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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.

 

Social Media and behavioral change – Saving time, money, and cutting the bullS***

In this post, you’ll get hands-on examples of how to use social media for quick and dirty behavioral change campaigns. One of them took me 10 minutes to make and saved my workplace 2-4 weeks of work, and thousands of dollars. Spoiler, 

 

In my day job, I convert recycling advice and environmental information into information that makes sense, and more importantly, that you can act on.

If I make you wiser that’s good, but I’m still only halfway there. For me to succeed, I need to give you the information you need, and the tools to act on it, while giving you that little push you need to change your actions.

An important thing to note here is, I don’t make people do things they don’t want to do. Most people want to be more environmentally friendly, they just need the tools to do it. That’s where I come in.

In the olden days of communication, you would just give your recipient a lot of information, but as I’m sure we all know, information isn’t enough.

Social Media Behavioral Change Healthy eating

 

We all know smoking is bad, and exercise and a healthy diet is good, but somehow we’re not all super healthy non-smokers.

 

I won’t get into why behavioral change is more important than information. You can read my posts about it here, and find additional resources here. Just remember that your words matter when you’re doing SoMe.

So how can social media, or SoMe as the kids call it, initiate a changed behavior?

Social media, when done right, can enforce a sense of purpose, of belonging, and an urgent need to act. These are all emotions strongly tied up to behavioral change.

But instead of giving you a lot of information about how to do it, I’ll show you.

The following are two examples of quick and dirty facebook updates I did, and an explanation as to why they worked.

 

1) The pink April Fools

This spring we were lucky enough to get our hands on this beautiful pink waste bin. Just look how happy I am. It’s basically a pink version the same gray bins we are distributing to the entire municipality.

I wanted to make a big event with it on April 1st, but the entire team, myself included, was swamped with work. And April 1st was on a Saturday this year, making it even more difficult to pull of a happening.

 

Enter the magic of the internet!

I did some horrible photoshopping, got creative with the text and voila! This is the facebook post I made:

 

‘YOUR NEW BIN IS PINK!

Last Thursday the municipality approved the new design plan for the waste department.

After a short budget negotiation, it was decided that the entire municipality will get a trash bin in hot pink.

The new bins will put recycling on the agenda and put this municipality on the map as a first-mover when it comes to environmental action.

If you’ve already received a grey bin, it will be swapped with a pink bin during the summer of 2017.

You can read more about the new design guide and the color pink here: http://roskilde.dk/de-3-stoerste-spoergsmaal-om-din-nye-affaldsordning

So yes, I am obviously not a creative genius. I spend 30 min making this post and then posted it on Facebook. The link takes you to a page of the top 3 questions about the new recycling scheme – a page we had difficulties directing traffic to. I boosted the facebook post with the equivalent of 22 US dollars.

The results? It had a reach of more than 14.000 people, got 400 reactions, 60 comments, 24 shares, and 1328 clicks on the link. This also made it our most visited page, as we were averaging around 500 clicks per week on ‘hot topics’, and 10 clicks per week on ‘bottomfeeder’ pages. This is by far the most clicks we’ve had on a site regarding the new recycling scheme. In a municipality of 90.000 people, getting this response to waste is pretty darn good.

 

Why it worked

This was an openly bad joke. It was not trying to be anything special. It was not trying to educate. It tabbed into a tradition, loved and hated by the Danish public – the horribly obvious April fools pranks.

It took a boring trashcan, and gave it some pesaz!
In other words, the message I am sending is, don’t worry you won’t get a big pink waste bin. You will still get a waste bin, but in a less intrusive color – and no, we’re not gonna lecture you.


What’s the takeaway?

Tab into what already exists. Christmas, traditions, old jokes. I once accidentally planed a recycling event on valentines day! So, when I promoted it I added a bunch of hearts and romance, and made the header: WE LOVE TRASH! It was a close save, but it worked.

