The truth about climate change

Liar, liar, globe on fire — why green professionals don’t tell the whole truth about climate change

“The truth about climate change? Well…” How and why environmental professional may not always tell the whole truth about climate change — And how you can inspire immediate climate action.

 

A few weeks ago, I did something I had never done before.

 

I made a video for my friends and family, and for the first time ever, spoke publicly about the actual state of climate change. Then, I shared the video on Facebook.

 

In other words: I told the truth, openly.

 

“The truth about climate change? Well…Shit’s on fire, yo.”

… said no one.

 

I would not classify myself as a lier. In fact, I’m pretty bad at lying, to the point where anyone can tell if I’m not enjoying my food, or my new Christmas sweater.

But for the past many years, whenever I have spoken publically about climate change, I have done so with a filter.

 

The only time I would have an honest conversation about the newest NASA results, carbon readings, or water shortage projections, was when I had one-on-one conversations.

 

The reason? Climate change is fucking scary.

 

Telling the truth about climate change

 

In a face-to-face conversation, I can sit a friend down and explain exactly what direction the world is heading in.

And every day the news gets worse. But I can have the hard conversation while providing real-time emotional support, as well as concrete advice on what the individual can do to act on climate change.

The truth about climate change

Mass-communicating the information leaves me with fewer tools to ensure that the receiving end is ok and feels empowered, not depressed.

 

You may at this point be thinking ‘I’m a bit of an overly sensitive snowflake, who wants to sugar coat life.’

 

I wish.

 

The reason I seldom give unfiltered news about climate change is that repeated neural science experiments have shown us, that when we are faced with information about something big and scary, where we feel like we have no agency, we tend to do one of two things:

 

1)   We dispute the information. The threat seems too big, so instead of plunging headfirst into action, we emotionally safeguard ourselves by merely denying the facts

 

2)   We despair. Though we take in the new data, it’s too big to process, seeing as we still have little agency over the situation. As a result, we get depressed, making it even harder for us to act.

 

 

I’ve written about why this is again, and again, with emphasis on how your words matter.

Recently this knowledge has been incorporated into news outlets. Hurra!

The Guardian recently announced that it would change its approach to climate communication. Up until then, they had, like all other news media, reported on the stories in a fact-centered manner — as is considered the morally correct way.

 

As a climate communicator, you ARE the map

 

Broadcasting climate science news without context is irresponsible and risky.

 

We need to accompany the fact with suggestions on actions. Meaningful action! I’ve seen an article on the potential threat of a 3C warming urge people to “take action by recycling.” Are you kidding me?

 

 

People want to act. But they don’t know how to. We are all overworked and overstimulated by a thousand pop-ups, and likes, and shares. “Just tell me what to do!”

 

Just tell me what to do. Let’s unpack that sentence. It’s an emotional scream — a desperate cry for agency. The world is on fire, how can I stop it?

 

As climate change communicators, we need to be aware of this power, and the responsibility that comes with it.

We are holding the mic on climate change and environmental action, and we chose to say matters.

We have to understand that part of our job is to be a roadmap that readers can use navigate climate change. We are the ones that say, “this one thing is what you can do, right now, to make a difference.”

 

Yes, it’s a lot to ask, and it means we need to stay updated about both climate change, its causes, its effects, and the different actions and organizations out there.

 

Merely stating the facts, that the world is in a dire state, is not enough. We risk being the stick in the wheel if we do not aid our readers through the trauma-inducing state of the world. We risk making the citizens of the world passive, and depressed — depressed warriors don’t win battles.

 

You could argue that the role of journalists is the deliver the news, and it’s the readers’ job to process the information. But we are way beyond that point. Content and news blend together. Pundits, celebrities, and influencers become guides in our attempt the sort though mega bite after mega bite of information.

 

As environmental communicators, we need to do better. We need to tell the truth while offering a way for people to act — a way to gain agency in a world that is increasingly confusing, terrifying, and overwhelming.

 

 

Make your news matter.

 

 

Edit:

I recently saw a great example that I want to leave you with.

