Talking about climate change is depressing. Is it compulsory?
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When it comes to tackling climate change, one of the greatest existential threats in human history, it’s clear that we need to take immediate and meaningful action. But while progress has undoubtedly been made, many people have already mentally checked in, feeling apathetic or helpless about their ability to effect positive change. This means that for many countries the political will to sacrifice convenience and comfort to minimize fossil fuel emissions is simply not there. Which begs the question: how do we talk about climate change in a way that encourages engagement rather than detachment or disbelief?
Researchers have known for more than a century that burning fossil fuels releases insulating greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Still lobbying and obfuscation of oil and gas conglomerates have helped ensure that the global response has been slow at best. Now 20% of people under 35 think it’s ‘too late’ to stop climate change, according to an international study conducted by Ipsos and Futerra Solutions Union which was published last year.
The “if it bleeds, it leads” aspect of journalism – heavy reporting on topics that inspire fear, anger and other negative emotions in readers because they guarantee greater engagement – likely plays a role. in the generalized fatalism of society as a whole. However, it is unrealistic and unnecessary for journalists to ignore heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes and floods that are getting worse every year. People need to know what climate trends are present in their part of the country so that they can properly prepare. At BuzzFeed News, we often write about new temperature records and natural disasters that are likely caused by human-caused climate change, as well as the personal issues of climate action. And the language journalists use to contextualize these events has undergone many revisions over the years as we aim to improve accuracy and understanding.
For example, the fact that we usually refer to it as “climate change” rather than “global warming” reflects a narrative change advanced for the first time by scientists in 1979, although it took another few decades before it became mainstream. Some lay people, especially climate change skeptics, believe that humans cannot be warming up the planet if some regions still regularly experience blizzards and sub-zero temperatures, and the effects on rainfall and sea levels were generally not even considered by the public until recently. While the planet has indeed got hotter in the last 200 years — about 1 degree Celsius warmer — the effects of said warming can sometimes seem paradoxical or unrelated to each other. Realizing this and adapting accordingly has lasting effects on the public information effort. One study, for example, found that Republicans tend to view “climate change” as more serious than “global warming”, the opposite being true for the Democrats.
Recently, some media outlets have also started labeling our current moment as a “climate crisis” as a way to highlight serious threats and urge people to act, but even that is not a simple and hassle-free choice. A 2021 study in the journal Climate Change found calling it a “crisis” or an “emergency” Didn’t increase news audience engagement; actually call it an emergency actually backfiredwhich makes people slightly more likely to view the outlet as lacking in credibility, perhaps because the wording seems unnecessarily alarmist to them.
It is also important for us to realize how corporate lobbying has affected the way we communicate climate goals. The concept of “carbon footprint” was created by BP in the early 2000s and has since become common parlance when talking about preventing further warming. But carbon footprints prioritize individuals for their consumption of fossil fuels while letting gas-intensive industries like energy, construction, transport and agriculture off the hook. Individual actions certainly have an impact on the environment, but someone experiencing homelessness in the United States who relies on public transportation still has a double carbon footprint that of the world average. Personal choices aren’t everything, as demonstrated by the global shutdowns linked to the COVID-19 pandemic when they only slightly reduced global emissions.
This imbalance between what many people are being asked to do, what they can reasonably do, and the level of impact of those actions on slowing climate change can lead to burnout in many people, and burnout wastes increasingly unaffordable time.
According to the 2021 Ipsos study, “While more than half the world still believes we can do something about climate change (58%), the fatalism highlighted in this research can be underpinned by a torrent of catastrophic news Citizens around the world agree (62%) that they hear much more about the negative impacts of climate change than about progress in reducing climate change, resulting in a solutions deficit perceived. “
For this reason, the phrases we use to describe the phenomenon (“climate change” versus “global warming”; “climate crisis” or “climate emergency”) may not be as important as how we construct the narrative. around them. The 2021 Climate Change Study found that focusing on solutions was often better for engagement than trying to scare people into taking action. “Reports that focus on action tend to give people hope,” Grist reported in reference to the study. “Articles that highlight solutions are also seen as more credible, and people resist them less.”
Indeed, solutions journalism has slowly taken shape over the past decade thanks in part to the nonprofit Solutions Journalism Network, which was founded in 2013. Its goal is to “ensure, by 2025, that the majority of news consumers in the United States, and a growing number around the world, have access to solutions journalism, no matter where and how they get their information”. As the name suggests, solutions journalism focuses on answers to social issues, focusing on the steps taken as well as the insights, evidence and limitations drawn from the work. According to the nonprofit’s tally, almost 13,000 stories were produced by 6,000 journalists at 1,600 partner organizations in nine years.
An example of climate-related solutions journalism is Nina Ignaczak’s 2021 story about how low-income black residents of Detroit have access to solar energy. One of the main effects of catastrophic climate change is the deepening of long-standing racial inequalities that make it difficult, if not impossible, for people of color to adapt. By highlighting how these types of power imbalances can be overcome, more and more individuals can learn that justice is finally within their reach.
“Readers are pretty sophisticated and they know when they’re being force-fed something,” Education Lab reporter Claudia Rowe said solutions journalism. “They believe by nuance. The idea is not to change your mind; it is to show possibilities.
What is the word?
petrichor (peh-tri-kor) (n.): the lingering smell of the first rain after a long period of dry weather. Etymologically, the word comes from ancient Greek Petra (stone) or petros (stone) and ichor, meaning the “ethereal fluid that serves as blood in the veins of the gods”. The phenomenon was given a name in a report in the journal Nature from 1964, with the Australian researchers writing, “The diverse nature of the host materials has led us to propose the name ‘petrichor’ for this seemingly unique odor which may be considered an ‘ichor’ or ‘thin essence’ derived from rock or of stone. To describe it simply, if reductively: During dry periods, some plants release oils, which are then absorbed by the clay-based soil. After a light rain, the oils and the chemical compound geosmin are released into the air. The human nose is sensitive to geosmin, and humans like petrichor, scientists think, because our “ancestors rely on rainy weather for their survival. That’s why it smells so good.
Used in a sentence: If you did not already know the meaning or the etymology of petrichoryou’ve probably never looked at Tumblr.
5 things we read
4. The Daily Emerald: We need to standardize notation to indicate inline tone
5. The Atlantic: What makes someone “a lot”?
And finally a tweet: