New Campaign Motivates People to Act on Climate Change and Sea Level Rise, But Is It Enough?

“There’s still time to prevent climate change devastation” is a message that’s being repeated by public officials, many climate scientists, and pundits. Actually motivating people to get involved, however, is a critical challenge that could make a huge difference in where we end up.

The CLEO Institute and the VoLo Foundation — two non-profit organizations working to solve the climate crisis in Florida –have teamed up with the Union of Concerned Scientists to launch a public awareness campaign that uses a unique gift shop to show the public what’s at stake in the Sunshine State and asks them to do something about it. A video released today features The Emergency State gift shop, where shoppers (apparently actors) are shown browsing typical tourist merchandise when water floods through vents into the store. The tourists appear shocked by the experience, then they tell interviewers that they’re convinced something needs to be done to fight climate change and sea level rise.

Viewers are encouraged to sign a petition — titled “Don’t Let the Sunshine State Become the Emergency State!” — that calls on elected officials to do more to “stop depending on dirty, polluting energy sources that are rising temperatures and disrupting our climate”. The petition notes that climate change is already impacting Floridians’ lives. “It is driving higher costs of real estate, property insurance, energy, and food,” the petition states, “along with an imminent threat to our drinking water source due to seawater intrusion, as well as loss of our precious biodiversity, like our coral reef systems and the Florida manatee.” The petition’s goal is to pressure elected officials to put “Florida on a clean, renewable energy pathway and a rapid transition to net-zero emissions by 2040”. They have a point, too. Florida’s governor is spending billions of dollars on defenses against sea level rise flooding but won’t publicly acknowledge that burning oil, coal and natural gas is the driving force behind global warming and sea level rise.

Now for the review:

I had mixed reactions watching the video and reading the petition. While the groups involved in The Emergency State project should be commended for their effort to increase public awareness of the impact climate change and sea level rise flooding are having in Florida, I’m not sure this is the most effective approach. Floridians and most people who live in US coastal communities are already seeing the real-world effects of climate change and sea level rise flooding on national and local news programs. Real people, not actors, are regularly shown trudging and driving through floodwaters, so I’m not sure what value an admittedly creative dramatization adds to the public discussion.

I believe what’s really missing from our public discourse — and what many people are eager to see — is a campaign that shows them what specific steps they can take right now to reduce the burning of fossil fuels that is causing the planet to rapidly warm. If such a campaign already exists, it’s certainly not reaching me.

My dream campaign (disclosure: I have worked in public relations, public affairs, grassroots organizing, marketing, and advertising and as a reporter and columnist) would cover the actions I listed in an article I posted on Earth Day in May. I imagine 30-60 second public service announcements that illustrate the following productive actions:

  1. Vote ONLY for candidates who are dedicated to fighting climate change.
  2. Drive only when necessary, consolidate trips and share the ride.
  3. Purchase the most energy efficient vehicles you can afford and ride public transportation when available.
  4. Weather-proof your home and office and set thermostats at a reasonable level.
  5. Buy energy-efficient appliances.
  6. Turn off lights and electronics that aren’t in use.
  7. Buy only goods you actually need.
  8. Eat a more plant-based diet.

I’m sure there are many more tips that could be added to this list. The point of this exercise is that people are becoming increasingly aware of the impact climate change is having on their lives. Now, instead of making them more fearful, we need to show them what they can do to make a difference.

This approach has worked before, it can work again. For example: When I was a kid during the energy crisis in the 1970s, ads that asked people to take steps similar to the ones listed above were effective reminders that we weren’t mere pawns in the energy economy, even the smallest gestures repeated by hundreds of millions of Americans could make a big difference. I’d gladly participate in any effort to get the “YOU Can Stop Climate Change Now” campaign started.

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