M. Sanjayan says "go local" to tell better climate stories

Tell unique, local stories. Know the norms of your audience, and don’t be afraid to speak with emotion.

These tips on communicating climate change came to mind for M. Sanjayan after being bombarded by media during a recent trip to Santiago, Chile. He was as part of an expedition to the receding Tupungato glacier, but the local media wanted to talk to him about water - or more precisely, why water had ceased to flow through their taps. Changing weather patterns as a result of global warming threatens municipal water supplies everywhere, not just in Chile,  but Sanjayan chose to focus on water, as the local media preferred, instead of carbon dioxide emissions and their effects.

In explaining his climate-communication tip #1 - tell local, unique stories - Sanjayan writes that people act on what is going on locally far more effectively than they do on what is happening globally, even if the global event has a bigger long-term impact.

When the news media dispensed with caution and made the suggestion that there was a link between Hurricane Sandy and climate change, the story’s audience (which was huge) was clearly ready. The Sandy-climate change story had a major impact on American attitudes and provided a clear incentive for New York City to take initiative.

I think this proves there’s some real truth the Sanjayan’s tip. But a huge story like Sandy is an exception among stories, because the hurricane happened in New York, it was automatically a national story, if not an international one. Devastating water shortages, typhoons and floods happen every day and we never hear about them. The people living in the affected regions might not be interested in hearing they can blame CO2 as the culprit, and they would probably not stick around to listen to a lecture about driving too much. But all stories need context and if climate change is a part of that context, then shouldn’t that be acknowledged?

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