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.
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.’
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.
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.
If you want to know more about environmental communication add me on LinkedIn, or sign up for our newsletter.
If you need help communicating sustainability, send us an email and we’ll have you set up in no time.
Thanks for a much needed post on a topic, which seems to have eluded me.
I teach physics at a gymnasie (High School?) here in Denmark. I have always focused on teaching the unbiased facts including the climate-change ones. But in the upcoming year, I Will definetely take your words in to consideration.
Keep up the excellent work, the World needs it and you 💪👍
Thank you so much for your kind reply, and your interest in the subject.
Luckily, High school students usually have more fighting power. It’s one of the reasons we’ve seen them play a major one in climate activism. But encouragement and agency is always helpful — especially when you also have to deal with choosing a path in life, and just figuring out how to be an adult. High school kids should have the burden of climate change on them.
Thank you for giving them a solid knowledge foundation!