What Al Gore Taught Me About Environmental Communication

Once upon a time, when I was a graduate environmental advisor at the mines, I was lucky enough to be accepted onto Al Gore’s Climate Project. The aim of the Project was to train up some key climate champions across all different walks of life to go out and give presentations on the topic wherever they could.

Now, I must have been really naive, or ballsy as shit, because this was in 2005 – when climate sceptics were a plenty and climate believers were regularly belittled. To add to this, all of my presentations were to be to coal miners. In terms of views on environmental matters, let’s just say the term ‘archaic’ comes to mind when I think about how the coal industry was back then.

The training was held in Melbourne and people from all around the country flew in to be there. I remember when Al (I know it looks like I’m on a first name basis with him there, and I wish I was, but in actual fact, I just used his first name because I have already stated his whole name in a paragraph above. It’s a writer thing… probably…) walked in the room. He had a warm but commanding presence that instantly put everyone in awe.

He taught us all about the dire predictions for the planet from climate change, what we can do about it and why it’s so important to get the real story out there. You see, climate ‘sceptics’ had been meddling in the information provided to the public to purposely confuse the wider population about what was real and what was not.

To be more specific, people with a lot of money and vested interests in seeing climate change ignored, created campaigns to discredit the real scientific evidence that it was happening. A jerk move by anyone’s standard. What resulted was hundreds of millions of people dismissing the dire warnings about the state of our globe and the need for immediate action. The jerks’ mission was accomplished.

What all of this showed me was that just because a message is important or right, it doesn’t mean it will be the loudest. Furthermore, people with money (and quite often questionable morals and intentions) have much more influence over the public than we realise.

Given that any environmental issue is likely to have the same resistance, what key messages do we need to get out there to ensure people understand that things need to change? I personally think there’s two key message themes required to effectuate change: 1. Everyone needs to spend more time outdoors, establishing a connection with nature; and 2. Proven and simple ways of living life with a smaller environmental footprint.

Getting people to appreciate nature motivates them to protect it. To do this, they need to spend time outdoors, experiencing biophilia and the health benefits of physically connecting to the earth themselves. Then they are reminded of how fulfilling it is to relax and take in nature’s splendour.

Spending time in the wilderness also enables them to see the environmental destruction with their own eyes (which also motivates them to take action). When people are connected to the environment, any harm they see done to it becomes personal.

The more people who experience, first-hand, what nature does for them, the more environmental guardians there will be on the planet. Eventually, enough influential people will be fighting the great fight and encouraging others to protect the environment too. Then there will come a time when we will reach tipping point and the majority of the population will take eco-responsibility.

In regards to the second key message theme of showing people how to do things differently to help the environment, we need to provide easy to adopt solutions for how we can live more environmentally friendly lives. There’s no point telling people they need to fix something without telling them how. That would lead them to feel powerless to help the situation, and then they would begin to ignore the issue altogether because it makes them feel bad.

Getting people on board to help our precious environment is not an easy task. It’s oh so necessary though. We can’t give up.

What effective environmental campaigns have you seen? What did they do that got people on board?