Planetary Catastrophe or Business Imperative? Communicating Climate Change

PR News wrote a piece on communications for climate change this week.  When developing the article, the reporter called me up and asked me my view on why business should become involved in climate change.   The conversation got me thinking more about climate change and how we should communicate the issue and I want to explore this further on my blog.  I am also interested in how we develop our views on climate change  and will perhaps blog about this next week  This is a topic that I’ve addressed on my blog before and you can find the posts here and here.

In the PR News article, I was quoted saying “If you want to be part of mitigating climate change, then you take action in this space.  If you want to look back in 2050 and say you were part of making this disaster happen then you don’t need to take action now”.   Reading my own spoken words in print is sometimes awkward. I was trying to convey the emotional appeal that was used in a particular WWII poster to secure potential recruits.  It shows a child sitting on her father’s lap in what was then the future asking “What did you do in the war Father?”  There was a sense of guilt conveyed.  The posters made you feel that you needed to be a part of the war effort otherwise what were you going to tell your grandchildren.

Reading them in print, my words feel overly dramatic. In the same article, long time CR practitioner and friend Susan Nickbarg takes a much more measured and pragmatic approach, saying “Don’t let discourse about whether it is real or not real stop you from acting” and goes on to talk about the business/market imperatives for action.  Certainly, her approach is less likely to alienate than my perhaps threatening tone – and perhaps more likely to gain cooperation from the business world.

On the one hand, there is no half way house in the climate change field.  Catastrophic climate change will be, well…catastrophic. There is no such thing as a bit catastrophic, so I worry about positioning the problem short of its full severity.  On the other hand, the message has to be right for the target audience. No point in alienating people.  Some action now is better than none. And maybe it will be less painful than people expect and help build momentum for more action in the future.

I think our respective approaches capture the dilemma facing anyone trying to communicate about climate change.   Take a look at the piece in PR News.  Was my tone too dramatic or Susan’s too forgiving? What do you think is the right way to communicate climate change?

  1. Comments 1

  2. Scott Van Camp 10:27 am on December 13, 2010

    Kevin, thanks for mentioning the PR News piece. There certainly seems to be a balancing act between letting people know about the potential for crisis and getting people to take some action now. I'd be interested in what other people have to say on this. Scott Van Camp, editor, PR News.

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