How to heat up climate change videos.

Picture of earth showing bands of different temperatures.

A triple-threat disaster–earthquake, tsunami, and nuke threat–hits Japan. The Middle East and North Africa start exploding. Still, the paramount issue (IMHO) remains climate change. Virtually all the science says disaster is looming that could make a 9.0 earthquake seem almost trivial in terms of consequences.

Of course, that’s not an opinion you’re likely to hear from folks like Senator James M. Inhofe, who famously called the threat of catastrophic global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” Inhofe and millions of others insist that the science is biased, shoddy or inconclusive.

This blog post is not the place to debate the plausibility of disastrous climate change. For today at least, let’s assume that climate change is arriving on our doorstep. Now, as makers of online videos, what can we do to help scientists, government officials and other influencers carry out their mission to slam on the brakes?

Camera lens, with photographer in backgroundSome weeks ago, I asked myself that question. I realized that, as a video guy, the issue wasn’t so much climate change as climate change communication. The facts are clear–or clear enough–but our leaders are fiddling while the planet is smoldering because … well, because of a massive failure to communicate. (Yes, I know that our species’ brains have a hard time dealing with threats that seem distant in time. But we can’t wait for our beleaguered  gray matter to evolve further. So all we can do is communicate better.)

I googled “climate change communication” … and found–surprise!–that I wasn’t the only one thinking about this issue. In fact, George Mason University has a Center for Climate Change Communication and there’s a Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media.

Originally, I wanted this post to be about my analysis of online climate change videos. When I started looking for those videos, I found someone had beaten me to the punch. Her name is Sara Peach, and she describes herself on her Twitter page as an “environmental journalist and multimedia producer.” She has a bunch of posts on the Yale forum website that sample and analyze videos. She told me her favorite is the one called Climate Change Web Videos: Advocacy Edition.

Since she’s mulled over the failures and successes of these videos for far longer than I have, I wanted to hear what she has to say on the subject. So yesterday, Sara and I talked via a Skype videochat (which she recorded with Call Recorder and sent to me). Here are a few bites I’ve excerpted.

First, I wanted to learn how she’s dealt with the preaching-to-the-choir quandary. Most people who flock to see films like An Inconvenient Truth don’t need to see them, because they’re already convinced. And the people who most need to be convinced will avoid those docs like the plague. Sara replies that there’s plenty of opportunity to reach out to people who fall between these two camps. (In her description, she draws on the Global Warming’s Six Americas analysis developed by Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change.)

Because our beady little brains can’t fathom distant disasters, Sara advises videomakers to bring things closer to home. No shots of polar bears, unless your viewers live north of the Arctic Circle. Audiences need to be able to relate to your content. Fortunately (really, unfortunately) there’s already plenty of evidence of climate change for you to draw upon.

You might think of climate change as abstract and therefore boring. Sara Peach sure doesn’t: “Climate change is a great issue to report on, because it draws on law, it draws on economics, as well as science. And so there are always very interesting things to report on. It’s very rewarding to bring together all these intertwining issues.” However, she acknowledges that making these videos can be very challenging.

Thanks, Sara, for doing my research for me. It was terrific talking with you and benefiting from your experience. May climate change communication succeed in helping our leaders, and the rest of us, do what we all need to do … now!

Your comments, as always, are welcome.