A public information campaign on the climate crisis is urgently needed


Never has the need for a public information campaign been greater, not only to educate people about the climate emergency, but also to signal what they can do to lessen its impact, says Bill McGuire


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August 3, 2022

michelle d’urbano

FOR many of us, the record heat and wildfires that tore through the UK, mainland Europe and parts of the US last month were evidence of a worsening climate in the raw state – a direct result of global warming supercharged by the 2.4 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide that has been spewed into the atmosphere by human activities over the past two centuries.

For others, ignoring the facts or refusing to accept them, it was just another heat wave. In the UK, John Hayes, chairman of a group of Tory MPs known – without any irony at all – as the Common Sense Group, has called those who take precautions in the heat “snowflakes”. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab suggested we just enjoy the sunshine.

Such views are not limited to Conservative politicians, but are also shared by a large number of British citizens, which is not surprising given the lack of government-approved information on what is happening to the climate and what we should do about it. .

In the past, people in the UK have been told to ‘Clunk, click, every trip’ to get them to wear seatbelts, or to ‘Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ during the covid-19 pandemic, but on the climate emergency – the greatest threat civilization has ever faced – nothing. At a time when the global climate is collapsing, it makes no sense for those tasked with protecting the UK and its people to remain silent. Never has the need for a public information campaign been greater, not only to educate people about the true nature of the threat of climate change, but also to point out what they can do to mitigate its impact.

To do its job, such a campaign must provide information in an digestible form and be impactful enough to galvanize action and trigger behavior change: posters on buses and the London Underground showing how temperatures are rising, images graphics of the aftermath of wildfires and floods and model lines of British climate refugees trudging through the streets of London.

Campaigns should never be judgmental or condescending, but it’s okay to cajole, inspire, even shame – “what did you do in the climate war, dad?” – to get the required response. They certainly don’t have to be boring or dignified. Who of a certain age in the UK can forget “Save water, bath with a friend” – the playful slogan of the extreme drought of the long, hot summer of 1976.

Launching a campaign that instills understanding of the climate crisis and provokes individual and collective action is a no-brainer. But there is a problem. Governments around the world remain in the grip of an economic system in which short-term profit is everything. There is no point in calling on people to fly less, while cutting passenger taxes and expanding airports, or touting the benefits of heat pumps, solar panels and better insulation, while subsidizing fossil fuel companies.

To reach net zero as soon as possible and begin to adapt to climate change that is already “prepared” – increasingly hot summers, increasingly destructive wildfires and floods – we desperately need people on board. However, this only makes sense if governments also do their part. No successful public information campaign has ever been built on the principle of “do as I say, not as I do”, so yes, let’s have the graphic television images of what climate breakdown looks like, the radio shorts urging us to fly only if we have to, billboards urging us to eat less meat, walk and cycle more.

But at the same time, we need to see government crusades toward fewer airports, not more, shoveling money in the direction of renewables, not fossil fuels, and comprehensive home waterproofing. One effort without the others will not be enough.

Bill McGuire is the author of Hothouse Earth: The Resident’s Guide

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