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How to talk about climate change

How to talk about climate change

Greg B. Walker of the Faculties of Communication of Oregon State University


Get the message across. This was the theme of an event titled “Communicating Climate Change” organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the International Climate Negotiations COP 22 in Marrakech today.

“The negotiations have primarily emphasized on technical dimensions, but we need to devote more attention to the human dimensions of climate change,” said Greg B. Walker of the Faculties of Communication of Oregon State University.

Walker said it is important to focus three key human dimensions– culture, conflict management and collaboration.

“Climate policies need to be culturally appropriate,” he said, elaborating that members of relevant cultural communities need to be engaged as partners and leaders throughout the implementation process and traditional knowledge - indigenous and local - should be incorporated in climate change interventions.

He also stressed the importance of acknowledging the potential for climate change related conflicts and encouraging conflict management and mediation training.

Walker added that working in collaboration with civil society and grassroots representatives who are closer to the people is crucial. “We need to truly listen to the people who are suffering the impacts, and convey those messages,” he said.

Marda Kire, Director of EcoArts Connections of Boulder, Colorado focused on the importance of incorporating arts in climate messaging.

Kire gave the example of Kim Abeles’ creative Presidential Commemorative Smog Plates whereby portraits were made of various US presidents using particles from polluted air.

Abeles left dinner plates covered with stencil on rooftops for various lengths of time depending on how much a particular president cared for the environment. Once the stencil was removed, the Presidents’ portrait in the smog was revealed, along with their quotes on the environment.

Kim Abeles’ smog collector commission reached a dollar amount of three million and reached 30 million people, making it one of the most effective media campaigns.

Marda Kire, Director of EcoArts Connections


“Logic is often not enough,” Kire said, elaborating that it was necessary to have cognition (mind, intellect, facts, reasoning, analysis i.e. the what) and affect (emotions, heart, feelings, attitudes, values and beliefs i.e. so what) working together to create the desired “effect”. “That’s how we make people care.”

Kire alluded to the High Water Line project in New York and Miami, which engages community people in visualizing climate change-induced projected sea level rise through public arts activities.

“We need songs and poetry. We need to show people various ways to contribute based on their comparative advantages,” said Max Boykoff of the Comparative Institute of Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), of the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he is working on creating a climate communication project to build capacity of students.

“We need to work smarter, not necessarily harder for climate communication," he added.


Max Boykoff of the University of Colorado, Boulder

Kire ended the session with examples from literature that effectively rallied people behind causes.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin made it possible for thousands of people to question a difficult, deeply ingrained issue [slavery] and envision a different world, and that is what we have to do with climate change messaging,” she said.

“And for that we need a Copernican shift”.