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Saturday May 18, 2024

Language matters

Both media spheres need to dovetail in amplifying the urgency of addressing climate change at the local, national, and global levels

By Raza Hussain Qazi
April 15, 2024
Rain affected people by flash floods after torrential rains hit Hyderabad. — APP/File
Rain affected people by flash floods after torrential rains hit Hyderabad. — APP/File

Climate change is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that encompasses a myriad of scientific concepts, policy frameworks and socio-economic implications. Amid the discourse surrounding climate change, people encounter a multitude of terms and intricate concepts that may seem straightforward at first glance but are more nuanced and carry extreme implications.

The complexity of the climate change theme primarily arises from its scientific nature, which poses challenges for people in terms of comprehension. Nevertheless, a significant aspect of understanding the issue lies in the intricate web of communication that surrounds it. The main difficulty seems to have come from the complexity of climate change terminology, thickness, flow and dissemination of information, which pose a great barrier to people’s grasping the gravity of the challenge it poses to their lives.

For instance, the terms ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘mitigation’ can be confusing for people, potentially resulting in misinterpretation or indifference. Similarly, ‘anthropogenic’ or ‘climate mitigation’ may appear daunting and perplexing, potentially resulting in apathy or disengagement. It is also the reason that ordinary people are largely excluded from the climate debate, impeding their ability to fully participate and grasp the existential issues at hand.

However, this is not the only reason that necessitates reshaping the entire climate communication paradigm. There are plenty of reasons that point to the need to redefine it. Among these issues is the widespread perpetuation of feelings of despair and resignation among activists, stemming from misplaced climate ‘doomism’ and ‘greenwashing’.

The portrayal implies that catastrophic outcomes are inevitable, leading to apathy and inaction among people. The dismissal of potentially efficacious remedies by individuals subscribing to a pessimistic worldview is akin to the detrimental impacts of climate denial, impeding a crucial hyperbole about the existential crisis.

It is no longer a secret that ‘big oil’ or fossil fuel companies invest significant amounts of money in disseminating misinformation about climate change, thereby fostering scepticism and delaying action on climate solutions. By doing so, they prioritize profits over the expense of the planet’s health. Misinformation and disinformation occur through various channels, propagating false narratives driven by vested interests.

The challenge calls for devising a communication strategy with a multi-pronged approach that can leverage the promotion of scientific literacy by debunking myths through clear and accessible messaging. Engaging with a variety of audiences through tailored outreach efforts, with a credible scientific information base, will also foster understanding and cultivate resistance to misinformation.

Today, the transition from output-focused tactics to ‘3R’ communication strategies, which prioritize reputation, return on investment, and relationship building, is crucial for promoting effective climate action. Organizations can bolster their reputation and cultivate trust by prioritizing credibility, transparency, and actively engaging with stakeholders.

This process not only attracts additional investments, new funding opportunities and strengthens the impact of interventions but also reinforces partnerships. It solidifies internal convictions and instills confidence in otherwise sceptical leads regarding the inclusive nature of communication, leading to broader advantages.

It is a fact that communication holds the key to shaping perceptions, building connections and attracting opportunities. The compelling messaging highlights value propositions, distinguishes brands, and builds trust with the target audience. The utilization of engaging storytelling, impactful visuals, and targeted outreach strategies that resonate with audience preferences is instrumental in generating interest and inquiries and, ultimately, enhancing conversions and portfolio growth.

To empower individuals to understand the urgency of climate issues and drive collective action, it is essential to improve the clarity of messaging by integrating a human element into communication strategies. In the realm of effective communication, adding a human face always enhances the ability to cultivate empathy, forge connections, and increase public awareness among people regarding pressing matters.

It is more about empowering communities affected by climate change, such as women and children impacted by floods in 2022, to share their genuine narratives, particularly in their native language. The approach that focuses on human experiences instead of abstract concepts humanizes crisis narratives by anchoring them in real-life situations that resonate with everyone’s lives. When a young girl or boy shares their ordeal in their words, it captures the attention of the world.

Communicating in local languages promotes trust and rapport, facilitating meaningful dialogue and collaboration. It is imperative for all stakeholders engaged in climate action to recognize the importance of simplifying language and fostering accessibility to engage broader audiences in the fight against climate change. The simplification of scientific jargon and using relatable language are essential aspects of empowering individuals to comprehend the urgency of climate issues and participate in meaningful solutions.

In addition to other stakeholders, collaborating with media outlets is all the more crucial for upholding journalistic integrity and fact-checking standards. Both traditional media and digital media play vital roles in influencing public discourse and raising awareness regarding climate change.

However, the responsibility of establishing the foundational space continues to lie with traditional media outlets, including newspapers, radio, and television, which play a significant role. They are still highly trusted and possess the ability to shape public opinion through investigative journalism and expert analysis based on scientific evidence.

While traditional media is more credible, digital media platforms serve as agents of change by driving massive engagements and facilitating fast-paced, real-time flow of information, empowering diverse voices and fostering grassroots movements.

Both media spheres need to dovetail in amplifying the urgency of addressing climate change at the local, national, and global levels. Diverse stakeholder involvement ensures diverse perspectives, tailoring the strategies to specific contexts. The localization of the topic fosters collaboration and consensus and builds trust to address the climate crisis.


The writer is a climate governance expert. He tweets/posts @razashafqat and can be reached at: razashafqat@yahoo.com