Speaking of climate change
On Wednesday last week, the French environment minister (or to be exact, Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition), Mr. Nicolas Hulot, resigned at the greatest surprise of everyone (live on a news morning radio show, without informing the government as the protocol would dictate - you can watch the shortened video in French with English subtitles to understand his overall motivation).
We discussed with some friends the reasons and the impact of such a resignation, from a person who originally was not a politician (imagine a journalist-activist turned minisiter 15 months ago) and ended up managing a never-ending list of tricky problems and dealing with public criticism the French way.
We quickly reached the point of the contradition between individual responsibility towards sustainable development and climate change vs. the actions that should be part of the state's range of decisions and actions.
We did agree that Hulot did what he could with what he had; we also pointed out that despite the support of the political majority he ended up managing critical topics (a few examples of the past months include for instance the French biodiverstity strategy, hunting permits and lobbies, the discussions around the banning of glyphosate) under the global "Make our Planet Great Again" flag with a great energy but possibly a level of optimism which was probably closer to fantasy than reality.
After all, a man only, irrespective of how committed he is to the cause, cannot save the planet alone. But because this is politics, many thought this would be HIS role and that he would have to pay for mistakes and lack of positive changes. And because this is politics, it is always easier to criticize complain, insult or strike than wearing someone else's shoes and act towards these changes.
Hulot managed to sustain 15 months as part of the French government. To be honest I thought he would have given up earlier than this. And listening to his interview and watching his face, I can fully get he had enough of all this crap.
During the discussion a dear friend of mine shared an article based on the above Ted Talk presentation of Per Espen Stoknes, Associate Professor - Department of Law and Governance at the Norwegian Business School, President of the The Center for Green Growth and specialized in organizational psychology.
In the article (available here in French) and his presentation, Stoknes questions the language that is used to discuss large-scale issues such as climate change or global warning and their respective negative impacts on our world. I will not spoil the presentation but I was mainly interested by his idea that climate change is often depicted along apocalyptical storylines (e.g. the multiplication of devastating storms and burning-to-death heatwaves, the extinction of species, the flooding of major big cities from the dramatic raise of sea levels etc...), guilt and denial.
As part of my professional experience, my personal interests and convictions, and the requirements that managing a website and blog entails, questionning the language of change is critical: how do we ensure that the message we want to share is well understood?
But also, how do we ensure that the core of the same message leads to action towards positive change?
And how can we translate technical information in an interesting/relevant/committed way without turning it into a dramatic message that will tickle one's senses (including feelings of guilt and fear) too hard?
I won't give here answers based on research or science. I will only talk from personal experience.
I have never worked with guilt-driven "you should do this or that" discourse. I did praise them at first, when I joined my Masters in Sustainability back in the days in Sweden. I admired some of my friends' commitments and engagements in all ranges (from political to physical ones). I did feel the thrill of belief that things could get better thanks to our work, our ideas or our voice. I free-hugged people, I free-hugged trees, and to be honest I even tasted the soil of a forest once to see how acidic it was (spoiler alert: it wasn't).
But compared to many of us, I did believe that change would not have to be dramatic on the individual level: I was, and I am still convinced that, by pushing people into sensitive corners you risk to block their view and understanding of critical topics such as climate change.
There are no "one solution" or "one way only" to do and to contribute to the bigger picture, especially because there is so much we cannot control on the level of our own hands. I do not disregard the power of collective action and I still want to believe that our strength as citizens who can vote has an impact. I am just saying that there is sometimes not much we can do and it is easy to go in the direction of what Stoknes says: why would I even try or even care if I know in advance our future is doomed?
The more I would be told by some to do this or that (from what lightbulbs I should use, to the food I should put on my plate, to the way I should manage the most intimate things such as my menstruation), the more I would move one step back and change my lense of understanding. The drama is real, but I would see it from a broarder scope: a city, a region, a country, a government, a company. Screw you and your lessons, I would think, I want to aim higher. This step back got me closer to my interest in different things such as reporting, storytelling, innovation, communications.
This leads back to the discussion we started with my friends.
What was interesting especially was the scope and focus we each had in mind when exchanging.
There is so much we, as individuals, can control or influence. Being eco-friendly on a daily basis is absolutely great and important; but the negative impacts of the emissions from our carbon-based energy systems, of large-scale intensive agriculture or global transportation are a lot greater if we take this step back and look on the global level.
We should accept, understand and listen to the alternative lifestyles, ideas and actions that can contribute to change, including those that confront society rules, laws and regulations.
Anways, a discussion on Facebook will not solve the world's problems, as it ended as it always ends, i.e. dramatically: we are all doomed anyway, and our planet deserves better than humankind.
So, to finish this never-ending article (I do not remember writing that much for a while, thank you for this opportunity!), a last video about communications and climate change, which i think sumamrzies well all of the above.
Can a non-scientist, non-politician inspire others with this words and actions? Yes (s)he can.
Can (s)he suddenly turn into a scientist and politician and solve all the issues, a smile on her/his face, in front of so many who won't even go further than their own shoes? Most probably not.
Mr. Hulot, OUTSIDE THE BOX gives you kuddos for trying what so many would not.