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Want to Inspire More People to Act on Climate Change? Broaden the Framing

Downpours flood the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

ILLINOIS, United States, Jul 16 2019 (IPS) - “It has never happened before,” is a sentence that is becoming excessively common in the news  due to a changing climate where new extremes are becoming normal.

In  Kansas and across the Mid-west, farmers and citizens are battling with record-breaking flooding events. France and  Alaska, recently saw record-breaking warm temperatures. In Mexico, a never before witnessed event happened when a freak hailstorm trapped vehicles in up to three feet of ice.

Meanwhile, as all these firsts happen, countries across the world are divided on the issue of climate change. On one hand, we have those that acknowledge it is time to act with urgency. On the other hand, we have those still in denial. Emerging still, is a school of thought, which thinks that this generation has lost its fight on climate change and that it will only take an entire new generation.

I do acknowledge climate change is real and that humanity needs to act with a sense of urgency. However, to bring sustainable long-term change, we need everyone to act. How then can we be more convincing? What is the way forward?

I do acknowledge climate change is real and that humanity needs to act with a sense of urgency. However, to bring sustainable long-term change, we need everyone to act. How then can we be more convincing? What is the way forward?

There is no single answer as to the way forward, but instead, many approaches must be taken.

First, since the new normal of climate change has no boundaries, we need to frame the issue of climate change broadly to reach as many groups as possible, including Christians, farmers, youth, conservatives, liberals, rich and poor.

It means tailoring messages to specific groups using metaphors and examples that trigger new thinking about the personal relevance of climate change. For Christians, for example, we can frame the need to take climate change as a moral duty. For the youth, it can be framed as a human rights issue. Young people have a right to inherit a livable planet.

Second, it is important to show people how climate change will directly affect them. A recent survey revealed that half of Americans think climate change will not affect them personally in their lifetime hence; they choose not to worry about it.

However, there is evidence that people that have been impacted by climate change related disasters are more likely to worry about it.  A recent study reported that experiencing a severe weather event increased concern about climate change.

Third, we must encourage activists, including young activists such as Greta Thunberg. Convinced that climate change will have huge impacts on their generation, many young people of today are acting with a sense of urgency.

Importantly, rising activists should be included in all climate related high-level meetings and places of decision-making and their ideas be implemented. Doing so will prove to them that we care about their voice and that in the race to mitigate climate change, their ideas and activism is valued.

Moreover, we need to ensure that all voices are nurtured —black, white, gay and lesbians. A current scan of the activists who are highlighted continues to be mostly white and straight. This must change. Reiterating the fact that climate change impacts have no boundaries, we must encourage and highlight activists from all the backgrounds and from all the continents including the African continent. Doing so will reinforce the message that everyone –black, white, poor, rich can stand up for climate change.

Fourth and powerful yet, is the need to encourage climate change believers to run for political offices. We have seen how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has consistently stood up for meaningful climate change mitigation policies to be implemented. We need a million more Ocasio-Cortez’s in positions of power. Moreover, we need diversity in the politician voices.

Fifth, importantly, science must continue to take on a center role with scientists innovating new strategies to mitigate climate change. For instance, the focus must be channeled onto the major contributors of greenhouse gas emissions including power generation, transport, growing food, manufacturing and buildings and creating methods that are not as bad for the environment.

Clearly, we will continue to experience new, harsher realities partly brought about by the changing climate. We all must strive to continue reaching out to everyday citizens with the message that everyone — regardless of their stance on climate change — can proactively do something. Time is of essence.


Esther Ngumbi is Distinguished Post Doctoral Researcher, Entomology Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Illinois, World Policy Institute Senior Fellow, Aspen Institute New Voices Food Security Fellow, Clinton Global University Initiative Agriculture Commitments Mentor and Ambassador

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