Communicating climate change — 10 good ideas

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How would you like to have media and communications systems you could trust to tell the truth about the really important things?

Transforming the ways we gather and share information could allow us to develop better and more trustworthy communications systems, which can more accurately reflect the need for, and the benefits of, a shift to a zero carbon future.

This is part of a series of one hundred good ideas drawn from the Centre for Alternative Technology’s new report, Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen.

The state of the system: where we are now

Much of the information we receive about climate science and the solutions it demands is through the media — TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and increasingly online or social media. The way in which these are communicated has a profound impact on their acceptance, and on the broader changes they demand.

If this information is inaccurate, biased, incomplete or non-existent, it will adversely impact public opinion and behaviour, making it more difficult obtain the support needed to address climate change at the scale and speed required. An absence of serious discussion on rising to the challenge of climate change leads to a perception that the issue is not one of high public concern.

Most of the media is funded by advertising, designed to fuel desire for more stuff, including cars, electronic goods, cosmetics, food and clothing — so they find it hard to promote alternatives to the current high consumption lifestyles. Organisations with vested interests in sustaining high carbon systems influence public opinion via the media as well as directly influencing government policy and legislation [source 1].

Part of the problem is that Britain has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world, with three companies in control of 71% of national newspaper circulation and five companies in command of 81% of local newspaper titles.

Ownership undoubtedly influences the editorial position on issues, and such concentration can give media owners a disproportionate influence on public opinion.

10 good ideas to make change happen

It is important to break the prevailing climate silence in the media so that levels of public support for effective policy action are more visible. Reducing the impact of advertising, whilst increasing the media profile of climate solutions, and correcting commonly held misconceptions or misinformation, will all help build support for making a zero carbon Britain happen in time. Here are ten of the good communications ideas we found:

51) Widen media ownership

To foster wider diversity of those who control the media, there should be clear ownership thresholds established in law, with triggers for intervention. When an audience share rises above a certain threshold it is proposed there should be public interest obligations to ensure editorial autonomy and prevent owners and shareholders from exerting undue influence on news output. [2]

To find out more see Making it Happen page 172

52) Counter misinformation

Climate Feedback is large network of climate scientists around the world who provide up-to-date scientific feedback on the accuracy or otherwise of online climate coverage.

Carbon Brief also provides a daily summary of where the national newspapers stand on climate change and energy based on analysis of articles and editorials.

To find out more see Making it Happen page 171

53) Use social media to drive news

The importance of facebook in driving news traffic has been found in many studies, to the point that the goal for many news organisations is now to work out what works best on facebook so that it will be subsequently shared. This, according to the Editor-in-Chief of Buzzfeed is “stuff that makes you laugh and stuff that makes you angry” [3].

Research has also shown how twitter is a valuable tool for raising awareness of climate change and fostering public acceptance.

To find out more see Making it Happen page 170

54) Use clever communications

Following the release of a Greenpeace Youtube video, ‘Lego: Everything’s NOT Awesome’, which showed an Arctic Legoland being swamped in oil, and received over six million hits, Lego did not renew its partnership contract with Shell (where Shell-branded Lego sets were sold at petrol stations).

To find out more see Making it Happen page 171

55) Culture jamming

Groups and individuals have challenged the mainstream media despite their resources being tiny in comparison to the spending power of the advertising industry. One ‘culture jammer’s’ email exchange with Nike about their refusal to put the word ‘sweatshop’ on his customised trainers went viral worldwide.

To find out more see Making it Happen page 166

56) Images for change

Climate Visuals is an evidence-based resource for climate change communication developed by Climate Outreach. The research involved in-depth discussion groups to find out how people respond to different images of climate change, followed up with surveys of 3,000 people in the UK, Germany and US. The research developed seven key principles for visual climate change communication which can be used by climate campaigners as well as offering an online library of images. [4]

To find out more see Making it Happen page 168

57) ‘Tweetjacking’

The process of turning others’ tweets against them has also been used successfully to counter corporate greenwash, as demonstrated by a twitter campaign by McDonalds that was pulled after a twitter backlash.

To find out more see Making it Happen page 166

58) Protect the kids

Sweden does not allow TV and radio advertising to children under 12 [5]. Numerous European countries regulate television advertising to children. For example, Austria has banned advertising during children’s programmes before 8.15pm, while Greece has banned toy advertising between 7am and 10pm and has banned adverts for toy weapons entirely [6].

To find out more see Making it Happen page 166

59) Remove junk food

NHS England has removed adverts, price promotions and checkout displays for high sugar and salty foods in hospitals and other health centres.

To find out more see Making it Happen page 165

60) Once upon a time

Storytelling is a highly effective way of engaging attention and sympathies, as stories have universal and direct appeal and can be more salient and memorable than information or data alone [7].

To find out more see Making it Happen page 168

Making it happen

The ideas presented here are collated from the new Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen report, which explores how we can overcome the social and political barriers preventing society reaching zero carbon.

The way in which we communicate and frame the zero carbon transition is critical in achieving the traction and engagement required. Reducing the impact of advertising, whilst increasing the media profile of both problems and solutions, and correcting commonly held misconceptions or misinformation, will help build support for action.

You can download the full Making it Happen report here or read previous good ideas in this series on our blog.

1. Cave, T. and Rowell, A. (2014) A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism, and Broken Politics in Britain. The Bodley Head, London.

2. Media Reform Coalition (2013) Evidence submission to Select Committee on Communications: Media Plurality, May 2013. Media Reform Coalition: UK.

3. Harcup, T. and O’Neill, D. (2016) What is news? Journalism Studies.

4. Corner, A. et al. (2016) Seven principles for visual climate change communication (based on international social research). January 2016. Climate Outreach: Oxford, UK.

5. Olsen, L. (2010) Children and Advertising — Some Perspectives on the Relevant Legal Arguments. Stockholm Institute for Scandinavian Law 1957–2010: Sweden.

6. Kang, J. H. (2001) Barbie Banished from the Small Screen: The Proposed European Ban on Children’s Television Advertising. Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business, 21 (2), pp. 543–564.

7. Slater, M. D. et al. (2014) Temporarily Expanding the Boundaries of the Self: Motivations for Entering the Story World and Implications for Narrative Effects. Journal of Communication, 64, pp. 439–455.