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Newfoundland’s Climate Change Campaign: Not About the Politics

09/23/2012

Photo credit: CBC’s Here and Now

On Monday, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador unveiled a new public awareness campaign on climate change called Turn Back the Tide. The launch took place at the Geo Centre. If you haven’t already guessed from the photo, I helped launch the campaign–I presented the new Carbon Calculator, which is tailored specifically to people living in this province.

Climate change is an especially divisive issue, and since Monday the campaign has met with both accolade and criticism. (I haven’t encountered any climate change denial, though, which is a relief.) Obviously I’m pretty firmly behind Turn Back the Tide, so here I’ll respond to the criticism that’s been levelled against it.

I’ll largely position this post as a response to Peter Jackson’s opinion piece in The Telegram, “Keeping it simple–and stupid“, since it outlines most of the counterarguments I’ve come across since Monday.

This Is About Justifying Muskrat Falls

I’m not going to speak directly to the debate over Muskrat Falls–because I think the question of whether this campaign has anything to do with it misses the point.

The fact is, for a government to directly acknowledge climate change is rare and invaluable. Yes, Muskrat Falls appears in the campaign videos–but isn’t it an instantly recognizeable example of renewable energy in our province?

At any rate, I was proud to help launch Turn Back the Tide, no matter what prompted it. The need for action on climate change, especially from governments, is amply clear, and it’s a relief to see our provincial government stepping up.

And this isn’t our first effort in the battle against climate change. Earlier this year, data from Environment Canada made clear the Newfoundland and Labrador government exceeded its goal of reducing emissions to below 1990 levels. We also have clear reduction targets for 2020 and 2050.

Is this good for Newfoundland? Well, other than contributing to the effort to preserve a stable global climate, climate change and energy efficiency initiatives promote economic growth. That’s a link to the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association’s website, but others agree–including the United Nations, and also, reality.

The Messaging Is Too Simplistic

Jackson suggests in his article that the campaign’s messaging is too simplistic. But I think he’s evaluating it from the perspective of someone who is very knowledgable about climate change. He says the climate information being presented by the actors in the videos makes it seem like “they barely follow the news”.

But the truth is that a lot of people don’t know much about climate change. Or, what they have heard is conflicting–it’s a controversial subject, and simply following the news doesn’t necessarily mean you accept that it’s being caused by humans, or that we need to act immediately.

It takes time to gain a full appreciation f0r this issue’s urgency–and the Turn Back the Tide TV ads/online videos aren’t meant as a comprehensive introduction to climate change. They’re focused on getting viewers to the campaign’s website, where users are invited to get as involved as they’d like to, or have time to. They can just skim around a bit, and learn a few things, or they can calculate their carbon footprint, use the Interactive house tool to learn ways to reduce energy use in the home, and click the provided links to get further involved.

That’s how campaigns for any type of activism are best constructed in the digital age. In this interview, fiction writer and technology activist Cory Doctorow says “the secret is you have to be able to build a group united around doing something, that has a spectrum of activities, and a spectrum of engagement levels–that starts with something small but meaningful, a one-click engagement, and goes up to making it your whole life, and allows you to easily move up and down levels of engagement.” People are busier than they’ve ever been, and the amount of time available to contribute varies from person to person.

Photo credit: John Kerstholt

Individual Action Isn’t Enough

Here I’ll diverge from my rebuttal of Jackon’s article, though I will mention that he calls the suggestions given in the videos (like minding the thermostat and limiting driving time) “common sense tips”. While that may be true, they often aren’t observed, and repetition is a good way to tackle that.

In any case, this point, which I’ve encountered on Twitter and listening to VOCM’s Open Line, is valid–individual action isn’t enough to reverse global warming. Corporations and governments are responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions.

But that doesn’t mean we should call off all public awareness campaigns. On the contrary–they’re more important than ever.

We need individuals in the public to rally together and pressure governments to put in a concerted effort–because governments the world over have so far disappointed in their lack of climate action (see Rio+20, and the various climate change conferences). We also need the individuals that make up corporations and governments to work from within these institutions to bring about the sustainable changes the world so desperately needs. TurnBackTheTide.ca offers ample materials for businesses.

But to convince individuals to take action, we actually need to invest time convincing them to take action.

The Government Is Trying to Scapegoat the Public

Not much needs to be said here, I think–this point is refuted fairly easily by pointing out that everywhere in the messaging for this campaign, the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ are used. Nowhere does the campaign point the finger at the public and say “You screwed up; you need to change.”

