Riddle Me This!3 Comments
Riddle me this!
Acronym madness, gobble-de-gook and the death of the everyday climate conversation
The recent COP 17
That the very people endeavoring not only to move the scientific, legislative, governmental and global debate forward, but also to inspire a shared and open conversation around the climate challenges that face our planet, should have finally managed to sound like they are from another one in the process of doing so doesn’t bode well.
It offers a simple insight into why the interest and engagement of your average person in the climate change debate is disappearing faster than a polar bear’s habitat. Sustainability Players and Climate Activists must take some responsibility for why the debate has become as insular and un-engaging as it has for everyday people.
For change to happen, masses of people must be engaged on a global scale: full stop.
For that to happen, we need them to be interested. We need to move the conversation from the big scary, irrelevant and unreachable Planet We framing of old to the more intimate self-interested ‘my life my everyday framing’ of Planet Me – and to do that we need to change the language for good.
That a formal Lexicon of terms was needed to allow COP attendees to navigate any conversation meaningfully should be of great concern, especially to communicators working in the pro-people pro-sustainability space. (The lexicon of collected acronyms and official bodies associated with COP published by the UN’s FCCC ran to 203)
The only thing this language sustains is complexity.
We need simple and compelling language to win the day in every corner of the debate – and we need the conversation to be based on insights about what really counts to people struggling through their every day.
Whichever way we look – to the scary language of Oil Addiction, or the tyranny of positivity peddled by some do-good brands; or at its worst, the scratching, scrawling swaggadaccio and point scoring of some blue and green blogs and forums – the language around these issues makes them almost impenetrable to anyone other than the most avid expert or interested party.
This is not to advocate a dumbing down of the kind of robust scientific regulatory, governmental and societal thinking that sits behind the debate. Nor is it meant to belittle strategic and logistical road maps that need to be engineered and created to move the debate forward.
This is not about developing an environmental thought leadership approach championed by SpongeBob SquarePants, Yogi Bear, Lassie and the cast of Happy Feet (though some would argue that you could add 6 noughts to our global captive audience if we did).
This is about clearly recognizing that the language of sustainability and the narrative of climate change have got to evolve and (yes, it’s ugly time) become more populist. We need the Average Joe and Jane to get engaged, and needing a PHD in eco-climate speak is going to get in the way of that ever happening.
So before we finally shut the door for good on any normal human being’s ability to engage in the debate or even understand what on earth anyone was talking about in the first place, a moratorium on the language of Global Do Good is crucial – and let’s have a good hard look at its tone-of-voice while we’re there – because on closer inspection large parts of the conversation smack of a rather unpleasant smuggery – riddled and stitched as so much of it is with an undercurrent of a proving intellectual snobbery.
We just have to dig deep and find the insights and the language through which it becomes relevant, appropriate and meaningful for them to think and act differently – for better – embrace the human truth of them and what really drives their thoughts and actions – mining insights and giving them the kind of compelling creative expression that is usually reserved for TXTS & minutes providers, snack foods, cars and the boutique world of international health & beauty amongst others.
We know that, whether we like it or not, self interest is a primary driver especially where people are managing their pennies, dollars and cents in crunched times.
How do you tell someone who thinks their shopping is heavy enough, thank you very much, without some do-gooder placing the weight of the world’s future squarely on her shoulders that kind consumption is the way forwards? – especially on a rainy Tuesday morning with a grumpy 4 year old and depleted purse in tow.
How do you convince someone to choose a more sustainable and environmentally friendly holiday over one powered and supported by unsustainable social, environmental or cultural practices?
They’re going on a holiday not a crusade.
And there is an element of catch up here.
The businesses who create the products these people consume have already started to change the language from the inside out – putting non-environmental people in Sustainability jobs.
An absence of all the baggage (of language, attitude and set-apartness) that comes with the more traditional blue-green brigade.
How can we help to reshape the language in such way as to speak to Planet Me as a way of improving Planet We? Changing it forever?
So not a small challenge then: but the good ones never are.