The New Environmental Communicators: What’s Not Working and How We Fix It (Part 1)

[cc photo courtesy of Nature2Nurture]

Now that we’ve called out the proverbial elephant in the room (politics) and talked about how Occupy Wall Street is a great campaign we can learn from regardless of how we feel about politics, let’s examine what’s not working in our communications.

Priceless Earth is a blog about learning to use the power of communication to put the power of the people behind your cause as never before, even though many believe that saving the planet is too big a problem to be solved at the populous level. Naomi Klein gives an excellent demonstration of the scale of the problem (if you haven’t read this article, bookmark it now–it’s an enlightening read):

“After years of recycling, carbon offsetting and light bulb changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be an adequate response to the climate crisis. Climate change is a collective problem, and it demands collective action. One of the key areas in which this collective action must take place is big-ticket investments designed to reduce our emissions on a mass scale. That means subways, streetcars and light-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone; energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines; smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy; and a massive research effort to ensure that we are using the best methods possible.” 

What’s missing from this equation, however, is the fact that ordinary people, in great enough numbers, can make these things happen. The power of the people has never been so salient as in President Obama’s State of the Union Address last week, which was obviously shaped largely by topics of recent protests. Think about that a moment. That is a really big deal.

Not only could large-scale environmental solutions become reality by the power of the people, they may never be put into place without it. Environmentalist lobbyists may be outnumbered by corporate lobbyists, and we may appear to have very little power over what happens at the government level; but our people—those who have awoken to their power and those still waiting for us to wake them up—outnumber all corporate criminals, dirty politicians, and lobbyists put together. All we have to do is recognize that people haven’t moved past the basic level of recycling, carbon offsetting, and light bulb changing because of our failure to communicate.

Let’s look at some of the methods that are not serving us.

Facts and statistics: I know I’ve beaten this one to death already, so I won’t spend any time on it here. Just be aware that I beat it to death because it is so important: analysis does not drive action, emotion does, and it’s up to you to design communications with the emotions your audience will respond to.

Morality and shame: A critical part of communication is understanding how your audience thinks, feels, and behaves before you attempt to deliver your message–a component many organizations are missing. I don’t see morality having much place in creating social movement toward more environmentally-conscious behavior, because people are not the problem. Corporate interests have designed a society that rips human beings out of their natural environment and traps them where their instincts are dulled and their bodies and brains no longer function in harmony with nature. Those of us lucky enough to escape this imprisonment have the enormous responsibility of leading others back to a life more in line with our anthropology without ever blaming the victim. It should be obvious by now that when we attempt to change people’s behavior by making environmentalism a matter of morality, they respond inconsistently or not at all, perhaps sensing on a subconscious level that the problem is much, much more complex than that (see my five-part “How Our Society Separates Us From Nature” series).

Continue to Part 2