 

A writer at Gizmodo, ended her piece about The Extinction Crisis Keeps Getting More Dire, With 28,000 Species At-Risk, with this:

 

“Not all hope is lost, though. Climate change, at some level, is inevitable at this point. Still, the worst of it can be avoided if humans get their shit together. The same goes for deforestation, hunting, and overfishing. Humans can stop these activities, saving the species that’ll be lost if we keep on this path.”

 

That’s how you do it, folks.

 

 


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If you need help communicating sustainability, send us an email and we’ll have you set up in no time.

 

Green social media

Why the green sector needs to get better at Social Media and web — part one

Environmental professionals, especially in the public sector, need to get better at utilizing social media as part of their work. The following post explains why, and gives you a few ready-to-use pointers to take you that extra mile.

The green field is missing out and falling behind

I keep coming back to this subject, simply because it’s important.

As someone who lives on the internet, it pains me to time and time again see amazing products and organizations miss their audience because they don’t know how to navigate social media and behavioral change strategies.

It’s the reason I switched from working as an environmental planner to working as a copywriter. There are so many passionate professionals out there who get up every day and work themselves to the bones to make the world a better place.

But I saw them struggling with reaching their goals and falling behind in terms of communication. Often the “script” of a communication campaign would follow the same script as the ones I remember from my childhood.

Use less energy, save water and do it for future generations.

These campaigns are heavy on facts and appeal to the better nature in. They ask us to make better choices, and basically be better humans. The problem is, they don’t work.

I came across these campaigns all the time and was frustrated out of my skull. Why? Because I knew that only a few tips and tricks could help them make an enormous difference.

I wanted to give professionals in the green industry the tools they needed to make those changes happen. After a few years of frustration, I switched carrier path. I now work full-time writing copy for websites, newsletters, and social media. I also teach these techniques to my clients, so they don’t have to depend on me.

Social media is no longer an online identity – it is part of your identity.

If you’re not online, you don’t exist.

 

The green industry is no different.

 

You don’t have to beat your green competitors!

The beauty of the environmental sector is, you don’t with other green organizations or products. If done right, information campaigns promoting behavioral change, do not compete with other behavioral change campaigns. You are not a soft drink, trying to outmaneuver other soft drinks.

We need all hands on deck to make the world a more sustainable place. Luckily, the communication strategies that work for pro-environmental behavior are so good you don’t have to fight other companies in a green arena. Your success does not mean another green organization has to fail.

But you still need to work hard and stay visible, so you don’t lose ground to non-sustainable solutions.

Bringing the green sector into the age of the internet — and social media

 

Being a kid in the 80’s and 90’s I remember the marketing slogan: Sex sells.

Selling climate change prevention and mitigation as sexy is hard, and a rather inept thing to do. You would never promote 3rd world aid as sexy, it’s insensitive and very inappropriate. Good news! Sex isn’t the only sales tool anymore.

For the last decade describing an ad as sexy has referred less to the physical cleavages and abs of the 80’s and 90’s and more to a sense of ‘Shiny’.

So does the environmental sector need to get shiny?

Yes and no. The world is a very different place than it was just ten years ago. In the world of marketing, this manifests itself in the way that authenticity sells more than sparkles.

 

I repeat: Authenticity sells

 

WOOP WOOP! This is great news for the environmental sector as it is if full of passionate and inspiring, authentic individuals. The bad news is these individuals usually don’t feel comfortable navigating the social media jungle. Often, they even to downplay their media presence on purpose.

 

The WHY, the passion, and the story

Authenticity is scary and daunting, and if you —like me— remember a time before the internet you probably don’t have an urge to create a youtube channel, or write about your innermost secret online.

But this is what vast parts of the internet is now. Liza Koshy, an internet celebrity with over 40 million online followers, announced her breakup with fellow youtube celebrity David Dobrik via a youtube video. I dare you to watch and not get something in your eye.

