How do we approach fixing climate change? It’s simple — we do it for the polar bears. I honestly believe this is the best way to start solving the problem, and I’m not even 10% joking.
So much has been said about the difficulty of orchestrating a global response to climate change, and rightfully so. The sheer range of competing priorities among a diverse set of world powers (Mukheibir et al., 2013) is liable to paralyze even the best negotiators, and we run into the problem of most of our governors simply being too old to be around for the consequences of climate change themselves. The simplest fix is to increase the climate’s priority among voters to the point where it manifests as a short-term issue that prevents those who ignore it from being elected. That’s exactly where the polar bears come in.
The political realm is one where persuasive rhetoric reigns supreme. Here, emotional appeals are often seen as the ultimate tool for both “creating and interpreting the world” (Wróbel, 2015). To this point, I ask you to think back to the last nature documentary you remember watching. Personally, I don’t remember one that wasn’t absolutely bursting with all kinds of different emotional appeals. Be it wonderment at the intricacies of the coral reef, hilarity at the antics of a baby chimpanzee, or despair at the plight of the starving polar bear, the best documentaries are guaranteed to elicit whatever emotional response they want from you at any moment in time. Why not use this power to sway public opinion on climate change?
I’m suggesting we exploit nature documentaries for use as climate change propaganda. We can even increase their persuasive capabilities by casting big celebrities to help Sir David Attenborough with the explanatory voice-overs, and I’m not joking here either.
Using celebrity star-power like this isn’t a new idea. The Oscar-winning film The Big Short found that it was a “necessary, profound solution” to the near impossible task of explaining the 2008 financial crisis to its audience (Hogan, 2016). Saying “the crisis was caused by mortgage backed securities being hidden in synthetic collateralized debt obligations” should make no sense to anybody, but throw in Margot Robbie in a bathtub along with Selena Gomez at a poker table and suddenly, I understand everything. Why can’t we do this with climate change too?
Well, even if a star-studded, nature-documentary-based propaganda campaign is a sure-fire way to educate the masses about the dangers of climate change, it is guaranteed to be an expensive endeavor. Fortunately, there is reason to believe that it would be in a company’s best interests to bankroll such an undertaking. While the conversation around what role a socially responsible company should take in society is an ever-changing one, academic work shows that focusing on reporting the ‘triple bottom line’ of social, environmental, and financial performance could be improved using persuasive rhetoric (Higgins & Walker, 2012). This study suggests that companies need to start using the same kinds of emotional appeals that nature documentaries have proven themselves to be so good at using.
Synthesizing all these thoughts, a golden thread starts to link it all together:
1) Our best bet at galvanizing global climate action is to educate and persuade the voting public to make it an electable issue.
2) Emotional appeals have proven themselves to be the foremost persuasive tool in politics.
3) Nature documentaries contain brilliant emotional appeals and can be used to spread information about the dangers of climate change.
4) Celebrity star-power can be used in the documentaries to both explain the science behind climate change and draw public attention to the issue.
5) It is in a company’s best interest to establish their brand as one that cares for the environment.
I can already see it so clearly in my head. After an hour of David Attenborough-led exposition (and cameos from Chris Pratt, Daisy Ridley, and Leonardo DiCaprio), we have fallen in love with Sally the Coca-Cola™ polar bear. She is raising two baby cubs, but they’re hungry and food is scarce. Rising temperatures mean a melting polar ice cap; the ice sheets that Sally typically hunts on are becoming sparse and unreliable. She can’t find anything to eat, so her cubs Tyson and Terri are forced to brave yet another long arctic night on an empty stomach.
If that doesn’t make you care about the climate, nothing will. We need to solve climate change. For the polar bears.
Crying Polar Bear [GIF]. (n.d.). https://i.pinimg.com/originals/7d/c0/64/7dc0646226c746f73215935a34adbf0f.gif
Higgins, C., & Walker, R. (2012). Ethos, logos, pathos: Strategies of persuasion in social/environmental reports. Accounting Forum, 36(3), 194–208. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.accfor.2012.02.003
Hogan, B. (2016, April 5). Banking on The Big Short. Creative Screenwriting. https://creativescreenwriting.com/banking-on-the-big-short/
Mukheibir, P., Kuruppu, N., Gero, A., & Herriman, J. (2013). Overcoming cross-scale challenges to climate change adaptation for local government: A focus on Australia. Climatic Change, 121(2), 271–283. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0880-7
Polar Bear on Melting Ice. (n.d.). https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Dw_irVKX4AEc6NZ.jpg:large
Wróbel, S. (2015). “Logos, Ethos, Pathos”. Classical Rhetoric Revisited. Polish Sociological Review, 401–421. https://www.jstor.org/stable/44113896