Maybe April fools isn’t your thing. That’s cool. Here another example of SoMe working its magic.

 

2) Cardboard or carton? The money saver

 

I work with waste management, and getting people to recycle more. That also means explaining the rules of recycling.

In our recycling scheme, you can put your carton with your paper, but you can’t put cardboard with your paper.

This is confusing and we’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to tell the difference between carton and cardboard. The long answer has to do with the wood fibers in the two materials, but it tends to make the listener even more confused.

Instead of a wall of text, I tore off some cardboard from the office supply room and stole the carton roll inside a toilet paper roll. I grabbed my phone and went to work. 10 minutes later, with the aid of an Instagram filter and a layout app, I had this picture.

I shared it with a text explaining the difference in this way:

‘Are you down with carton?

We’ve received some question about the new recycling scheme. One of them is, what’s the difference between cardboard and carton?

Well, cardboard and carton are tricky areas, but this is our rule of thumb:


Cardboard usually comes in big quantities, like furniture packaging. When you tear it, you can see a middle layer inside the cardboard, which is wavy.

Carton, on the other hand, is “just” thick paper. When you tear it, it still looks like thick paper.

From may 1st, carton can go in your paper bin. Cardboard should be taken to the recycling station.

Share this information with your neighbors 🙂

Thank you for recycling!’

The results blew me away!

I didn’t even boost this update, meaning I spend no money on it, but it got 26 shares, 116 reactions, 857 clicks, and had a range of 6774 people. Again, in a municipality of 90.000, that’s a big deal considering the photo is basically a picture of trash. Even the mayor shared it!

So for 10 minutes work, and no money at all, I did what a communication campaign would have done in weeks or months of planning, and thousands of dollars worth of graphics, printing, and distribution. Let’s just recap:

I saved my workplace weeks of work, and thousands of dollars, in 10 minutes

This is the power of social media

 

Why it worked
It visually explained the difference between the two materials, making it easy for the citizen to test his or her own waste. It eliminated a lot of energy and frustration that would have been spent contemplating the difference.

It took away the am-I-doing-it-right doubt, that many people face when sorting their waste. It gave them a tool for solving this issue in years to come and thanked them for making an effort.

 

What’s the takeaway?

If you’re a good communicator, and you know the underlying motives and frustrations of your audience, you can work around the old ways of designing behavioral change campaigns.

If you can deliver your message in a to-the-point fashion, you can get away with taking photos of your waste, and just add an Instagram filter.

 

Summing-up

 

Social media is an easy, cheap, and fast way of narrowing the gap between you and your target audience. It’s a platform, where you can get away with fast updates, camera phones, and cheap editing apps.


If on the other hand, you want to make a super high-end folder, your audience will not tolerate sloppy graphics, faulty grammar, or bad jokes. But it works for Social Media.

 

SoMe is a place to meet your equal

 

This is especially important if you work in government. You are usually the authority, telling the citizen what to do, and how to comply with the rules. This automatically creates a gap between you and a (skewed?) power balance.

On social media, it’s ok to make bad jokes, with horribly photoshopped pictures. If you are fun and can look your audience in the eyes, that’s what matters.

Don’t be afraid to be human and don’t be afraid of snarky comments on Facebook. It’s a part of how the platform works, and the rest of your audience knows that the trolls are just trolling.

So go get your share on, and make the difference you need to make 😉

Just the tip – How recycling and other low impact actions open big doors for important change

A few posts ago, I wrote about how I sometimes felt like a whore because of my work, but it seems only fair to share the good stories as well.

 

Today my body shivered with excitement, my mind raced, and my heart was pounding. I was getting that feeling that you get when you do something worth wild. That feeling that makes you want to scream, yes!

 

What caused this excitement? Hearing people talk about the plastic wrapping on a cucumber. Now, I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no, you dirty minded person, you.

