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Shock Tactics Required ?

Climate change activists were on a high five years ago. 2006 and 2007 might well go down in history as the golden-years of public support for action on climate change. According to various surveys at that time, environmental issues topped the list of many people’s concerns. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth had hit screens world-wide. And equally widespread was agreement amongst scientists that climate change was real.

But the climate change ‘high’ was short-lived. With the global financial crisis of 2008, popular interest in rising sea temperatures and extreme weather events promptly crashed and burned. People stopped worrying about melting ice-caps and returned their gaze to debt levels, home repayments, and other economic worries.

A few years on, nothing much has changed. Except that public interest in climate change has further declined. It’s as if the public has retaliated against the ‘negative messaging’ and ‘fear mongering’ of climate change communication.

Recent studies in sustainability communication demonstrate that shock tactics (inciting guilt and fear) fail miserably as a long-term driver for action on climate change. Other more immediate, more visible issues quickly replace concerns about rising sea levels, food insecurity, and future water crisis. The threat is too invisible and “far off” that most people “switch off”, lose the fear, and deny the problem exists. This has a powerful effect in that denial of the problem allows people to deny any responsibility to change; climate change (and the necessary actions for sustainability) simply cease to exist.

Communicating action for climate change therefore requires a vision that cuts-through denial, turns people on, and sustains long-term behaviour change. It requires a vision that people want to imagine and pursue; not something they’d rather ignore.

The trick to effective climate change communication is not fear. It’s relationship. In marketing terms, we need to build powerful relationships between consumers and “services”. Think of action on climate change as the service we wish to sell. What will it take for people to ‘buy’ it? What kind of relationship do we want people to have with action on climate change? One driven by fear? Or an inspiring vision of an active and loyal relationship between people, planet, and prosperity?

Developing a shared imagination is critical to communicating action on climate change. Imagine, for example, discussing climate change with your loved ones, community members, politicians, tourists on the street. Imagine a conversation that people want to participate in. Imagine people excited by change and proud of their actions. Imagine communicating radical changes for sustainability with an ever-expanding audience that is motivated to listen, engage and act.

If we collectively imagine and express a vision for sustainability, we have a chance to reclaim the glory days of five years ago in new and exciting ways. We have a chance to create consumer relationships that build a healthy and prosperous world.

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