Greta and Rude Messaging

Here we are, mid-winter in the shortest month. The glass is clearly half-full! (And my cup will soon runneth over - with blackflies). And that’s quite the meme, yes? The glass half full glass half empty metaphor. Very potent and pervasive.

I’m a student of communications – especially (surprise!) messaging around environmental issues and especially (surprise!) around climate change. One of the challenges of our era is getting past the “noise” to impart accurate info in a way that doesn’t scare the shit out of people so they stop like deer in the headlights or shut down completely. And the noise is everywhere. We’re constantly assaulted with marketing and messaging.

Al Gore, David Suzuki, Greta Thunberg and my friend Mitchell Beer in Ottawa at All were and are unique for their times and influence. All use mass and social media for their carefully constructed messaging, and the messaging is consistent with all the others on this little planet encouraging us to be more responsible. Of course it all adds up: for example it’s hard to ignore the buzz about climate change these days. But I wonder if the messaging is too dispersed and complex? Are there too many issues? Are we causing people to glaze over when they see our pleas? There’s so much humans could be doing better…

We environmentalists can take a lesson from big industries. Look at the oil industry and the memes they put out in a country that is a net natural resource exporter. “Tar sands” become “oil sands”; oil becomes “clean energy” and “ethical oil”. Shell Oil becomes Shell Energy. BP (British Petroleum) becomes Beyond Petroleum. Fracking that results in significant environmental harm results in a product called “natural gas”. And I study the house building industry – one of the biggest sectors in the Canadian economy. Their marketing from the national organization, The Canadian Homebuilders’ Association, right down to the guys (mostly) on job sites is very consistent and simple: they don’t build units for sale for profit, they build “homes” and “communities”. And homebuilding is “the engine that drives the (choose your scale) Canadian, provincial, or local economy”. My opinion: money drives the economy. But the memes are consistent, repeated and powerful.

Personally, I like the climate change messaging that states the opportunities for economic growth and co-benefits for humans – clean energy, clean water, smart local food, efficient housing, smarter modes of transportation etc. But that’s just me. My question is this: do we environmentalists need to link together to agree upon and create simple marketing and memes that are more meaningful to Canadians? Are Greta’s unique, youthful and in-your-face messaging and style the answer? Or do we need something homegrown and less… well… rude?