 

The background story – why plastic wrapping on a cucumber is very exciting

I work with waste management, and it’s my job to get about 90.000 people to recycle their waste. Talk about pressure. As part of this job, my team and I have just done a test with 250 households, to try out the new recycling scheme we’re implementing for those 90.000 people in the time span of the next two years.

 

We did this to make the transition for the entire municipality as smooth as possible for everyone involved. It’s a big process and a lot of things can go wrong, so we wanted to prepare as much as possible before the actual BIG implementation of the new scheme.

 

Now the six-month-long test has been completed, and the past two nights have been spent on meetings with the involved citizens, gathering the final information, and talking about what will be happening over the next few years.

 

So imagine this: 250 households have been sorting their waste in a matter very different from what they are used to, and from what the rest of the municipality is doing. They’ve been doing this for six months, with only a handful of people in the municipality, to guide them through it.

 

Most of them have had to deal with the inconveniences of getting new waste bins, both inside and outside their house, as they had to sort glass, metal, paper, bio/green, and other. Metal and Bio are two completely new fractions of waste, and the citizens in the test have never done this before.

 

Hence these meetings, held in the late hours of busy people, where not only a place for feedback and questions about recycling but also served as a place to vent emotions. And there was a lot of venting. But there was also something profoundly beautiful.

 

No, recycling won’t save the planet, but it will get you thinking about it

 

The people at the meeting have now been sorting their waste for half a year. They have done a decent job a recycling, the short timespan taken into account. But the actual change is not in their litter bins – it’s in their minds.

 

At both meetings I overheard people debating, how much packaging came with their groceries, how much waste they produced in their everyday life, and how many recourses they used.

 

“Why is there even plastic wrapping around a cucumber? I mean, do we really need all that plastic?”

 

This is what makes me tick. It’s not about the recycling, it’s not about turning off the tab, or switching off the light bulb, cause in the big picture, that’s really not a lot of change. But if you do it right, these non-essential, non-effectful environmental actions open the door for a change in mindset.

 

If you do it with intent, you can start a much more important change, than just a change in their trash bin.

You can make the change from unaware to aware, and ready to take action.

 

Plant the seed and be ready to water it

If you plan for this you can have an alternative action ready at the right moment.

In the case of the added awareness about packaging and unnecessary waste, be ready to offer kind and helpful advice on how to cut down on packaging in general for instance by shopping at farmers markets and using reusable grocery bags. Or ask the person more about how much of their waste they think is possible to eliminate and how, as this will get them thinking about alternative actions within their own frame of reference and comfort.

If you plan for these moments of added awareness, you can have valuable tools ready for your audience, and help them make that change they so deeply want to make, but don’t yet know how to.

 

You don’t need to force your way through mindsets, you can start with, well… Just the tip.

Environmental preservation or preventing necrophile rapist ducks – know your audience

Yes, that’s an actual headline. The following post will involve necrophile rapist ducks. When you’ve read this post, you’ll know what you can do to make your target audience act more environmentally friendly, and how to use it in your work/daily life. And yes, there is a connection to rapist ducks. 

 

Did you ever feed ducks as a child? I did, with my grandparents mostly. It was a fine balance between getting close enough to get the duck to eat out of my hands while keeping a distance that ensured they would not eat me.

duck-feeding-monajensen

Duck feeding is, however, a horrible thing to do. It’s bad for the ducks, and bad for the environment. The only thing it’s good for is human emotions. It feels nice to feed the ducks. It’s cozy.

When you feed ducks they poop more, exposing the pond, or other water environments, to more nitrogen. The added nitrogen leads to algae bloom, which leads to hypoxia. Hypoxia is a fancy word for no-oxygen. When the water environment losses oxygen, the living organisms in it suffocate. Fish, shrimps, and other oxygen-dependent creatures. This means…

Feed the ducks, kill the fish.

election-613132_1920You would think that this information alone was enough to stop people from feeding ducks. Spoiler alert -it’s not.

