By Anders Lorenzen
I have previously argued that we must combat climate change with facts, not fiction. And that is something environmentalists don’t always get right as pointed out in the late Swedish statistician Hans Rosling’s 2017 book Factfulness.
Having said that, I have come to realise that, looking at where we are at in 2019, another argument is needed, one that I will try to make without contradicting the above.
Emotions in a divided world
There is no doubt in my mind that our world appears more divided than ever. And the bridge between fact and fiction seems more blurred, depending on where you get your information from. Hard straight facts seem more difficult to put across to people than a popular meme. Therefore, at a time where communicating climate change has never been more pressing and urgent, it is also something that is harder to do than ever before. And at present, under the current circumstances, it is something we’re failing to do.
In 2018 we saw another set of important climate reports released, and hardly any of them got any traction, bar one. A report released by the Stockholm Resilience Institute became one of the most downloaded scientific reports of 2018. And it saw the emergence of a new word to describe where we are heading ’Hothouse Earth’. I believe that the popularity of the report might be down to a new way of discussing the reality of where we are heading. And it is drawing on emotions by using words such as Hothouse Earth.
We as humans are connecting and responding to emotions. Whether you like it or not anything that gets traction in today’s world is connected to emotions. Emotive headlines get more clicks and engagement. If we look at popular political movements such as Brexit, Donald Trump, and even Bernie Sanders they’re all built around emotions. The new political strongholds and their extremes of left or right are being fuelled by strong emotions.
Climate change is all about emotions
And if you look at climate change, nothing could be more emotional than that. We are literally talking about the future of humanity, but that is not what we say. The news around climate change focuses on some numbers that people do not really understand such as 1.5, 2 or 3 degrees C, or 400PPM.
What do these figures actually mean to people? No wonder that they can’t connect with the issue of climate change, and that they instead go back to looking at their Instagram feed. But what these statistics actually represent are the difference between a livable planet or a planet that is out of control, unable to provide resources for a growing population or for that matter any population. But the mainstream UN climate reports do not tell us that; nor do they tell us the number of things we love that climate change will take away from us. These things might include skiing, white Christmases, a thriving natural world, coffee or plainly just our ability to get on with our everyday lives.
Again, the reason why the ‘Hothouse Earth’ report was so popular was that it talked precisely about that. It talked about the tipping points we are heading towards such as the loss of ice sheets, of snowcapped mountains, of deforestation and it talked about what our world would be like if we lost those. The UN climate reports, on the other hand, spoke in a language that is unfamiliar to most people and even many journalists, being technical and specialist.
Emotions and facts can go hand in hand
Don’t misunderstand me. We need facts and we need hard facts. And we should not skew facts. We should be true to climate science because the scientists are the ones we should trust. They’re the ones who have dedicated their lives to studying the science.
But I happen to believe there is a way to deal with the facts. We should talk about them, be emotive about them just as long as we don’t mislead. For instance, if you have the three UN emissions scenarios, don’t just share the most pessimistic.
And we should also not get too bogged down in sharing lots of graphs and data which can usually be interpreted in several different ways. We should just be honest about how we feel, instead of being drawn into Facebook discussions about a graph that is a cause of much controversy. We know what is at stake without having to drill deep into the data and analyse it.
Climate change in 2019, not just a facts game
We should not be afraid of letting 2019 be the year where we start talking more creatively about climate change and talking less about the facts and statistics. For let’s be honest it is much more than that. We should not be afraid to share our deepest thoughts and concerns about the uncertain future that a warming climate brings.
And, in addition, we should not hold back our joy and optimism about the things we are getting right. For instance, the continuing acceleration of clean energy investments, the cleaning up of our air due to the closure of coal plants, the exciting new innovations in clean-tech solutions, more electric cars on the roads and more people switching to a diet less based on meat. Let’s not forget that emotions can be positive as well as negative. We absolutely need to celebrate when things are going right.
And we should use our emotions to raise awareness about issues and say enough is enough. Just like the millions of people who have shared images of plastic pollution and are forcing governments to take action. This is something we need to bring into the climate fight.
I will be the first to admit that bringing emotions into the subject is something I myself have not been very good at. And I will give myself the task of doing better in 2019. I realise that this must be done in a way that does not distort the facts but is fact-based and balanced.
And for me, it is not just about writing more emotional, posts but about talking more about it, reaching out to people, looking at it in a different way, telling stories differently and engaging with people around this really big issue. I want to know and learn more about how people perceive this issue and feel about it. This in return, I believe would make more people connect with the subject.
As we move into 2019, the urgency of climate change is only set to become more pressing. There will be many stories to tell and many debates to be had. And fundamentally it is a colossal human story. And it is an emotional story and we must tell it as such.
We must use all the tools in our toolbox and take back control of this issue. For instance, Instagram should not be just the fashion and consumerism channel but should be the face of people responding to the climate crisis. As the algorithm on social media channels and Google responds more to emotion than anything else we must make climate change all about emotions.