“Is it time to rethink our language on climate change?” So is entitled the article by Gitanjali Bedi and Stathi Paxinos published in January 2020 in the Monash Lens. After listening to the ETH Global Lecture with Paul Hawken where he spoke about his newest book Regeneration: Ending the Climate Chrisis in One Generation I say yes, absolutely. You can (and should) read the book, but for those of you who cannot do so right now, here are a few quotes from the Lecture with Paul, in conversation with Chris Luebkeman and Sonia Seneviratne.
Rethinking our Language on Climate Change
by Jürg Brunnschweiler, Chief of Staff to the President of ETH Zurich, 4 November 2021
“(Regeneration) asks the question, and hopefully tries to answer it, of why 98% of humanity is completely disengaged from global warming and the climate crisis. And you have to ask yourself, how after 45 or 50 years in the public sphere did we get to that?”
“Regeneration, an emerging movement in the world, is innate to being a human being … it is innate to life itself, and it is the default mode of life.”
“Climate speak – it absolutely alienates people.”
“The whole language around climate has been one which, frankly, is off putting.”
“For years, the climate crisis or global warming has been a concept, and people eventually turned off from listening to it. And now it’s becoming experiential, that is an inflection point on earth.”
“Scientists never took a communication class. The way science is communicated has absolutely guaranteed that most people will not get involved.”
“The language around climate change has been about fear, shame, guilt, threat… if you want to really turn people off and turn them numb, we know from neuroscience that’s how you do it – can we communicate in a way that is a lot more effective? I think so.”
So, there you have it. Regeneration is optimistic. Must be optimistic. Hence rethinking our language on climate is of utmost importance at all levels of society. Take politics. Gerald Haug, ETH Zurich professor and President of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, said in a recent interview in Der Spiegel when asked about the currently ongoing coalition talks in Germany: “We no longer have a knowledge gap, but a deficit in the implementation of climate protection. The three parties are aware of this to the maximum. What they need to do now is to finally put an optimistic scenario in the foreground. Instead of constantly talking about phasing out coal, for example, we should be talking about moving towards a sustainable economy, because this is a huge opportunity.”
But rethinking our language on climate change won’t be enough. We need to be totally RETHINKING LIVING. Which is what we are devoted to exploring thanks to our ongoing red thread on this theme. Stay tuned for more coming soon and see what we’ve already covered in our curated series here: https://ethz.ch/en/the-eth-zurich/global/events/rethinking-living.html
About the author
Jürg Brunnschweiler is the Chief of Staff to the President of ETH Zurich and heads the Office of the President.