We are emotional beings, and the above is a factual explanation. Facts often bend to emotions. Think about the last national election in your country, and I’m sure you can find an example or two, of politician swaying votes on emotion, instead of facts.

In the case of duck feeding, the feeding itself gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling. It creates memories. It amplifies your own memories. And the ducks are happy, right, I mean just look at them. I’m sure one little loaf of bread won’t make a difference. All those environmental hippies are exaggerating.

We now have a Mexican standoff between, family values (warm fuzzy duck feeding), and environmental conservation. What now? Enter the necrophiliac rapist duck.

Male ducks are known to gang-rape female ducks. There is plenty of youtube material – I’m not going to link to it. When ducks are fed a diet of white bread, they become fat. So fat indeed, when they mate (or rape if you will) the male ducks can end up drowning the female. This means…

Feed the ducks, create necrophile rapist ducks!

In a bonus info about ducks, they don’t stop just because the female is now a “floater”. Ducks have been known to have necrophilia (and homosexual) tendencies. Here’s a scientific article about it  – you’re welcome.

Why am I telling you this awful news? Long story short, it was a subject at my workplace, and I decided to make an infographic about it: TADA!!!

(Article will continue after picture)

Feel free to download, or share.  Now to the actual point.

Know your audience

For decades environmental planners and activists have preached environmental preservation. But unfortunately, they were mostly preaching to the choir. I was an accomplice as well.

Save the pandas, the trees, the water, the whales… Think of the children and be a more responsible person.

Environmentalists have either argued the rational point:

If we keep pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, we’re going to suffer the consequences

…or the misplaced emotional point;

Do it for the children. Give them a world with polar bears.

Going back to the duck-feeding example, the above is a case of the first method of communication. A rational statement followed by a small emotional ‘Something bad will happen’. But that ‘something bad, doesn’t seem convincing enough to bend our habits.

It’s very easy to dismiss the information because it conflicts too much with ones one values: the family values. Remember, duck feeding is still a happy family activity that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling.

While the necrophilia information is still true, it targets those family values. You do not want your child or grandchild to witness a necrophilic gang rape. So you pay attention. This information feeds into your worldview and values.

 

Stop preaching to the choir!

Really, put effort into mapping out who your target group is. And if your target group is everybody you’ve already lost. It is very tempting for environmental planners to plan campaigns that work for everyone, this goes double if you are in a governmental department.

Your job is to fix everybody, and you often are not funded adequately. This is also a contributor to the status quo campaigns we’ve been seeing since the 80’s. You know them all too well:

Turn of the light, turn of the tab, recycle, walk more… The list goes on, and not just in the environmental areas (eat fruit, stop smoking, exercise 30 min each day).

The target group is everyone, and therefore the message is so placid, it applies to everybody and nobody at the same time – and it doesn’t work.

If you’re selling Nike shoes, you’re not advertising to all people with feet.

Big marketing doesn’t work in broad campaigns like that. Take Nike shoes. There’s a financial span, demographics, age –and the coolness factor. You find your target audience and go directly for them. Why should the principles be any different for campaigns regarding health or the environment?

Rotate your audience.

Here’s one solution, rotate your audience. Find your early adopters. Chances are, they already support you, so you don’t need to actively campaign for them. This is your choir, you don’t need to preach to them. But give them credit for their enthusiasm. This ensures that they keep fighting the good fight, and keep talking with their friends and relatives about your cause.

A campaign targeted towards early adaptors is basically giving them a high-five, saying you are awesome! This ensures their commitment to you and enhances their role as ambassadors.

After you’ve done that, then you can start looking at other target groups, like families, children, millennials, seniors, and different social groups.

Oh and lastly don’t just tell them what they should not do – give them directions towards a better behavior so you don’t leave them hanging with good intentions, but no knowledge of what to do.

What to do instead – you can still feed cute animals

Instead of feeding the ducks, you can try to identify the different species, and center you family activity around that. If you like the idea of feeding animals in need, feed butterflies or other pollinators like bees, as they contrary to ducks, desperately need it.

