Communicating climate change: bank holidays, spring flowers and church conversations

10 May 2018 | Communications

On Friday evening, as we settled in for the bank holiday, I watched the weather forecast on BBC South Today. We could have record-breaking bank holiday temperatures, said the weather presenter – followed by the words ‘fingers crossed’. This made me angry, because I don’t think that climate change is a cause for celebration. (And neither is record-breaking heat: remember 2003?)

I remained angry throughout the weekend, as news broadcasts and weather forecasts followed the same script: everyone enjoying the fabulous spring weather (I challenge you to find one news report that did not use the word ‘enjoying’). There’s one problem: spring weather in the UK is not supposed to mean temperatures of 28 degrees!

Not one news or weather broadcast mentioned climate change. What we got were the same outdated tropes: families on the beach, eating ice-cream and enjoying the sun. It’s time we changed the narrative.

Increasingly, climate change feels like the elephant in the room. A few weeks ago, I was at a masterclass run by Climate Outreach on ‘Communicating Climate Change with People of Faith’, and one of the main themes was naming – and breaking – the silence around climate change.

I’ve also been reading the excellent Climate Outreach book Talking Climate, and it makes the same point: there is a socially constructed silence around climate change. It feels as if it’s one of those things you don’t talk about in polite society.

Partly, it is because people who care about climate change don’t realise how many others feel the same: statistically, there are more of us than we think. Partly, it’s because the subject has become increasingly – and unnecessarily – polarised politically. It’s an issue that affects all of us, not just environmentalists or ‘lefties’. And there are many valid social and economic responses that go beyond any specific political viewpoint.

So what is the answer? Partly, as most communicators recognise, it is about ‘framing’ – presenting an issue in terms that make sense within someone’s existing viewpoint. Partly it’s about changing the language we use – ‘be afraid’ isn’t going to make people listen. But as Climate Outreach founder George Marshall told us, it’s not about the message: it’s about the messenger.

Being authentic is important. So are personal testimonies, something that Christians are used to talking about in a church context.  And recognising our shared values and identity is key to climate conversations within our faith groups.

We had a fascinating discussion about the views within different faiths: even within the Christian church, people will see things differently depending on their background. As a Methodist, the concept of ‘climate justice makes sense to me but for other traditions this, it turns out, could be a turn-off.

But there are many concepts within the Christian church relevant to how we think about climate change: from service and sacrifice to love, hope and redemption. Within other faiths, we heard about harmony, compassion and renewal, and – for all of us – the idea of creation as a gift.

So, apart from complaining to the BBC, where do I go from here? One of my clients is a Christian climate change charity, and I will be thinking carefully about how I frame our communications. But, as George Marshall pointed out, communication is really about people, not what’s on your website.

So it’s a personal as well as a professional challenge. And I’ve challenged myself to start having more ‘climate conversations’. Yesterday, I was on the phone to my mother and she mentioned that the lily-of-the-valley were coming out earlier. So, with our shared interest in gardening, that opened a conversation. Maybe it won’t turn my mum into what Climate Outreach call a ‘climate citizen’ overnight, but at least it is starting to break the silence.

Lily-of-the-valley flowers in a garden.

0 Comments

Lily-of-the-valley flowers in a garden.