You might be thinking, yeah well, all of these people are going to regret plastering the internet like this. But this is the equivalent of my older generations telling my peers and me, that we would regret spending so much time playing video games. We didn’t. In fact, we all have great memories of those games and it shaped who we became as individuals, and as a culture. To spell it out:

 

Being vulnerable and authentic online isn’t something we’re going to regret. It’s the new normal.

 

Is scary, it’s new, and it feels like it goes against everything you know. But you need to show more of yourself and your values if you want to create trust.

Your audience what to know ‘Why’ you are doing what you are doing. Why are you selling biodegradable cutlery, why are you working to prevent deforestation, and in my case why are you writing about behavioral change online instead of having a normal 9-5? That also why the ‘About’ page on your website is crucial to your business.

 

So does this mean that you should get rid of your filter and just show the gritty you? No. Youtube videos are edited, Instagram pictures are selected from a batch of 10 different shots and have filters.

And the mother of social media, Facebook, is always showing you the brightest moments of the day — Not the moment where you realize you’ve had something green stuck in your teeth for the entire team meeting.

 

Social Media is more like a first date. It’s an honest representation of you, but you make an effort to look nice. You pick out a nice outfit, you groom yourself, and you show an interest in the other person. It’s still you, but it’s a very presentable side of you.

If you, on the other hand, show up to a first date in your Sunday jammies you’re placing yourself in the back of the field.

It’s the same thing with social media. You show off your best features while remaining honest. Hopefully, this (virtual) date, will lead to a lasting connection between you, and your audience.

But I’m too busy making the world better – I don’t have time for updates

This is the pitfall for most people in the green sector. They work tirelessly to improve the state of the world. Taking time to post about in on Facebook, or take a picture for Instagram, seems like time wasted.

I get it, I’m the same.

You would rather be doing your job than tweeting about your job.

But the world has changed a lot, and social media is a crucial element for success. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling eco-friendly swimwear or building drought protection in Africa, get online!

One solution is to hire someone to do it for you. If this is not an option for you right now, keep reading to get hands-on advice. Don’t worry, I’m right here with you, and we’ll take it slow.

Going back to the dating analogy, you might feel nervous about putting yourself out there. You want everything to be perfect before you start. Forget about it.

Like I said authenticity sells. There is no such thing as the perfect social media campaign or perfect strategy. But there are a few rules of thumbs.

One of them is simply knowing how your target audience act on the internet, and what the trends are.

 

Memes, emojis, and fads – know your audience

The first time I used Snap(chat) as a verb, I got mad street cred from my stepdaughter while her dad stared blankly from the other side of the table and asked: ‘what’?

If you have kids, you’ll know that they are on top of fashion and trends in a way that’s hard for you to comprehend. If you are trying to change the behavior of teenagers, you need a campaign that targets — and a lot of patience.

 

If this picture makes no sense to you, you really need to read the rest of this post.

 

But even if you are targeting adults, you need to be aware of the unique language that makes up the internet.

The web is built on jokes and references that people know and cherish. Some are obvious, and some are not. Having success on social media requires you to understand what memes, and emojis your audience likes. Just like you need to know how your audience acts on the internet.

How the internet works — Lessons from Tesla

Regardless of what you think of Tesla, they know how the internet works.
In 2014, which is almost generations ago in internet time, Tesla released all their patents in the hope of pushing the global EV production further.

It was, as the CEO Elon Musk put it, in the spirit of the open source movement, which was sweeping the internet at the time. But more importantly, the news took the internet with storm when Tesla paired it with the words:

All Our Patent Are Belong To You

If you were not a citizen of the internet at the time, this looked like an awkward spelling error. Embarrassing, right?  Nope. It was, in fact, a stroke of genius.

It references the meme All Your Base Are Belong to Us, which is a classical internet meme.

By choosing this headline, anyone who was in on the joke was likely to share the news, and help give it a viral life on the web, instead of “just” a news story about a car manufacturer who for some reason was giving away all their secrets.

In fact, Musk has a long history of working the internet to mainstream knowledge about new technologies, like appearing on the Wait but why blog, and latest introducing flamethrowers and cyborg dragons.

