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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Challenges and Opportunities of Communicating Climate Change

Sustainability Communications Lunch with Tim Nuthall
At this month’s Sustainability Communications Lunch we were joined by Tim Nuthall, Media Manager of the Energy Strategy Centre at the European Climate Foundation.

After giving us a brief walk through of his career, Tim outlined the major challenges and opportunities of communicating climate change.

The Challenges

1/ Scepticism
Climate sceptics can be divided into three categories: a) ideological sceptics, who are not interested in addressing themselves to the facts b) the disgruntled, who disagree with one particular issue in the climate debate c) the paid, who have a vested interest in climate change denial.

2/ Psychological Challenge
Humans often do not act in accordance with things they know to be true.  Even people who are convinced about climate change and the threats it poses often do not live their lives as if this were the case.

3/ Balance of Evidence
No matter how overwhelming the support for climate science is the media will always find someone with a contradictory view.

4/ Political Inertia and General Fatigue
The lack of political will to act on climate change has led to a feeling of fatigue and a loss of any sense of urgency among the general public.

5/ Political Polarisation
The climate debate has increasingly become a left vs. right issue, which distracts from the severity of the problem itself.  

Tim quoted Upton Sinclair when summarising the challenges: "It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."  However, as Tim reassured us, it isn’t all doom and gloom.  He also highlighted several exciting opportunities that climate change communications present.

The Opportunities

1/ Stubbornness of the Evidence
Sadly, in terms of scientific data nothing is going in the right direction.  Climate change communicators can harness this to effectively get their message across.

2/ Storytelling
Although room for improvement remains, those working in climate change communications are getting increasingly better at storytelling.

3/ New Narratives
Tim’s favourite example of effective climate change communications is Bill McKibben’s ‘Do the Math’ roadshow.  Modelled on techniques used during the apartheid struggle in South Africa, the campaign encourages people to divest from fossil fuels.  The recent decision of Stanford University to divest from coal companies shows how effective innovative new approaches like this can be.

4/ The Internet
How we share information and campaign has been transformed, bringing lots of opportunities for effective climate communications.

5/ Public Concern and Interest
Public involvement about climate change is growing.  When the online campaigning platform Avaaz poll their members on what global issue means the most to them climate change consistently tops the list.

6/ The Pope
The Pope’s recent statements about the need to protect God’s creation represent what is hopefully a broader trend of religious leaders getting involved in the climate movement.

7/ Black Swans
Black Swans are those unexpected events that put the climate agenda firmly in the public domain.  Prime examples include Fukishima and Hurricane Sandy.

Sustainability Consult is very grateful to Tim for participating and sharing these valuable insights.  We are already looking forward to our next Sustainability Communications Lunch on 23 June!  

Blog by Naomi Alexander, Personal Assistant and Community Manager at Brussels-based sustainability communications and PR agency Sustainability Consult. 

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