience using large numbers of people and how they can influence government, companies, and organisations through group action.
Visual Solutions – all too often the message we provide around climate change is are numbers, or the consequences such as the maps showing flooding of Manhattan or Shanghai or another large city. We need to show solutions and results in photos, diagrams, videos, animation and other visual formats. An image can move people, showing people images of reef that was once lost and now reborn, or a river delta that has been saved with oyster reefs or a wetland park that is mitigating flooding as part of “sponge cities” in China. These images have impact along with information provide people with a message of hope that there are solutions.
Climate change is one of largest problems the world has ever faced, but we will only create solutions and save the world by changing the message from one of fear to one of solutions.