That’s all for now – please don’t encourage necrophilia duck rape.

 

-Keep beeing awesome (Badam-tsch!)

rapist-duck

 

Environmental extremists – Inspirational or Scary?

Every now and then social media is flooded with a story of someone, who is acting in a way most of us would find extreme, in order to save the environment.

Take Lauren Singer, an environmental studies major, living in NYC. Lauren is a woman so committed to reducing her environmental footprint, that all for her waste from the past 2 years fits into just 1 mason jar. ONE!

To put in in perspective, the global waste production of 11,2 billion ton per year. This means, every human being in average produces the weight of 112 elephants in waste*. So her waste would fit inside the trunk of my elephant.

And on a side note; how can a person look that hot and stylish, while producing zero trash?

Elephant by https://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalart/

Elephant by Digital Art @Flikr

Wow, what an inspiration!

People and stories like this, remind us that we could do so much more. We don’t need to produce so much trash, use so much water, live in energy inefficient homes, or use non-renewable energy.

While we read the article, we think ‘wow, that’s inspirational! If everyone did this, the world would be so much better’. And then we might share the story on our preferred social media.

But then what? We don’t actually start to put our waste in mason jars. We don’t live off the grid using only rainwater and solar panels. At most we close the tab feeling inspired, and think a little bit more about bringing our own bag when doing grocery shopping.

Why don’t we act more like the people who inspire us? The answer is loss aversion.

We like what we have, and we want to keep it.

A lot of research has been done in this field, and I strongly encourage you to read up on it. In short, we like what we have, and we don’t want to lose it. But it’s not without its price.

Research shows that participants who where given a mug, and then had the chance to trade that mug for equally valued alternatives, where less willing to trade, or wanted much more money for it, than it’s actual worth. Why? Because they felt ownership for the mug.

This is a simplified explanation of the experiment. You can read the article here.

A similar study was done with candy bars. Half the participants where given candy bars, and the other half where given mugs. They where equally valued, but when the participants where given the change to exchange a mug for a candy bar, or vice versa, only one in ten did. Again, they where already attached to their belongings.

‘What if I regret choosing the mug over the candy bar? I better stick with the candy bar.’

But this influences us more than just candy bars and mugs. It keeps us from walking away from toxic relationships or bad jobs. ‘What if I miss her? What if I can’t find another job?’ Let me stress that these concerns are valid and important to consider when making big decisions. We shouldn’t’ just ignore them. But we put to much merit into loss aversion.

I might miss it – The Needy and Nice list

I’ve been moving around a lot in the past 8-10 years, and I find it to be a healthy exercise in separating the ‘need to haves’ from the ‘nice to haves’. When packing for a move, I get rid of a Lot of stuff I don’t use. Stuff that just takes up room. I try to gift it to others who are in need of such a things. Like books, kitchenware, clothes that I only wear every 4 years, and so on.

Clutter_MonaJensen

The clutter of loss aversion

Then I feel happy about having to move less boxes with me, and therefor having saved myself the trouble, of finding a place for the things after I’ve moved. This is a hard process for me because; ‘what if I regret getting rid of these things’?

But the same thing happens every time I move. I move into the new place, start unpacking, and then think to myself; Why did I bring this?? What am I ever going to use it for?’

The What if is powerful. This is also why we are reluctant to give up all the comfort that comes with overconsumption. The fear of loosing unfortunately sway us towards making unhealthy decisions.

How do we overcome loss aversion?

I’ll get to the solution in the next blog post. If you want to be sure not to miss it, add me to your RSS feed, or sign up for my newsletter.

Till next time, I’ll leave you with Robert Frost.

Frost_MonaJensen
*Note: The 112 elephants are how much trash we produce, including up-stream waste, meaning the waste that was generated while making the products we consume. An average Dane currently throws out about 447 kg of waste.