“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife, are in fact plans to protect man” Sen. Stewart Udall
With Monday’s release of the second installment of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the climate catastrophe is back in the headlines. The IPCC report makes it clear that people around the world are already suffering from climate change by reducing crops, destroying homes, raising food prices, and that this will accelerate if climate change is left unchecked. Proponents and opposition alike are in heated debates about the future of our planet. Environmental sustainability will remain a popular topic as long as humanity continues to exhaust the planets resources. While this is something everyone should be concerned, do not let the media’s portrayal to be too overwhelming or scary. Sustainability in the media has a tumultuous history, but positivity and hope are the true tools to build a brighter future.
The media is an important and vital part of our communications. “Without media coverage it is unlikely that an important problem will either enter the arena of public discourse nor become part of political issues.” Unfortunately, the images and language used by the media can have more of a negative impact on the general public than is realised. When we see images of environmental catastrophe, and social rights violations, it makes most of the general public feel sad, miserable, or hopeless. And in this case, research shows the general public ignores or deflects such things, generally, choose not to engage with them. “Fear, guilt, helplessness, and defencelessness and other negative emotional experiences are unlikely to have favourable outcomes for one’s sense of self…” The media needs to convey the urgency and truth of the matter, however, it seems that this overpowering negativity can be more damaging than effective. Humanity needs positivity and hope, a practical solution, a direction, and actionable steps to move forward.
The Science Behind It
The media should not take sole blame. Let’s be honest, there are several pieces to this puzzle. The science has not been entirely easy to understand, it is full of caveats, scientists find it difficult to communicate with the general public, as well as damaging disputes within the scientific community, such as Climategate. There are even academics admitting the difficulty in providing evidence as “no single weather event can yet be tied to long-term climate change.” None of these absolutes exist, and accordingly, it does not give the public or private sector very clear cut goals to ascertain.
We the People
Science and the media can be confusing and off putting, but at the end of the day, it is up to the billions of individuals to make the environment higher on the priority list. When environmental or social catastrophes happen, we have to accept the uncomfortable fact that if its not on our doorstep, it is happening elsewhere, and does not rank high on our priority list. However, in this global world everyone is interlinked, and attending to the environment is a global job. The underlying issue is that every individual person is responsible. As humans, we do not want to believe that climate change is real because then it would mean we have to change. “People are often inclined to accept data and interpretations that appear to validate their prior views.” And it is true, everyone wants to have his or her smartphone, fly to Thailand for a beach holiday, and blast the air conditioning to stay comfortable. However, over consuming cannot go on forever. We the people have to take collective action and not ignore the problem. Thus, clear and positive messages from the media is the first step in creating a collective movement.
“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness which caused them” Albert Einstein
Make a Difference Today, Before It Is Forced
Obviously, many of the planet’s resources are not endless. Scientists have been trying to tell the public of negative impacts from overuse for a long time, as Nick Cohen, columnist for the Observer, writes, “A survey of 2,000 peer-reviewed papers on global warming published in the last 20 years found that 97% said that humans were causing it.” But every individual full well knows something is not right. Today in London, there is a warning for air pollution, which is being blamed on the Sahara Desert, but the media may be overlooking the impact of the 35.2 million vehicles licensed to operate in the UK.
The language and imagery the media uses to explain environmental sustainability is in need of some positivity. Hopelessness, despair, and misery will no longer cut it. As humans, we do not respond well to this. Through improved media communications, continual science advancements, and a general public willing to listen, environmental sustainability will become a more important topic. Perhaps a little more Captain Planet in our lives would not be such a bad thing.