 

Why it worked — Building trust

Using memes and internet slang that your audience uses, is equivalent to showing them, that you speak the same language as them – You are on their team. It feeds into a culture and therefore a sense of belonging. It very simply builds trust and rapport.

I’ve heard green professionals protest to this approach with the question: But isn’t that manipulation?

You can answer that better than me: Are you manipulating people when you are having a conversation with them, in their native language?

Striped of body language and why to use emojis — Get social

Speaking in a mutual language shows the person you’re talking to, that you understand them, and share their values. The same rule applies on the web.

It’s something most of us do per default when meeting new people. We tend to find subjects we have in common, and even start to copy each others body language. This is a natural part of human communications. The reason it feels weird on social media is because it’s happening on a new platform.

The internet still feels like something different from “normal” human behavior. But, understand that the line between “normal human behavior” and internet behavior, are getting blurrier by the day.

Showing someone that you are part of their culture is called mirroring. Well known in social psychology, mirroring is the act of copying each others body language, either consciously or subconsciously.

If you want to see this effect in full action, find a couple who is on their first date. Watch how they tend to sip their water at the same time, straighten their back in the same way, and so on.

On the internet, you don’t have the luxury of using body language to communicate. This is part of the reason why emojis and memes should be a natural part of your online presence.

 

There are many numbers floating around referring to how much of our communication is verbal, and how much is non-verbal.  One of them is the 55-38-7 rule, also known as Albert Mehrabian’s rule. This is the belief is that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual spoken or written words. This rule has been much debated and to a high degree debunked, because of the uncertainty about the percentile.

To put it in another way, we know body language and tone of voice are dominant in communication, we just don’t know how much.

 

A world without Verbal communication

Verbal and Non-verbal communication complement each other and brings the message home faster. We can all relate to being a kid and hearing our mother say ‘come here.’

Happy mom — something green

You know from the tone in her voice and the look in her eyes if you’re about to get a snuggle or a talking to.

But imagine if you only had the words to work with. You would have to go to your mom and ask follow-up questions to figure out what she wanted.

Without emojis and other communications tools (like brakes, quotation marks, exclamation marks, cursive and so on), the internet is an eternal struggle for our brain to figure out what the person on the other end is saying, and how their feeling.

 

Ever had an e-mail from a coworker where you’re not sure if they approve of your work, or hate it? If you’re like me, you’ll spend a fair amount of time thinking about what they mean, and how to reply. If it had been a face-to-face conversation, instead of e-mail, you would know for sure.

Unfortunately, the busier we are, the more inclined we are to leave out the little ‘good job’ or happy emoji at the end of the e-mail, because we default to writing the way we speak, not remembering that we also speak with our body’s.

Wow, that was a lot of information. Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but we’re still not done.

The internet is possibly the most powerful weapon in the history of mankind. Without going further into the negative sides like election manipulation, the spreading of fake news, and polarisation, the internet can be a tool for positive change.

 

In the next post, I break down how you can use the force of the web, to change the world.

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Your words matter — how big organizations accidentally hinder sustainable change

The headlines of your articles are not just for snazzy clickbait. If done wrong they might work against you – and against the environment. Here are the do’s and don’ts of writing headlines.

 

 

Yesterday while scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I came across the following article from the World Economic Forum.

Headlines for sustainable content Asian plastic

 

90% of plastic polluting our oceans comes from just 10 rivers

This is a really interesting subject and I wanted to know more, however, what really got me was the words the WEF decided should go along with it:

’Eight of them are in Asia, two in Africa’

‘Urg’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s a bad choice of words for this piece’.

The World Economic Forum, an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation, is committed to improving the state of the world. This fact makes the above even more problematic.

Though in line with the article and truthful in it’s nature, that small sentence does way more harm than good. It’s working as a hindrance for sustainable development.

 

Why words matter

Let’s deconstruct the sentence.

