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How to talk about climate change

  • Published at 08:13 pm November 16th, 2016
  • Last updated at 04:37 pm March 30th, 2017
How to talk about climate change
The media is abuzz with news of climate change, but how many people are really getting the message? This question was the central theme of a discussion titled ‘Communicating Climate Change’ organised yesterday by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the International Climate Negotiations COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco. “The negotiations have primarily emphasised on technical dimensions, but we need to devote more attention to the human dimensions of climate change,” said Gregg B Walker of Faculties of Communication of Oregon State University. Walker said it is important to focus on three key human dimensions – culture, conflict management and collaboration. “Climate policies need to be culturally appropriate,” he said, elaborating that members of relevant cultural communities need to be engaged as partners and leaders throughout the implementation process, and traditional knowledge - indigenous and local - should be incorporated in climate change interventions. He added that working in collaboration with civil society and grassroots representatives who are closer to the people is crucial. “We need to sincerely listen to the people who are suffering the impacts, and convey those messages,” Walker said. Marda Kirn, director of EcoArts Connections of Boulder, Colorado, USA, focused on the importance of incorporating arts in climate messaging. Kirn gave the example of Kim Abeles’ creative Presidential Commemorative Smog Plates whereby portraits were made of various US presidents using particles from polluted air. Abeles left dinner plates covered with stencil on rooftops for various lengths of time depending on how much a particular president cared for the environment. Once the stencil was removed, the Presidents’ portrait in the smog was revealed, along with their quotes on the environment. Kim Abeles’ smog collector commission reached a dollar amount of three million and reached 30 million people, making it one of the most effective media campaigns. “Logic is often not enough,” Kirn said, adding that it was necessary to have cognition (mind, intellect, facts, reasoning, analysis i.e. the what) and affect (emotions, heart, feelings, attitudes, values and beliefs i.e. so what) working together to create the desired ‘effect’. That’s how we make people care.” Kirn cited the example of High Water Line project in New York and Miami, which engages community people in visualising climate change induced projected sea level rise through public arts activities. “We need songs and poetry. We need to show people various ways to contribute based on their comparative advantages,” said Max Boykoff of the Comparative Institute of Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), of the University of Colorado Boulder, where he is working on creating a climate communication project to build capacity of students. “We need to work smarter, not necessarily harder for climate communication,’ he added. Kirn ended the session with examples from literature that effectively rallied people behind causes. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin made it possible for thousands of people to question a difficult, deeply ingrained issue (slavery) and envision a different world, and that is what we have to do with climate change messaging,” she said. “And for that we need a Copernican shift”.
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