Once upon a time there was a problem with the climate…
There was a very interesting article in the Guardian last week by Oliver Burkeman where he lamented the lack of widespread public interest in the whole US “fiscal cliff” farrago and in climate change. The problem, Burkeman argues,
“is that they’re not stories about the sufferings or triumphs of individual, knowable humans.They’re failures of complex systems: millions of individuals are affected, but in incremental, widely dispersed ways; in the case of global warming, most of those millions aren’t even born yet.”
He goes on to say:
“The economist Tyler Cowen rightly warns that our addiction to stories is dangerous. Stories strip facts away, dragging attention to what’s most narratively satisfying, not what’s most important. One of the least appetising tasks of the journalist, I can say from experience, is the struggle to combat this by injecting “the human element” into news that doesn’t naturally possess it. The results are often painful.”
While I agree with the analysis, I disagree completely with the prognosis. If human beings are so obsessed with stories – and I spend a huge amount of time reading them to my kids (see pic) – then lets embrace that to communicate climate change and sustainability, as resistance is futile.
You see time and time again organisations trying to communicate sustainability by bombarding the reader with facts, occasionally leavened with classroom comparisons – “that’s the equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off the road” etc. Trying to convert everybody into fully educated climate scientists, energy economists and environmental toxicologists is an impossible and pointless task. You don’t need to understand the albedo effect to choose the most energy efficient equipment for your company.
My green jujitsu approach says “if they like stories, give ’em stories!” Turn sustainability challenges and solutions into stories of individuals’ challenges, endeavours and resolutions. Add humour for extra zing. Leave the detailed stats and analysis for Burkeman and the rest of us geeks – unless of course you are dealing with geeks, then fact away!
And they’ll all live happily ever after. The End.