Does hell sell?


Storms sweep the land and yet more crops are destroyed. The famine will surely worsen yet at least there is enough water to drink, for now. In the Arctic, the polar bear struggles out of the sea and collapses, exhausted, on the only iceberg she can find. Unable to hunt successfully with so little ice, she is thin and weak.

How does this grim picture of a future world in the grips of climate change affect you? Does it make you feel like turning over the page? Painting a doom and gloom scenario in distressing detail is the mainstay of many charities who need our money to try and make a difference.

We’ve all seen the big, scared eyes of malnourished infants looking beseechingly into the camera, alongside the text that just £4 a month will save a life. It is standard practice to present the pain and the suffering on a plate for us, calculated to pull at our heartstrings. Our way of switching off the guilt and distress that we feel is to donate a few pounds.

This approach can be highly effective at raising funds. However, it encourages a short term relationship with the issues concerned. Parting with money enables us to instantly shut out the uncomfortable feelings until next time. However, this method doesn’t work with the environment, and in particular climate change.  

Threats of climate chaos don’t just require us to throw a few pennies in the pot to fix them. It is about how our whole society functions, around the globe. It is about the choices each of us makes from the moment we wake up until we sleep at night, every single day.  If we allow ourselves to care, and to imagine a polar bear fighting for life every time we pop the heating on, then we are letting ourselves in for a guilt-ridden ride through modern life.

The sustainability communications agency, Futerra, believes that the doom and gloom approach has failed to communicate climate change to the general public. They state that while “Armageddon climate scenarios might be accurate and eye-catching, they haven’t changed attitudes or behaviours nearly enough.” Futerra believes that instead of running from climate hell, we need to run towards a low-carbon heaven.

This low-carbon future needs to be sexy, fun and compelling. It needs to make our lives easier, keep us healthier and help our economy thrive. We need to ask how we want to eat in the future and how we want to travel. Do we want vacuum-packed meals or fresh, local abundance? Do we want traffic jams and aeroplanes constantly overhead or do we want the infrastructure to cycle and cleaner, quieter engines powering our vehicles?

Our low-carbon future needs to be worth fighting for and our perspectives must shift away from what we cut, to what we gain. It makes more sense too. Fitting low energy light bulbs never felt like it was going to prevent climate hell, but all of us taking tiny steps together, now that really could build something worth striving for.


First published in the EADT and EDP


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