Apocalypse no: dialing down the doom
There’s a lot of doom in the air lately. It’s not hard to see why. Our latest UN climate projection has the planet hurtling towards a catastrophic 2.7 degrees of warming over pre-industrial levels. That means deadly heatwaves, crop failures, widespread famine, and disease. Not exactly uplifting, is it?
This week, all eyes will be on world leaders as they gather for the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow. To avert disaster, they must commit to bold and urgent changes. Yet while it’s crucial that we face facts, it’s just as vital we don’t lose heart. There is still hope. We still have time to act.
Some want us to believe otherwise. The same voices that until recently were telling us climate change was a hoax are now insisting it’s too late to do anything about it. Let’s be clear. The science doesn’t back that up. If we act now, if we act together, we can still avoid climate catastrophe.
Doomism is just one of a host of new tactics adopted by the forces of inaction. Having largely abandoned outright climate change denial, in the face of overwhelming evidence, pedlars of climate disinformation have turned to other methods to delay efforts to decarbonize the global economy.
Prominent climatologist Michael E Mann, himself the target of vicious smear campaigns, has written a book in which he argues these “inactivists” are deceiving and distracting the public in a coordinated disinformation campaign similar to that seen during the pandemic.
The tactics are certainly familiar, and it’s not just doomism. Analysis by our partner, First Draft News, showed that climate disinformation was being shared widely on a range of platforms. From emotive memes ridiculing activists, to misleading or divisive posts seeking to confuse and deflect attention.
Luckily, we are constantly improving our understanding of how to tackle these methods. At the United Nations, my team and I have been working with social impact agency Purpose on a cure for the infodemic, the flood of false information spread online during the pandemic.
Together we explored ways to encourage conscious sharing, cut through dangerous noise on social media and flood feeds with reliable, accurate information, in shareable nuggets. The same tactics can be applied to climate disinformation. We have already seen some encouraging signs of change.
Recent welcome moves saw Google and YouTube ban ads and monetization of content denying the existence and causes of climate change, while Facebook has committed to flagging climate misinformation on its platform. Much more must be done to enforce these rules. But they’re a start.
As for the doomism, I’m convinced us communicators need a shift of tone. Few people now deny the planet is warming (though shocking numbers apparently still reject the link to human activity). The time for focusing solely on the problems is over. Now is the time to galvanize audiences for change.
The only way to do this is by offering hope. Storytelling focused on solutions, that highlights and celebrates people and places doing the right thing can empower audiences to look beyond messages of impending doom and see we have the tools and knowledge to secure a livable future.
Dialing down the doom doesn’t mean ignoring the peril. Far more it means telling stories of how much we’ve already achieved, from eradicating acid rain to phasing out ozone-depleting CFCs, to progress in the renewable energy revolution, developing electric cars and meat alternatives.
So, during the summit and beyond, let’s work to keep hope alive. Let’s act as a bulwark against the doom-mongers, those who seek to divide us, or distract us. A livable future is within our grasp, but we must fight for it. Whatever has gone before, the fight begins again here, now. It is not too late.