Strong message without the preaching?

Posted on August 18, 2008


I’ve got a couple of public lectures coming up. Both are about our approach to “sustainable practitioners”. One is at the end of a series of lectures with a threaded story – we’ve got a problem, and here’s some suggestions to get out of this situation. So, I’m writing the titles and blurbs to go on emails and posters. And, in a word, I’m stuck.

I realise I’m trying to do two things, and these two things are not happy bedfellows. Be both hard hitting and encouraging (or at least not preachy).

1. I’m looking for an all encompassing term that summarises the problem. “Sustainability” isn’t the word – it’s the answer, not the question. Neither is “global warming”. As you know, I’m trying to get people to see wider problems: erosion, deforestation, inequities etc should come under the same banner – but that banner isn’t global warming. Robert Butler has a brilliant article examining alternatives to the term global warming. He argues that neither “global warming” nor “climate change” capture the seriousness of the problem (and get confused by being used interchangeably). Robert finds alternatives including Prince Charles’ “climate war”; Lovelock’s “global heating”‘; and Gore’s “planetary emergency”. With the exception of Gore’s, all the alternatives suggested are explicitly climate (as is Gore’s in intention). So what to call it? Leigh suggests”Earth Shock”. Lester Brown calls it “a civilisation in trouble”. What else is there?

2. So, I don’t have a word, but the essence is a doomsday prophecy. I need to offset this with a way forward, and, frankly, to lighten up. Cue Robert Butler again, this time writing about environmental humour:

This our future: rivers dry up, sea levels rise, animals become extinct–and there won’t be a single blonde joke, or lightbulb joke, or three-men-walked-into-a-bar joke about any of it.

Butler argues this is not because of the seriousness of the situation, there are jokes aplenty about death, lepers and suicide. The second potential explanation is:

climate change is simply too boring. But there are jokes about accountancy. The third is, climate change is too preachy and earnest. That probably comes closest.

This being preachy and earnest makes environmentalists the target of humour. Instead of being the targets, we should be using humour as a tool to engage and as a tension release mechanism. I’m an advocate of incidental humour – the wry observation. This of course is hard to find (except perhaps Onion’s green issue).

Rustle the leaf does a great job of incorporating a lighter approach to environment, and helpfully produces lesson plans and this “Global warning” meets both my objectives but its colouring-in pages are kinda aimed at little kids.

Anyone got any thoughts?