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  • Writer's pictureKahmile Reid

Climate Change and Communication

Published on August 14, 2018 in The Gleaner

Communication experts know that the first rule of communication is to know your audience. We need to determine who they are; what they know; what they understand or misunderstand about the subject being communicated; the underlying values, attitudes and emotions that influence their perceptions; who they trust; and where they get their information.

Knowledge of these things is at the foundation of any effective public-education and communication campaign.

Recently, I attended the launch of Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator (CCSA) at the University of the West Indies, Mona, in Jamaica. The CCSA is an entrepreneurial engine which, it is hoped, will fast-track priority initiatives towards the world's first 'climate-smart zone' over the next five years. This initiative "will deliver resilience, social development and broad-based economic growth for the Caribbean". The 26-country coalition was announced in Paris last December at the One-Planet Summit and is backed by Sir Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group.

According to the CCSA website, the Accelerator will "break down barriers, help initiatives to scale across the Caribbean and create the right environment for private and public funds to flow into: clean energy, resilient buildings, climate-smart cities, and healthy oceans."

Naturally, the communicator in me started to unpack the obvious hurdles to an initiative like this. It is important to note that there is no typical response to climate change. In fact, there are some people who refuse to accept that it is happening at all. There are, as Yale researchers term it, "interpretative communities" who have their own distinct interpretations of climate change.


How will the Caribbean community, and, more specifically, the Jamaican community interpret this information? If Jamaica is going to get this right, we need to know what the interpretive communities in Jamaica know and what they understand or misunderstand about the subject being communicated. To get this right, these things ought to be addressed before any kind of public education takes place.

If Jamaica is going to get this right, funds must be directed to adequate research on the knowledge landscape that exists about this issue. It may be a mistake to assume that everyone understands what is happening because we are all feeling the rise in temperatures, strength of storm systems, extreme drought spells or any of the other related phenomena.

You would be surprised at how many people have religious interpretations of the current weather changes.

Not everyone has realistic, data-driven interpretations. Research shows that most of the human-emitted CO2 accumulated in the atmosphere was emitted over the last 50 years by countries that are now developed countries. "Half of the fossil fuel burned each year is done by the richest billion, and the second richest billion burns what's left; the poorest billion is responsible for only one per cent." (Factfulness, Hans Rosling)

This information can inform another interpretation that adds to knowledge of the seriousness of the issue from a geopolitical angle. There are many others. For example, in the USA, a moral framing of climate change emanated from research that revealed that many Americans see it as a religious issue. If climate change will disproportionately affect the poor, the Christian thing to do is to act decisively to protect them, while also protecting the natural world, which is a gift from God. This may be one way to reach people who are not swayed by the science of climate change.

From a cultural dimensions perspective, Jamaica scores the highest in the competitiveness of our people. This cultural dimension indicates that the society is driven by competition, achievement and success. This value on success begins in academic life and follows most individuals throughout.

High competitiveness indicates messages should be linked to winning and achievement. Messages that appeal to our competitive nature would be of value to any communication campaign. At the CCSA launch, one of the ambassadors, Dr Usain Bolt, challenged the prime minister to ensure that Jamaica wins the Speed Award, indicative of our competitiveness.

So, it is clear to me that knowledge of all these nuances are at the foundation of any effective public-education and communication campaign. While we need to act quickly, we need to act on the correct data. There is a Climate Change Policy Framework for Jamaica adopted in 2015; the policy framework "provides for development of research, technology, training and knowledge management."

So, steps are being taken in relation to addressing climate change. However, the man on the street needs to understand the story behind climate change and, by extension, why it is important for him play a part. So, let's get the communication right.

If we are going to be converting our cities to climate-smart ones, let's be smart about each step.


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