CRITIQUES OF COMMUNICATING THE CLIMATE

19 JULY 2022
EDITORIAL


Contemporary climate discourse has certain recurring tendencies that narrow the territory of discussion, and in turn, action. The following sections identify and critique three communication choices in climate discourse with the aim of widening the domain of climate communication, and developing more effective ways to convey this crisis.

1. We
The term “we” is often employed when describing engagement with the climate. The implication of this phrasing is that humanity shares the goal of slowing down this existential risk. It is not difficult to find participants who are actively against this: individuals, companies and governments with different interests. An apparent example is the tension between fossil fuel companies and coastal populations. Various governments too have differing interests, with the Pentagon classing the changing climate as a substantial threat, as sea level rises damage coastal

US

army bases for instance, while the Kremlin can see geopolitical potential in the melting Siberian and Arctic ice, as it opens up access to more natural resources and trade routes. “We” also implies an equal distribution of effects, while it is apparent that the Global South and those in conditions of material difficulty will have it worse, the wealthy can with ease relocate, even to another planet. (This is with reference to Elon Musk’s ambition of establishing a Mars colony. The refuge of this colony – if even feasible – would only be accessible to those with extreme wealth, and everyone else would have to endure a potentially unliveable Earth.)

2. Capital
Discourse is also very forgiving of capital accumulation as a driving factor of humanity’s self-destruction. Growth targets articulated in

GDP

are crude and one-dimensional measures, which increase when natural resources are extracted or even when disasters occur.

GDP

ignores environmental and social costs to a supposed growth. Economies’ obsession with this symbolic figure – symbolic as it does not directly correlate to human well-being, unlike a measure such as Genuine Progress Indicator (

GPI

) – aims for the impossible: infinite growth on a finite planet. The failure to scrutinise political economy is a symptom of what Fisher called “capitalist realism”, ‘the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.’ (2009, p. 2)

3. Climate disasters are not taking place
Through a series of essays about the Gulf War, Baudrillard argued that media representations of the Gulf War merely showcased stylised misrepresentations of actual events. ‘The war is also pure and speculative, to the extent that we do not see the real event that it could be or that it would signify.’ (1991, p. 29) Baudrillard’s hyperreality (1981, p. 1), ‘A real without origin or reality’,  explains the divorced state of events and their representations: that of the war and what Western viewers saw on television. In the same manner, images of climate caused disasters, such as Californian wildfires and Greenland’s ice melting, appear exhausted of meaning when communicated and spectated through various media.

Regardless of how climate messaging is stylised, be it sensationalised or scientific, their messages can become neutral and exhausted as a result of lack of direct reality in their communication.

These non-exhaustive and incomplete segments demonstrate that communicating the climate is larger than what communication designers usually recognise, highlighting the role of political economy and postmodern culture as challenges in this communication. Baudrillard’s analysis in particular poses a difficult question to practitioners: How can meaning be maintained in a cultural environment where it is disappearing?


References: 


Baudrillard, J. (1981)

Simulacra and Simulation

. Reprint, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Baudrillard, J. (1991) T

he Gulf War Did Not Take Place

. Reprint, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Fisher, M. (2009)

Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

. Alresford: Zero books.






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