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Do climate conversations need a rebrand?

Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for changes to the way we speak about the climate crisis. He says the current language used to describe the issue does little to create a public sense of urgency or incite changes in behaviour.

Gen Z knows all too well how quickly family and friends tune out once the phrase ‘climate change’ is mentioned in conversation.

While most of us are seriously concerned about our climate’s future, many ultimately view their own role as redundant. Fossil fuel companies are far greater contributors to the problem than individuals, leaving everyday environmental conversation feeling pointless.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has become quite the climate activist in recent years, said in a recent interview with CBS, ‘as long as we keep talking about global climate change, [the effects of it] are not going to go anywhere. Cause no one gives a shit about that.’

What people do care about, he says, is pollution.

Could linking our environmental issues more precisely to pollution light fire in the public’s will to create change? Would directly identifying the source of the issue impassion us to demand better, faster solutions from those with the power to do something about it?

Is pollution a better way to discuss the climate?

My thing is, let’s go and rephrase this and communicate differently about it. Let’s really tell people: we’re talking about pollution. Pollution creates climate change, and pollution kills,’ says Schwarzenegger.

Well, he’s not wrong.

All of what is damaging our planet’s ecosystem is rooted in pollution. From greenhouse gas emissions to plastic and harmful chemicals and dyes, we’re destroying our planet with things created by humans during the last century.

Not to mention, pollution found in our air, water, and land is diminishing human health. Man-made chemicals are now responsible for causing chronic illnesses and disease, with 7 million people dying prematurely from air pollution alone each year.

Explicitly framing the situation as caused by humanity’s decisive actions rather than an event that has simply started happening to our planet could work to reframe the narrative.

Pointing to pollution as the foundation of the problem may also help us identify solutions more easily. It illustrates to us that our current environmental troubles can be resolved if we revert back to basics or implement greener solutions in our everyday life.

These are things slowly but surely being put into motion, such as switching to clean energy, swapping virgin plastics for biomaterials, and replacing toxic chemicals with eco-friendly alternatives.

Still, recent G7 summits and COP meetings continuously fail to produce concrete solutions and solid environmental policies that match the severity of the situation. To quote Greta Thunberg, we’ve mainly seen a lot of ‘blah, blah, blah’.

How Does Air Pollution affect Climate Change?

‘Climate change’ might be too abstract

While the description of CO2 and methane gas particles lingering in our atmosphere and subsequently heating up the Earth might resonate with those most clued up on the subject, it admittedly does little to evoke a sense of urgency within the mind of the average listener. Or world leaders.

Contrarily, those in the Global South have been experiencing first-hand the devastating effects of climate change in recent years. This is despite the fact that they might not describe what they see as due to climate change.

In Accra, Ghana, locals will talk about mountains of fast fashion items polluting their shorelines and landfills. Meanwhile, locals in Bali, Indonesia will point to the growing amount of plastic bottles clogging local rivers and polluting beaches.

In Pakistan, village communities will tell you how monsoons washed away entire neighbourhoods. They will say the water left around them, though abundant, is polluted by sewage and chemicals, and is undrinkable.

To entertain Schwarzenegger’s idea, perhaps we should change the vocabulary in climate conversations to focus on something truly tangible: pollution. It might just allow people to think about our environmental issues – and the solutions to them ­– with greater clarity and simplicity.