Communicating Climate Change – The Missing Piece

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There is a lot going on about Climate Change. Almost four decades ago, the topic was taken up by the global organizations and allocated time, money and energy was put to understand this and solve this. No doubt there has some fruitful work been done with the formation of United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), Conference of the Parties (COP), Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement, etc. but still it is so hard to combat this disastrous phenomenon. Despite several campaigns, advertising, and warnings we, especially people in power, have still been unable to get public on board and have them join us in this journey.

But why is it so?

Is it about Data? – No. Multiple conferences, reports from UN, World Bank and many other multilateral and research institutes have given us sufficient data to understand cause, effect and various permutations and combinations of results.

Is it about reach? – No. We have 194 countries on board who meet each year to discuss likely solutions.

Is it about policies? – No. UN has provided the world with a great sense of problem, goals and pathways. Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gave relevant weightage to the problems depending upon their magnitude and gave organizations over the world some direction to move in.

It is about HOW it is being communicated. Even after 40 good years of discussion, this problem is known to the experts and those who hold interest in the subject. Everytime we say the word “Climate Change”, there is a wide notion that it is a technical idea with so much science to it that a normal person might have heard it or even guess what it is but would never relate to it as a real problem. We have thousands of reports on global effects of Climate Change and only a handful of them explain the term to a lay man. In fact, there are not enough videos and definitely not in all the languages for all 7 billion of us to understand.

There is so much effort being put to know all about Climate Change but very little to make it understandable and conceivable to a larger public. It is also true that this problem is not as physical as water scarcity or use of plastic that people relate to it from day-to-day and therefore, communicating this is more challenging. But on the other hand, it has started getting physical and has gone from bad to worse.

What can be done?

Not everyone is educated, literate or is of same mind frame that the problem is explained with logic and science. To many indigenous groups, in fact science may sound impractical. It is important that we inform about things the way they understand. Instead of overwhelming them with scientific jargon and westernised way of saving climate, use their culture, custom or religion to make them understand Climate Change – why it is important and how can it be saved? As much as we curse religions from causing divide, some credit is to be given for bringing discipline in communities and developing belief systems. It has been seen in past how associating a practice with a religion helps in various ways. For example – worshipping plants like Tulsi or Peepal in Hindus or meditating in Buddhism. Why not then use customs for a greater cause!

Another really important aspect of communicating climate change is the actual communication. There is not enough and comprehensive literature for sensitizing children and people from different backgrounds. In Delhi, we have more road safety messages in English than in Hindi, while majority of the population speaks and understands Hindi! There are tons of books available on water conservation, forest conservation but none on atmospheric conservation or climate change or protecting ozone layer. We have not failed to understand Climate Change but we have failed to make it relatable in day-to-day life. On the top of it, we have all these conferences, talks and summits to discuss various aspects of climate change exclusive to experts but rarely they are open to general public for them to understand these aspects too. This is not to suggest otherwise, but, this topic deserves similar number of campaigns, meetups, rallies, posters, MCD announcements, etc. as any other problem in the world.

While we are talking about sensitizing people, it is always a great idea to start with children. They learn not only through school books but a majority of understanding of their world comes from cartoons and comics. We grew up watching Captain Planet and reading Chacha Chowdhury but the 21st century kids watch Doremon and Shinchan, and the tradition of reading comics is slowly diminishing in the wake of TVs, video games and mobile phones. Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle, creators of Captain Planet and The Planeteers in 1990 thought ahead of their time and actually gave some sense to the entertainment. Though there are many shows on moral values for children but when it comes imbibing practices, we sure do lack behind. However, this area of intervention has great potential to educate kids and make them understand complexities of geoscience and climatology in a really simple manner.

Dissecting what is already given in the enormous reports is a painful task but unless we breakdown the explanation and communicate it to people in the manner in which it is understandable for them, it is almost impossible to fight it together. Climate Change is not just a global problem, it is a local problem as well. It is my problem and it is yours too.