Busting through climate change apathy: What will it take?

I’ll admit it. From a communications perspective, the challenge of making people care about climate change had me stumped. I mean, the complexity of the issue along with our enduring fixation with the economy and astounding capacity for denial has made this the Death Star of all social change issues. But quite recently, I have started to feel a shift in the wind. With the coming of the People’s Climate March and the release of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, there are signs that we’re just now figuring out how to crack this nut and gain some critical momentum.

What has made the climate issue so tough for advocates seeking wider buy in (so far) is surely the lack of a clear and immediate danger affecting large segments of the population. Most of us have experienced some form of climate disruption but, unless we were live in New Orleans or other critical coastal areas worldwide, we have not yet experienced repeated climate disasters. And therefore, we lack the obvious ‘reptilian brain‘ triggers most advertisers instinctively look for in a successful campaign. These basic motivators, such as danger/security, sex and status, are believed to override emotional and especially intellectual arguments. Until now, most climate change advocacy has involved hammering the public with more and more science, thus appealing to our intellects. And though a rational will to act may have been established for some of us, it can still be readily knocked down by counter-claims that we will lose our jobs if we switch to a low carbon economy. The latter will always win out in a pinch because these threats to our security and status plug right into the reptile within us.

Still, after several years of intensive trial and error, the movements pushing us to act on climate change are getting better at appealing to our baser instincts. Take this recent video produced by the Weather Channel in anticipation of the 2014 Climate Summit. It cleverly brings the potential future reality of climate change in the U.S. to the present in the all too familiar format of a weather report. More than almost anything else I have seen, this makes it real for us and I can feel the danger neurons in my reptilian brain tingling as I see this.

The more we can find to make the dangers of climate change clear, immediate and local for those we are reaching out to, the easier it will be to pull off the sea change in our cultures and economies that this crisis requires.

To watch 2050 weather reports from around the world, see the World Metereological Organization’s Youtube Channel.

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