Climate Change Has A Marketing Problem

Tom Stevenson by Karsten Würth on Unsplash

We are all familiar with climate change. But the phrase doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody.

For some, such as the Extinction Rebellion group, climate change is an existential threat that requires urgent action to prevent catastrophe. While several political figures, such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, consider it either to be a hoax or believe it will have positive economic effects for their country.

With competing views and a lack of uniform agreement on whether climate change is manmade, or a catastrophe in the making, it’s hard for the average person to know who or what to believe.

However, with 11,000 scientists backing a statement which tells of ‘untold suffering’ if we don’t act soon, there can be little doubt that climate change is influenced by human activity and should be taken seriously.

The problem is, all the talk of doom and gloom isn’t the best way to get us to act. Humans love a good story. Think of religions such as Christianity and Islam, political beliefs such as Communism. They have inspired millions of people around the globe resulting in dedicated followers.

What do they all have in common? They offer a narrative of a better world.

In the case of religion, this better world is often reached in the afterlife. The promise of life after death is an attractive one. It’s what draws us to place our faith in the teachings of such religions.

Whereas, Communism proclaims that a better world can be built here on Earth if only the proletariats break the hold of the chains that oppress them.

The problem with climate change is that there is a lack of such a narrative. Most of the stories associated with climate change are negative. The outlook presented is bleak, it plays to our fears. The recent Australian wildfires is a case in point. We are told this is our fate if we don’t act and while it may be, negative messaging and can induce a feeling of helplessness rather than motivation.

While such news stories will have an impact, it won’t have as much of an impact if the messaging was more positive. Fear is not a good motivator. Instead, those extolling the dangers of climate change should pivot and show us how, despite the danger, we have the chance to forge a better world.

Positive vibes

A key tenet of marketing is that you want to make people fall in love with your product or company. This way they will rush to buy it, or from you.

Apple is a fantastic example of this. They have a hardcore of fans who race to be the first in line to buy their latest gadget. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new iPhone or the iWatch, they have to have it.

Why is this? Why do people spend so much time queuing up to buy a new phone or watch? The answer is that Apple inspires a devotion from its fans which compels them to buy their latest products.

Whatever you think about Apple, there is no denying they are marketing geniuses.

Climate change is very different from Apple. It’s not a company, nor is it a product and it’s not exactly tangible either. You can’t reach out and touch climate change, but, you do experience climate change.

Think of the hot summers of recent years, brutal hurricanes that have hit the Caribbean and the wildfires I mentioned earlier. Whether we are there on the ground or witness these events through TV or social media, we have all experienced climate change.

Often, these stories are depicted in apocalyptic terms. The damage from the wildfires and hurricanes was immense. We were confronted with figures of the human and animal toll daily.

It’s hard to watch. No doubt these images will have made a lot of people more interested in the effects we’re having on the climate. But, I suspect many people forgot all about it once it fell off the news cycle.

Sure, we see protests and school strikes on the news from time to time, but these are all inherently negative. The issue with climate change is that it’s marketed as a disaster.

A disaster that will ruin the planet in thirty years. The big problem with this is that humans are terrible at assessing long-term risk. The Coronavirus pandemic is a fantastic example of this. Bill Gates warned of a pandemic occurring back in 2015.

Preparation can be put in place by governments, but if the risk is not immediate, it’s hard to justify. Voters tend to wonder if it’s necessary to tackle a threat whose effects may not be felt for another decade or two. They see vast sums of money being spent and little immediate return on that investment.

Once the event has happened, of course, attitudes change. Suddenly, what was deemed unnecessary spending is seen as prudent foresight. Climate change suffers from this problem because the effects are distant and not immediate.

It’s only in recent years that the effects of climate change have come to the fore. We have to act, of this, there is no doubt. But fear is a poor motivator. It paralyses, rather than inspires people. To motivate people to take the threat of climate change seriously, something which seems counter-intuitive needs to be done.

A positive story needs to be told.

Market The Upsides

It may seem strange to think that there will be upsides to climate change. After all, if the temperature rises by two degrees aren’t we supposed to be doomed?

Warming of this kind, or worse, will undoubtedly be a major issue. It’s estimated the damage could total between $150 to $792 trillion if countries fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But figures, impressive as they are, are unlikely to get people to act.

To do this you need to tell them how acting to save the planet can result in a better one. Instead of telling people, the world is in mortal danger, a vision of a better future needs to be explained.

Climate change offers several ways in which we can reshape the world for the better. The pandemic we are living through has revealed one of these. Cleaner air.

The lockdown enforced around the globe has resulted in a reduction of air pollution in major cities. Taking cars off the road has resulted in cleaner air. If this is maintained into the future, this will benefit us all. Reducing cardiovascular issues and improving overall wellbeing. After all, who doesn’t want to breathe cleaner air?

This pandemic has emptied our streets. Car journeys could continue to decrease in the future. With many people working from home and seeing the upsides, a return to the morning commute to work in an office isn’t going to appeal to many.

With more people working from home and fewer cars on the road, these empty spaces could be repurposed to benefit communities. New parks and green spaces could be built. Cities that were once dominated by pollution and traffic could be reclaimed as communal areas.

Potential for a green revolution in industry is also possible. New manufacturing jobs building solar panels, batteries and green infrastructure could employ millions of people around the world.

Our energy bills could be dramatically reduced by transitioning to clean energy Solar panelled tiles on our roofs which store energy in batteries attached to the side of our houses could power our homes. The need to rely on an already stretched energy grid would be reduced. Saving us and our government’s money.

A cleaner, greener future is a real possibility. Climate change has shown us that we cannot carry on the way we have. Change is necessary. But change is scary and if fear is the main motivating factor for change, people will resist.

Environmentalists should redefine their messages of doom to more positive ones to appeal to the human desire to be inspired by stories. The situation is what it is, but the power to build a better world is within our grasp.

Marketing climate change as a way of building a better world is the best way to bring more people on board and prevent catastrophe. Climate change is going to change the world in ways we can’t imagine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t build a better one.

Paradoxically, it’s by promoting the benefits of a greener world that will allow us to save it.

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