Re-Imagine Climate Change Communication

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A Climate for Change: Climate Change Communication in India

Impulse text by Prof. Rita Brara, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi

I have viewed the Anthropocene as a Foucaultian dispositif or a ‘network of networks’ as it were, delineated how notions of vulnerability and resilience have been interpreted in the course of adjudicating environmental lawsuits in India, written on cartoons expressing climate change and recently published a review article on climate change and the environment in India.

While at the Department of Sociology, University of Delhi, I convened 3 workshops on the theme of climate change titled: 1. “Imaginings of Climate Change” (2014); 2. “Environment and Climate Change: Framing Vulnerabilities” (2015); and 3. “Did Someone Cry Anthropocene? Frames from India” (2016).

I focus below on how better to communicate climate change information, impacts, and action for the peoples of India and South Asia in the main.


Three Guiding Motifs: How to do things differently
  1. Climate change communication must bring the publics of Asia into the core of the efforts, as this continent and its peoples will continue to be the most affected by planetary climate change. In the current language, Asia will have the most ‘climate victims’. On the plus side, we recognise that the adaptive/endurance capacity of its peoples in dealing with crises is considerable.
  2. Arguments for making climate change communication and action persuasive in the Indian context have to reckon with a hierarchy of individual and family-level priorities directed at food security, current employment, education of children, political risks, etc. Actions intended to limit climate change can fit in with a slew of development initiatives, but action for climate change qua climate change may not produce the desired effects.
  3. The very stratified nature of publics in India (and South Asia) along lines of education, income inequalities, rural and urban livelihoods, gender, power differentials, and more, entails that the targeting of climate interventions must be tailored to specific groups and situations.


Approaches that are not delivering and roads less taken

A broad, bird’s eye-view of global or state-publicised national and provincial plans and programmes for climate change do not evoke the public’s interest. A numbers-driven climate exercise has few attractions.
What is required are affect-rich imaginings of climate change communication, from the ground up – multiple worms’-eye views on the subject taking local indicators of climate change into account.

Communication about climate change actions steer away from addressing matters of climate justice and proffer technocratic solutions. The causes of climate change are elided and eclipse the view that the rich (in developing and developed countries) are largely responsible. The discussions on this count have to be honest and enabling for those who least contribute to climate distress.

Institutionalised science has a significant place in our understanding of climate change, but its findings often do not resonate on the ground since the horizons of scientists and common folks may be entangled but do not coincide. Example: Although it was accepted that waste segregation was an invaluable way of managing waste scientifically, advocating the use of separate waste bins to segregate household waste as a strategy did not succeed. Even when bins were distributed free of cost, there was not enough space for 3 types of bins inside or outside the home, almost invariably.
We need to investigate and propagate scientific practices that work under local conditions. The emphasis of the communication work should be on the co-creation of strategies, technologies, and techniques that grow/ have grown from pro-climate action research with small groups – a one-size-fits-all approach does not deliver.


Possible lessons from Covid-19 for climate change communication
  1. Climate change communication could focus on the impact on human health since it is a basic concern that always registers with rich and poor alike.
  2. Doable action to protect citizens from the Covid-19 virus focussed upon (and continues to emphasise) the wearing of masks. It is a technique that can be transposed, advocated, and reiterated to capitalise on the familiarity with masking now to minimise the effects of air pollution that is severe in India.
  3. Economic life or livelihoods have had to be maintained through the Covid-19 crisis, just as livelihoods will have to be made resilient through the epoch of climate change, which is also described as a crisis in slow motion.


Cartoons Convey Climate Thoughts Pithily 

I think that cartoons are an invaluable way of communicating climate change with irony/ humour. I reproduce one of my favorites from Africa below, though it could apply to India equally. And the second one is about climate treaties. Cartoons may be used initially to spark interest and then be followed up by substantive suggestions.

Cartoon by Frank Odoilives, 2012, for the WSP 2012 calendar.
Cartoon by David Horsey, 2013

Suggested Readings:

Amitav Ghosh. 2016. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.  University of Chicago Press.

Kimiko Nygaard Barrett. “Assessing the determinants facilitating local vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities to climate change in high mountain environments: A case study of northern Ladakh, India”. Doctoral thesis submitted to University of Montana, 2014.

Aase Jeannette Kvanneid.  „Waterworn. Climate Change Resonance in the Shivalik Hills of North India“. Doctoral thesis submitted to University of Bergen, 2018.

Rita Brara. 2019. Feet on the Ground, Eyes on the Horizon: Anthropology of Environment and Climate Change in India. In S. Srivastava et al ed. Critical Themes in Indian Sociology. New Delhi: Sage.

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