Creating the Campaign
Putting flesh on the bones of this idea
If a climate ad campaign, such as the one I describe here, gets launched by those with the resources to do so, I expect that teams of professionals with the relevant experience and expertise will create the ads and the website. I have neither the experience nor the expertise. However, it might be helpful to provide some details of what this campaign might look like. With that said, I humbly offer some thoughts:
The ads and website
Will need to explode the most common and pernicious myths about climate change, such as that:
- Climate scientists are in it for the money.
- The climate is always changing and extreme weather events are just part of the earth’s natural cycles.
- Many scientists do not believe in climate change and there are significant scientific uncertainties.
- It’s cold outside, so we know global warming is not real.
- Global warming and the increase of CO2 will have positive impacts.
- It doesn’t matter what the US does, the real problem is China and India.
- Only God can change the weather.
- The transition to renewable energy will be too expensive and damage the economy.
The advertising content
- Given the limited attention span of viewers and the costs of TV advertising, video content will need to be brief.
- Images (or memes) should be interesting and eye-catching.
- Dense or lengthy text should be avoided, as the ads – to the degree possible – need to show and not explain concepts.
- The appearance of the ads should vary. If the viewer is able to quickly identify them as “one of those ads about climate change,” much of our target audience will quickly tune them out.
- If the alarming prospects of global warming are the sole focus, the audience could become numb to the message. A range of tones will work best with a mix of worrisome, informative and hopeful messages.
- A detached scientific tone will not work as well as an emotional one.
- The right-wing media have taken to labeling, in a mocking fashion, environmentalists as “alarmists.” The ads need to show why being alarmed is an appropriate response.
Science, not Politics
- For those who have not paid much attention to the issue, global warming is only about the weather. The impacts of the climate crisis on oceans, food production, animal populations, forests, and more should also be illustrated.
- Many do not know that CO2 stays in the atmosphere for very long periods of time and, as a result, our actions (and emissions) now will have consequences in the future. Planning ahead is almost always a wise choice.
- To the degree possible, concepts should be embedded within narratives or explained using metaphors.
- The consequences of climate change should be tailored for the locations where the ads are shown.
- The partisan opposition to climate change is driven by a distrust of governmental control and regulation. Other means of addressing global warming should be highlighted.
- Ads should feature individuals with whom the viewer identifies and/or admires.
- The climate message might be positively received if they feature NASA scientists and astronauts.
- The public hears about the science of climate change but rarely from scientists themselves. In brief videos, the public would see climate scientists as honest, intelligent, concerned, and sincere – in a word, trustworthy.
- Many Americans are religious and their faith might contribute to a distrust of scientific evidence. The campaign should include faith-based reasons for responding to the climate crisis.
- The Climate Truth messages should appeal to values, such as justice, fairness, morality, and personal responsibility.
The Transition to Renewable Energy
- The ads should acknowledge that a drastic reduction in the burning of fossil fuels will necessitate significant changes. If it didn’t, it would be too easy to dismiss the campaign as unrealistic.
- The long-term advantages and economic benefits of this transition should be emphasized.
- Show examples of communities and nations that are successfully adopting climate-mitigation and adaptation strategies.
As I imagine it, the website would have two essential functions, to provide:
- more information and evidence about the science and
- suggestions for appropriate responses.
The science element could use the framework of these five simple sentences – with thanks to climate scientist and communicator Katherine Hayhoe:
The earth is warming.
There are solutions.
Each sentence could link to a series of short videos that provide detailed explanations and evidence for each.
The recommended responses could be broken into categories of political, individual, and community actions.
- The Political response is the most straightforward. Every citizen should let their elected representatives, at all levels, know that they are concerned about the climate crisis and expect them to take appropriate steps to address it.
- Individual Actions: There are many ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint, but suggesting changes in individual choices and lifestyle needs to be done with tact and sensitivity. While reducing one’s carbon footprint is a worthy and important goal, it needs to be acknowledged that compromises are inevitable and change often happens in stages. If the campaign has been successful in helping people understand the urgency of this planetary crisis, then providing solid information about the climate impacts of everyday choices should help them make better decisions.
- Community/Social Responses: Many of the actions needed to address climate change are not political or even individual, but local and community-based. The differences among communities make it difficult for governments to dictate a one-size-fits-all approach. This could start by talking with neighbors, friends, and local officials about: meeting local transportation needs, community gardens, recycling and composting, microgrids for neighborhoods, reducing food waste, planting trees, supporting local farmers and businesses, co-housing, and more.
Is this possible? Of course it is!
Would this work? We should try.