Be the (Climate) Change You Want to See
Today’s conversation around climate change is marked by deep political divisions that have seemingly stalled action. Scott Pruitt, EPA’s new administrator has cited more than a few blatant alternative facts about the science behind climate change. He’s even designated a chief of staff who threw a snowball on the floor of the US Senate to dispute that climate change exists. Both men are encouraging dissenting opinions on science-based data collected by numerous sources over the course of several decades.
Despite vehement denial by our new environmental “leaders,” more than 70 percent of Americans do believe that the climate is changing. And yet our beliefs, attitudes, policy preferences, and behaviors vary as much as the weather between Tucson in August and Buffalo in January.
So, what action can we – as consumers and brand leaders – take, knowing that there’s likely less than a snowball’s chance in hell that we’ll see any government action to minimize climate change in the near future? That’s the question that natural and organic product industry leaders will be pondering at next week’s inaugural Climate Day at Expo West 2017.
Below are a few considerations for how we, as a collective, might be able to create positive momentum.
1. Re-craft the Messaging and Language Around Climate Change
It will be important to deploy a new set of vocabulary that re-frames the issues surrounding climate change in order to build trust and translate common ground issues. This common narrative should serves to correlate conservation with human values, mitigate preconceived ideas, and reduce ideological barriers regarding the environmental movement.
To really mobilize individuals to reduce climate change, we need to shift the culture and behavior of people, businesses, schools, nonprofits, and government agencies (AKA everyone!). First, we have to acknowledge that people have different levels of concern, and different motivations to live well and consume sustainably.
We also know that to create lasting change, we need to move people through different stages of involvement. These stages will require succinct (and repeated) messaging, as well as compelling art and visuals. People do not change their behavior or their minds based on facts alone (thanks, confirmation bias), but compelling messaging and engaging creative can move them to listen, learn, and adapt.
2. Engage People in Fun and Provocative Ways
What does a new way of talking about the weather look like? Consider Dear Climate. According to the project’s website:
“We wanted a different vocabulary from the one we were hearing from the “survival community”: instead of crisis and catastrophe, we wanted the familiar and ordinary; instead of desperation and heroism, playfulness and friendliness. Instead of imagining mass movements or calling for community action, we were interested in finding a more personal relationship to climate change. Remembering the Sixties slogan, “the personal is political,” we wondered if the politics of climate change had evaded the personal for too long? Of course we were well aware of the emphasis on personal responsibility in the environmental movement—the injunctions to practice simplicity, recycle paper and plastic, avoid waste, and reduce consumption.”
The Psychology of Climate Change Communication details many of the biases and barriers to scientific communication and information processing. It’s a useful tool and thought-provoking guide, but key to its messaging is a vision of hope that speaks to people’s emotional understanding of the issue while building in evidential information.
3. Leverage Food Tribes
Food movements such as Buy Organic, B Corps, the Rainforest Alliance (follow the frog), the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List, and vegetarianism and veganism have moved the needle on perceptions of how diet, health, and the environment are interconnected. But more can be done.
We should consider messaging tactics that leverage the organizational capabilities and influential power of brands, retailers, suppliers, brokers, and concerned consumers. In addition to traditional vehicles of paid and earned media, we should consider other fun ways to engage, inspire, and educate. More specifically, we need to inspire those who are not already alarmed, concerned, or cautious about climate change to make personal choices that positively impact them, their families, their communities, and the planet.
It’s important to recognize that, for the average consumer, climate change can seem overwhelming. As environmental advocates, we need to emphasize how the choices we make every day about what we eat, how we heat and cool our homes, what transportation methods we use, and what we buy and throw away make up more than half of all local carbon emissions. We each have an important role to play, and it starts with small actions.
Here are a few things everyone can do today to be a climatarian.
- Buy local
- Buy organic
- Work to reduce food waste
- Consider eating meat in moderation
- Practice yoga (really!)
While global warming represents one of the greatest challenges facing our world, it also presents one of our greatest opportunities for innovation and leadership. The Natural Products Industry has been a leader in animal welfare, non-GMO, organic, and fair trade. Now it’s time to lead on climate.