The Discourses of Climate Delay

Recently we talked about a change in climate opposition. Instead of denying (the human role in) climate change, misinformation is increasingly focused on scrutinizing how (fast) we should act instead.

To get more insight into the rhetoric of arguments that do not deny climate change, but function to delay meaningful action nonetheless, a 2020 study set out to analyze exactly which climate delay arguments are being spread. The researchers found 12 examples, divided over 4 categories: redirect responsibility, emphasize the downsides, push for non-transformative solutions, or surrender. 

For example, a recognizable way people redirect responsibility is to claim other countries (for example India) emit far more CO2 and it wouldn’t make sense to take meaningful actions until they do. Which is partially true, but if you compare emissions per capita, a country like the Netherlands still emits four times as much. Besides, the science has been clear; we need every country to take action towards becoming climate neutral to mitigate the worst effects of global warming.

Another example is to place the responsibility at the consumer level (companies are just fulfilling a market demand). A recent article in the FD (Dutch) explains why individual actions lack the impact to make the changes that are necessary to achieve effective results. Another interesting detail is that the entire concept of an individual’s carbon footprint (and the implicit idea that the consumer is responsible instead of companies) was popularized by a large advertising campaign of the fossil fuel company BP in 2005 (go figure).

Another popular tactic is to debunk sustainable alternatives such as solar panels and electric cars, such as Mr. Bean Rowan Atkinson recently did in a Guardian opinion piece. Quickly followed up by a debunk of the debunk.

All in all, this new discourse on climate change also has implications for brands. With the increasingly concerning role of misinformation on the internet (often spread by think tanks and lobby groups), it is essential to have an open and honest discourse about the challenges we face. 

And just like placing the responsibility on individuals to tackle the climate crisis, large societal problems like misinformation require governments and brands to lead the charge. Especially younger generations increasingly hold brands responsible for coming up with meaningful solutions to challenges we face. They expect brands to contribute towards climate solutions, but also refrain from feeding divisive forces in society. Just to name an example,  71% of consumers think that CEOs are obligated to pull money from advertising platforms that spread misinformation. So what can your brand do to stop delaying and foster an honest and open discourse about the challenges ahead?