By writing ’Eight of them are in Asia, two in Africa’, it’s easy to infer, that no other continent in the world is home to one of the rivers causing 90% of the pollution. This is still completely true and in line with the article but it has unfortunate side effects:

  1. You are basically saying to everyone outside these geographical areas, that this problem is confined to two specific regions, which make people outside these areas distance themselves from the problem, seeing as it’s “over there”. It becomes Somebody Else’s Problem*
  2. People who actively take steps to lower their plastic waste feel discouraged because they are let to believe that their actions have no impact at all. This will leave them less likely to want to change their habits or push for change in the future.

 

Additionally, you risk enhancing old believes that Asia and Africa do not care about the environment. This is, of course, a generalization, not to mention an outdated view of the two continents but unfortunately, the western part of the world still views Asia and Africa as lazy, indifferent or unknowledgeable to environmental issues.

 

What to do instead

Had they instead chosen a solution-orientated caption, they could have fed into the positive wave of change already taken place around the world – the focus on oceanic plastic pollution. If the World Economic Forum wanted to leave the reader more informed but also more likely to support anti-pollution initiatives in the future, they could have replaced the caption with something like this:

‘By knowing which 10 we can focus on targeted solutions, with higher success rates’ 

They could even just have copied points from the article itself, for instance:

‘The rivers all had two things in common; a generally high population living in the surrounding region – sometimes into the hundreds of millions – and a less than ideal waste management process’

 

Why it works

The first example is simply putting a positive outlook on a dire situation. Yes, the ocean is filled with plastic, but by pinpointing the 10 biggest sources, we can act.

Action is the keyword, because only presenting your audience with the (often negative) facts of global pollution issues and climate change, serves as an emotional paralyzer.

What the heart hears is: The world sucks and no one, especially you, can do anything about it. You might as well go back to facebook and kittens.

Instead, by choosing a more positive angle you are telling your audience, yes, this is a bad situation, but knowing the facts about it gives us the power to act.

In the second example, you’re getting even more specific in regards to what needs to be done, so we can turn the problem around.

It would send a signal that 90% of the world’s oceanic plastic pollution is caused by manageable problems that we already know the solutions to – waste management.

Having spent half a decade in waste management I guarantee you that less-than-ideal-waste management is not the same as impossible waste management.

 

But wasn’t it just click-bait?

Possibly. I mean, I clicked on the article. One could argue, that the caption is just right because it evokes resentfulness towards the places responsible for it. But then what? You would have to read the article to the end to get the positive news. And even this is still an issue because you just confirmed the preconceived notion that Asia doesn’t care, meaning that your audience is actually more likely to dismiss the positive news about the advances in Asia because it contradicts a strong held believe – that Asia pollutes, and don’t care. This is what’s known as the backfire effect. You can find a more colorful description of the backfire effect here.

Even if it is just a click-bait aimed at the WEF’s target audience, would you really want to risk pushing everyone who scrolls past the article even further away from taking action on the subject?

 

Small tweaks – Big outcome

I chose to write about this specific article from the World Economic Forum, for two reasons. Firstly because of their inherent role as a promoter of sustainable change, and secondly because their article was well written and had a great balance of facts and behavioral change elements.

The article clarifies how big of an effort China is making to intensify waste management, and mentions Delhi’s ban on disposable plastic. Furthermore, at the bottom of the article, you can find links to articles about how to combat plastic pollution – also known as a call to action.

I want to stress that I think weforum.org overall produces great content and I am a happy reader. Like this nice whale piece, below. It has a positive headline and caption, as well as a great photo – there’s even a sea pun!

 

But the devil is in the detail, and small tweaks like the above can push sustainable development much faster.

By empowering the audience with a positive outlook, you are allowing for much more support towards passing the necessary legislation, investing in alternative products or cleanup technologies, and willingness to change habits. Like giving your audience concrete advice on social media, complete with jokes and pictures.

This also means saving time and money for the companies and regulatory bodies working to solve the problem. But most importantly, you work towards removing more plastic out of our oceans.

 

 

*As coined by the great Douglas Adam, Somebody Else’ Problem refers to people’s ability to simply ignore things they don’t want to deal with.