Newfoundland’s Climate Change Campaign: Not About the Politics
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.
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.
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.