Cutting through Climate Change Complaceny

Written by Joseph Henry

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Forty thousand diplomats, journalists, campaigners and policy makers will descend on COP21 in Paris. This conference is one of the most important to date and aims to create a cross national agreement, mobilise vast sums of money and allow developing nations to undergo sustainable development. This is a noble and lofty goal, and those taking part should be proud of their efforts. However, most members of the global public will either be too busy, cynical or complacent to notice.

Complacency is dangerous and something I come across everyday as a recruiter. Talking about a new career opportunity can be low on most people’s to-do list after work, family, social commitments and numerous other everyday-life worries. I often have to cut through this background noise, and the most successful way I have found is to tell a human story, understand the needs of the audience and provide tangible outcomes. I believe these can offer a real antidote.

Climate change needs to step away from scientific debate about theories, statistics and narrow discourse, in favour of communication with people, about people. It needs to tell human stories relevant to people’s lives. A reduction in snowfall in the mountains of Europe due to rising temperatures and climate change will mean little to most people. However, focusing on how Jean-Claude’s ski rental company went bankrupt because skiers moved location due to record diminishing snowfall? That resonates. The human story that Jean-Claude and his family lost their home and livelihood is a compelling— if sad— story.

I believe climate change communication must focus on the audience’s perspective and how they see the world. A trade unionist is not necessarily going to care about a global temperature rise. They are going to care about the jobs lost due to supply chain disruption caused by rising sea levels or flooding.

Many people do not see the tangle of outcomes from the agreements on climate change. An agreement to reduce carbon emissions is not going to be noticed by a city dwellers; however they are going to notice policies that promote a sharing economy or driverless cars that reduce city smog, create jobs and reduce traffic congestion. All of these things will improve their lives all while helping in the fight against climate change.

To ensure the successful legacy of COP21 and counteract the threat of lax implementation that happen to the Kyoto Protocols, we have to talk to people about climate change in a real, meaningful and human way. Showing empathy, emotion, and interest to create a sense of urgency to tackle this issue.

Joseph Henry is Managing Partner of Westminster Search a leading recruitment firm working in the public policy and political campaigns sector. You can contact Joseph by sending a DM on twitter at @westsearch or email joseph.henry@westminstersearch.com

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