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Rebranding Climate Change

Rebranding Climate Change

Scrolling through the headlines, you read about police brutality and growing income inequality in the U.S., continued militance in the Middle East, ineffective health care in Ebola-ridden West Africa, and glaciers melting after the warmest year on record. Who can blame the layperson for focusing their concern on the countless human problems that saturate our media? Sure, polar bears are cute, but you have no incentive to turn to page seven to learn about their loss of habitat instead of reading about problems so much more accessible and relevant to your life.

The factors that make climate change overwhelmingly terrifying, ubiquity and unpredictability, simultaneously portray it as distant in both time and space. Thus publicizing linear causes and effects will be near impossible before the consequences are far out of our hands. Today, Americans think of climate change as a problem that will impact future generations, perhaps their great-grandchildren, and in the mean time, only a few unfortunates living on islands on the other side of the world will feel the heat.

These convictions, which have no relevance to the current scientific literature, are enabled by the portrayal of global warming in the media. Articles often paint an abstract picture of the changing environment, talking about gases in the atmosphere, global temperatures, and the endangerment of often unheard of species. It is time to get serious about climate change’s human implications.

Let’s talk about how changes in the environment already affect our economic, agricultural and health care systems. It is imperative that when a massive drought parches California, a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico causes sweeping fishery shutdowns, and Lyme Disease spreads to new states, we make the correlation to the burning of fossil fuels and increased global temperatures. If we connected climate change with all of the events that it is responsible for, its ugly stain would dominate our media.

Before we get too gloomy, the next step is to publicize solutions - big and small. What are the options for environmental tax reform? What are the top three ways for you to reduce your individual carbon footprint? Once we get a public dialogue started, I am confident that the challenges ahead will no longer feel as daunting. Certain news outlets are already shifting in this direction, publishing insightful articles connecting environmental issues to daily life, but we need to catalyze this change across the spectrum of media. My hope is that Dirt Magazine will get this conversation started, rebranding climate change as a people problem.

-Isabel B.

Photography by Julia B

(Check out the Yale project on Climate Change Communication - they’re doing some fascinating research on the topic!)