Polar Bear : Poster Child

So, I’m standing in the G2 theatre at the School of Oriental and African Studies, after the “Sceptic Backlash” event, talking with two Climate Change activists, one Irish, one American.

The question arises : since our lifestyles are causing deadly Climate Change for people in other parts of the world, maybe we should have communications based around pictures of suffering children ?

I disagree. I point out that when the environmentalists put out posters about Polar Bears, that the audience pretty quickly realised that the Polar Bears were being used as a “poster child” for Climate Change, and they started to mock the campaigning.

Ten years ago, or even less, a poster depicting a tragic human or endangered animal was still a useful communications tool, but the potential recipients for these communications are now highly sceptical of this device, this attempt to pluck at their emotional/heart strings.

A poster is not useful, I say. What would be useful would be to have a long-running television series on how Climate Change is impacting a town or city in the Global South, or in the Arctic region – sort of like the engagement factor of a soap opera, but with a real-life Reality TV flavour.

I say, we have to get Climate Change under peoples’ noses, in their faces, all the time. More and more information needs to be presented to people, from old and new Media, establishment and informal web stuff.

I said that there has been a lot of criticism of one-shot shock communications, like the UK drink-drive infommercials, the UK Government’s “climate-drive” and “bedtime stories” infommercials, the National Health Service “cancer, sticks” advertisements, and some of the Greenpeace “phaser set to stun” environment campaign materials.

This kind of thing no longer gets through to people.

Even the really successful Smoking Causes Cancer tobacco product labelling is losing its impact – pictures of blackened lungs or no pictures of blackened lungs.

The young female American activist, with the obligatory nose ring, of course, took up my theme, and explained that where she comes from in the United States, if somebody is involved in a drink-drive accident, they are made to face the family of the victim, to see the results of their actions.

People need to be made aware, on an ongoing basis, of the results of the Global North’s use of Fossil Fuel energy.

It’s not a personal thing – communications should not be targeted at individual readers or viewers. If somebody tries to inform somebody else of the risks and realities of Climate Change, the message should not carry the idea that the hearer or viewer is personally responsible; and that they should repent in sackcloth and ashes and never use their car again.

Yet if all Climate Change communications are reduced to “this is a problem, and you need to believe this is a problem”, what can people do when they come to believe it ?

How do we take people on a journey of awakening, guiding them towards effective social and political engagement with the underlying causes of Climate Change ?

After all, it’s not the fault of ordinary people that Climate Change is happening. It’s the fault of those who continue to sell fossil fuels to us, who have made us dependent on products that they should be diversifying out of.

Climate Change is the fault of weak government, who dare not regulate against the monopoly on energy markets that the Oil and Gas (and Coal) companies have.

Climate Change is the fault of the Economy, with its constant drip-feed of messages to Consume.

Ordinary people are just doing the best they can, with the information they have.

People need more information about Climate Change.

For example, we need to have every weather segment on TV and Radio prefaced with a report on the state of the Cryosphere today – how far the Arctic has melted, how much snow and ice has been lost from mountains.

We need to have weather reports outlining the freak weather and extreme droughts and flooding taking place around the world.

We need business programmes and newspaper articles covering the failures in the grain harvests and other crops, the moves by governments and businesses to protect freshwater supplies, analysis of how heatwaves and other extreme weather are damaging enterprises and infrastructure.

You can’t just put up a poster and not deal with the emotional and political reaction it can cause. If you put up a poster, and the viewer has no way of interacting with the information, they will discount it, and become immune to the guilt that they think the poster is designed to trip.

Communications clientele are smarter than they used to be – they know when people are trying to manipulate their feelings – or even when they suspect people are trying to manipulate their feelings.

Let’s be honest, here. Quite a lot of Climate Change communications is deliberately of the “shock” variety – a one-way, short-term, quick-fire informational payload via Media.

But this has no value if it is not backed up with a narrative – an ongoing narrative – about how Climate Change is already impacting our lives and, more severely, the lives of the poorest – how it is a risk-multiplier in everything from freshwater supplies, through food growing to energy supply.

The threats are mounting. A catastrophe is possible.

We have to be prepared, and we have to help others be prepared.

A poster child will not suffice.

2 thoughts on “Polar Bear : Poster Child”

  1. Quote: ‘Let’s be honest, here. Quite a lot of Climate Change communications is deliberately of the “shock” variety – a one-way, short-term, quick-fire informational payload via Media. ‘

    And often misleading, or plain wrong, as well. Such as this little classic, the myth of the climate refugees (currently being airbrushed out of their history by UNEP): http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/04/15/the-un-disappears-50-million-climate-refugees-then-botches-the-disappearing-attempt/

    Gettind rid of shoddy PR would be good. Having a stronger grip on reality, as opposed to malevolent and self-serving fantasising about possible catastrophes, would be even better.

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