Like I alluded to above, this is a campaign that calls for individuals to act together, and acknowledges that individuals make up our province–in both the private and public sectors.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 09/23/2012 2:34 PM

    Tackling global warming is going to require action at all levels – individual, government, and business. And frankly put, if I could get all 40 people here in bustling downtown Fresno, Ohio, to flush their toilets one time less per day, our aquifer would last for decades more! Shoot, I’m busting hump to get the church we work at to switch to CFLs, and for a very practical reason – so I don’t have to climb a 25′ step ladder to change the ceiling bulbs! “But they’re too expensive, we don’t have the money.”
    Yeah, and when I fall off the dang ladder and bust my butt, guess what’s gonna get REAL expensive for ya! ;) (No, I’m not a heathen enough to sue a church. Hunt people down, sure, but not sue a church. :D )
    Long story short (TOO LATE!), every little bit does help. And it brings home the idea that things DO need to be done, thus encouraging business and government through individuals’ dedication to making changes.
    Um … which is basically whatyou just said. Sorry! ;)

    • 09/27/2012 5:03 PM

      Needless to say, I agree! ;)

      Seriously, though, it’s cool that you’re focusing on your immediate surroundings. This campaign, among other things, has helped me refocus on the part of reality that I can see, feel, and affect. I can talk about global concepts in my writings all I want, but part of making a real difference is changing my habits, and helping to change things about my community.

      I’m planning that to emphasize that aspect more on my blog, going forward–the personal aspect.

  2. Valerie Bartlett permalink
    09/23/2012 10:33 PM

    We need to remember “the power of the people” – one person at a time we can and will make a difference. The reference to Muskrat Falls in this instance is a moot point – we need to make changes to our lives in order to make an impact on our environment – each of us – every day will make a difference … I believe it shouldn’t be a political issue at all ….
    Also, as corporations get involved, people working within those corporations become educated on how they can make a difference to tackle climate change at work and many of them will bring what they’ve learned into their homes….

    • 09/27/2012 5:04 PM

      Definitely, Mom! I truly believe the more we talk about it, the more things we’ll all do about it. It’s not enough to say these things once and never mention them again–we have to keep repeating them, and keep reminding ourselves about them, too. That’s what this campaign is all about.

  3. 09/24/2012 8:27 AM

    I’m pleased to hear that the govt of NL is undertaking an awareness campaign, but I have to agree with those folks who say it’s too little (and probably too late), especially considering the province’s new found infatuation with (and headlong pursuit of) oil and gas resources. There needs to be an intelligent public conversation about the ramifications of this for our children and grandchildren.
    I’m looking forward to chatting about this in person later on today, Scott.

    • 09/27/2012 5:14 PM

      We had a great conversation, Christine! I hope you and your husband had a safe trip back home.

      I agree, about the oil and gas. I don’t know what it’s going to take to keep these resources underground. As much corporate and governmental support that the Keystone and Northern Gateway pipelines have, they’re almost clearer, more defined targets, in that by stopping their construction we’ll have rendered it economically unfeasible to develop the tar sands.

      But how would we accomplish that for Newfoundland’s oil and gas resources? It would take enormous political and public will, and right now we’re lacking it. Hopefully that can be changed, fast.

  4. Andrea permalink
    09/26/2012 8:16 PM

    Great post, Scott. I freely admit that I know nothing about the environmental movement in Nfld and Lab, so thanks for the update!

    I wanted to add another point against the “individual action isn’t enough” counterargument. We (environmentalists) already know that we spend way too much time preaching to the converted; one way to begin getting more people on board with pressuring governments and corporations is to transition them into the green movement with small, low-stress steps first. For people who don’t care about the issues, let alone know much about them, the starting point is to make things relevant (i.e., simple ways to save money by reducing energy use in their home) and then go from there. Turn Back the Tide sounds like a great resource.

    • 09/27/2012 5:21 PM

      Hey Andrea, that’s a great point! I’m a firm believer in making it real for people by attaching a pricetag. The truth is, being sustainable is green in more ways than one–it helps the environment, and leads to enormous savings. (Okay, Canadian money isn’t green, but you know what I mean.)

  5. 10/08/2012 12:34 AM

    I believe drastic change is needed to affect global warming. I agree starting at home is a good first step but from what I’ve read many scientists are coming to believe we might already be past the tipping point. If that’s the case some scientists believe that it will eventually be in our best interests to Geo-engineer the planet. One such man, David Keith suggests there might be a way. http://blog.ted.com/2007/11/13/david_keith/ I’m beginning to believe that with China and India spewing so much CO2 that he might be right.

    I really want to believe that individual action is enough but it’s a global problem and so it has to be a global effort.Until that happens I just don’t hold the optimism you do. Which is hard since I have kids. I have friends who don’t even “Believe” climate change is real. It has become a political issue. My conservative and religious friends believe the science to be bunk and the carbon tax idea to be just another way to take money from them. With this kind of backward thinking I can’t help but feel defeated. I still do my part (I don’t own a car, I recycle, I preserve water, I haven’t turned the heat on yet this fall, I changed all my light bulbs) but it just seems so frickin pointless sometimes.

    I hope you succeed but with Harper and his Kyoto ripping history, I have my doubts that this fantastic campaign will move past your gorgeous province…

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