There are many possible ways to communicate climate change impacts. Videos of burning forests, dying animals, and melting icebergs flood social media feeds. An abundance of articles throw facts at us about the consequences of global warming, and inform about demonstrations, activist actions, like the powerful Fridays for Future protests or the civil disobedience activities of the so-called “Last Generation”. Climate Change is a serious issue, and that is how politicians and other decision-makers around the world should treat it. If policy makers continue to do as little as they have done so far, we will fail to reach the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C by 2100.
While we, the Climate Media Factory, rely on films, animations, social media communication, practical web tools and communication for transformative processes that are thoroughly researched, while also being visually appealing and infused with both seriousness and humour, there are definitely other ways to address the urgency of our changing climate. It doesn’t really matter what we think of the adhesive protest of the Last Generation; even if there is a big gap between their activism and our work, in the end we pursue a similar goal: We want to bring attention to climate impacts and influence the public discourse, make climate change effects and hazards graspable, and ultimately trigger concrete actions.
But what is the most effective communication method? Unfortunately, many facts about the impacts of climate change often seem to go unnoticed, so when we choose how to communicate, we need to carefully consider who we want to reach. Is it civil society, a political party, global politics, or a powerful political movement?
The flood of information often bypasses the audience, facts get blurred, and climate change remains an unimaginable future scenario for many. Turning a blind eye and brushing off the impacts of our actions are a big problem. On the one hand, we witness how people who have been advocating for climate action hit a wall with their projections, as if they simply can't find the right images, or the right words to make themselves heard. On the other hand, society's awareness of the consequences of climate change has increased notably in recent years, exactly because news about the climate are communicated in so many different ways.
But the question remains: Who are we addressing? Even if many people (those who can afford it) fly less, eat less meat, buy plastic-free, etc., most things must be solved structurally and cannot be tackled individually. We need to use climate communication to reach, above all, those who make relevant, systemic and far-reaching decisions. We should not forget that many decision-makers are still oblivious of climate protection measures. In this sense, it is important to educate and activate large parts of the population to exert political pressure. But how can this be achieved?
The Last Generation has been ridiculed in the media because of its adhesive actions and has not been taken seriously by politicians at large - or rather too seriously, given that the movement was scrutinised by the Federal Agency for State Protection, on par with the extreme right-wing Reichsbürger movement, which justified police raids. They are criticised mainly because the glueing of hands to asphalt roads does not seem to serve the cause of advancing the climate goals. People think of them as being too radical. As a result, the movement received widespread rejection from the public, which is exactly the opposite of what is needed to reach the climate goals. Apparently their actions are not proportionate with their demands: e.g., the 100 km/h speed limit on highways and the 9-euro ticket (a monthly nationwide flat rate public transport ticket in Germany). Activism and civil disobedience can certainly provoke and draw attention to an ignored, suppressed, or unnoticed issue. In the case of the Last Generation, this has worked very well. How much radicalism serves the cause, however, must be judged subjectively. The personal risks which the activists are willing to take - by putting their own hands and health in danger, possible jail time and criminal charges against them - highlights the seriousness, the disappointment, and the desperation of a generation, but also shows us the limits of their communication approach.
At this point, I would like to place the different methods of climate communication not against each other but side by side. Challenges in communication confronts CMF’s work as well. In our case, we need to understand different media strategies as well as the political landscape and the scientific discourse in order to do our work well. We believe in the power of media to communicate content in a simplified, clear and concise way, supported by visual language, to create change in thinking and the actions of people. With the videos, web tools and graphics we produce for our clients and partners, we are nowhere nearly as visible as activist actions or civil disobedience, but we do have an impact in specific change processes. At the same time, we also notice that our proposals for transformation are not always taken seriously.
Perhaps the different approaches to climate communication will ultimately unite us more than we initially suspected. No matter which path we take, we will always encounter rejection on the one hand, but also approval on the other. The most important thing is that we do not lose sight of the content, the concerns and the demands in the discussion about the “how to”. Climate impacts will always polarise opinions. We will find people who support us, listen to us, take our demands seriously, and those who oppose us, consider the content of our work exaggerated or unrealistic. But realistically, it is already the time to act. We must collectively exhaust the purpose and the extent of our communication efforts and view them side by side in their entire diversity. Later it can still be up for debate whether our approaches have failed or succeeded. What we can say with certainty, though, is that the many different methods will be louder together than if we remain silent.
Translated by Caroline Bertram