7 communication errors environmentalists make
Many people, including environmentalists, forget about our environmental priorities, and make 7 critical communication errors.
I’ve been on Twitter, posting around 99% of the time about environmental topics, for many years. I engage with a cross section of people talking about sustainability. The environmental movement often expresses a reverence for fact-based policy, and yet we ourselves, in our social media behavior, seem to ignore certain facts:
- Priorities: more than 70% of emissions in almost every country are created by buildings, transportation and power generation. And yet many of us spend our time talking about plastic, recycling, tree planting, agriculture; rather than solutions in the three key areas. Many environmentalists don’t even know what technologies make a building or power system green.
- Social scientists tell us that only a certain amount of tragedy can be thrown at our psyches before we begin to block it, and it becomes ineffective. Instead we should focus mostly on solutions, but include problems for context.
- Communication experts tell us that by engaging with deniers we just amplify their misinformation. We often engage in a debate that we claim doesn’t exist, helping a few morons who aren’t worth our time. We should instead focus our energy on solutions, plans, and actions.
- Communication experts advise us to keep it simple. We don’t. Instead we get too clever, slicing, dicing, intellectualizing, obfuscating. This is a problem because deniers and delayers are more effective. They keep it simple, understandable: “Climate change is a liberal hoax. China and India are bigger polluters, so why bother?” Simplicity is more powerful than accuracy or rational argument. That’s why populists are successful. It’s time for environmentalists to prove how smart we are, by curbing our impulse to show how clever we are.
- Communication experts tell us that storytelling is more effective than the charts we love to show. Let’s tell clean energy success stories. Let’s explain the human meaning of that chart, in simple language.
- Polls show that talking about the health benefits of clean energy resonates. Language matters. Families come first. Self-interest is human.
- Polls show that ignoring the fears of the mainstream public is a poor strategy: We must show clearly how the clean energy age creates jobs and strengthens the economy; how people working in old industries can successfully move into newer ones. Many environmentalists have no idea which clean technologies pay off or how soon, for individuals and for the economy as a whole. Let’s learn about it.
Focus on priorities. Keep it simple. Share success stories that matter to mainstream people.