recent posts

Close up of a garden plant - alchemilla mollis.
Now that’s what I call working out loud
Another lockdown first, some new words and the future of content strategy
Doorway to a butcher's shop, with a notice saying "Max 2 customers in shop please."
Zoom fatigue, lockdown houses and a defence of journalism
Two Canada geese standing at the edge of a small lake.
An unusual April: not another post about working from home
Pebble on the ground, painted blue with the message: "To the people who find this, stay safe."
“Stay safe”: a month where communication is more important than ever
A selection of playing cards from the SDG2030 Game.
Saving the world, making content readable and how to upset a copywriter: what I learnt in February
Tech, sustainability and food: what I learnt in January
A tray of "Christmas doughnuts".
Weeknote 25: red vinyl, Brexit and Father Christmas
Screengrab of the Ashmolean Museum website, with an online "Advent calendar". Six windows have been opened and show different winter-themed artworks.
Weeknote 24: Black Friday, Advent and “me too” marketing
Weeknote 23: sustainability, pizza and a cat
Weeknote 22: IT jargon, style sheets and air pollution
A sign on an empty card rack in a shop: "We're getting ready for Christmas. We apologise for any disruption whilst we make these changes."
Weeknote 21: Substances derived from food, and other new words
"Lifeguard Service" poster on beach. Words include: "RNLI Lifeguards and the 'orange' Seafront Advisors operate on this beach during the summer season. Lifeguards on duty when red and yellow flags are flying."
Weeknote 20: Sustainable development, tech in Oxford and why you need subeditors
Wallingford Bunkfest: a festival atmosphere with families, flags and stalls in a park with a blue sky.
Weeknote 19: Being nice is good for business. And scaring people is not.
Didcot power station's cooling towers, looking beautiful in the dawn light.
Weeknote 18: Cold emails, hot weather and a new tech magazine
A shelf of books in a bookshop, with a label reading 'Memoirs' made of Scrabble tiles.
Weeknote 17: Mostly about pictures. And books.
Book cover for 'Because Internet'.
Weeknote 16: Favourite websites, favourite books
Tweet from BBC Weather: picture of weather map showing 39 degrees, with the words 'Morning, if we're going to do it TODAY'S THE DAY! We will of course keep you posted. Lou L.'
Weeknote 15: Heatwaves, podcasts and the benefits of being quiet
A flowerpot overlooking a large lawn with trees and shrubs.
Weeknote 14: History lessons, user-centred design and the state of LinkedIn
A display banner with the words "Be more creative" in a repeat pattern.
Weeknote 13: Be more creative
Weeknote 12: Networking or not
TwitterUK reception
Weeknote 11: A visit to Twitter
Badge on a jacket lapel with the words "Votes for women".
Weeknote 10: How not to be an entrepreneur
Extract from letter from Honda (text in blog)
Weeknote 9: Euphemisms and poems
A computer playing Snap with a human. From an April Fool's Day video by Oxford University.
Weeknote 8: Sleevenotes and subeditors
A stack of books, with the titles Tyger, Tiger, Burning Bright, and In The Forest.
Weeknote 7: Poetry and petitions
Poster with text: "They may not be avoiding you. They may just be: 1. Distracted by a sudden life change. 2. Working hard to make ends meet or to make sense of their situation. 3. Too worn out to socialize. 4. Dealing with personal pain or illness. 5. Tired of having to pretend to be okay around you when they're really doing all they can to survive. Don't make snap judgments. You just never know."
Weeknote 5: How much do you tell your clients?
Heart Unions logo
Weeknote 4: Sharing the love
Two books: Neurotribes by Steve Silberman, and Transciption by Kate Atkinson.
Weeknote 3: Websites and wish lists
Job advert that says "Identifying sales opportunities to introduce complimentary products".
Weeknote 2: Admin and sadmin
A statue of a bull, with a knitted scarf around its neck.
A weeknote about weeknotes
Style guides for the 21st century (part 2): A universal style guide?
Style guides for the 21st century (part 1): What is a style guide anyway?
Introductory slide from the meetup: "Content, Seriously".
Content design again
Content design: what is it and how do you do it?
Still from Traidcraft video: "This year, a third of all people want Black Friday to be stopped."
How to disrupt Black Friday, and other comms tips: things I learned in November
Flyers for Optimise Oxford
Optimise Oxford: social media, sell-side and SEO
A newspaper stand with British newspapers, the day before the Brexit referendum.
Five things Brexit can teach you about communication
Criticism and context: why we still need professional reviewers
How to learn from your clients
Calendar
Content marketing the old fashioned way
bridge
How to cope with colleague-generated content
How many apps does it take to change a lightbulb?
birds
Social media and your career (part 3): How to talk to people on Twitter
angel blowing a trumpet
Social media and your career (part 2): Do you look like a professional?
knickerblocker glory
Branding or boring? Social media and your career (part 1)
Twitter dialogue between me and First Great Western
A lesson from the floods: how to use social media for customer service
Social media for charities: anyone can do it
Slide 'Don't forget to pay the freelancer!'
The Content Marketing Show: seeing what sticks
Boats in Beer
When should you relaunch a website (and what does relaunch mean, anyway)?
copy of Plain Words book
Gove v Gowers: rules for writing
Sue Davis and others at the London Content Strategy Meetup
Content strategists: who are these people?
Oxford NUJ Twitter header
Five reasons why journalists should build an online presence
On and off again

subscribe to my blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.