Youth and the Media: how the media can change the youth perspective on climate change
Growing up in the media era, I have been overwhelmed with messages on how to save water, how to cut back on energy usage and how to protect our environment. To be frank, I did not care neither did I pay attention to the news related to climate change. To me, climate change had been a “scientific fairy tale” - something far away, not an imminent threat and something which happens to bears which don’t exist in Africa. This is not because I was uneducated or ignorant, but because I did not really understand why I should care about climate change.
Yes, climate change is all over the media! We watch discussions on television, attend climate change dialogues and the media keeps loading us with information on how to save our natural resources. But how many people truly understand the effect of climate change? How assured are we that the campaigns and dialogues we host leave the public with lingering thoughts on taking action, and how many of the youth are really interested in issues revolving around climate change? Just because experts preach it, scientists put figures to it and the media airs it, it does not mean that the public understands and are convinced to take action.
Yes the Namibian media address climate change issues in their reporting, but how action-oriented are their stories?
I think that Namibian journalists play a role in the youth’s social activities, but some of them still lack skills on how to communicate and engage with young people when it comes to climate change. They fail to get through to Namibian young people, especially those who live in rural settlements, in a way that truly connects with them and their lifestyle to mobilise them to act. Most of the youth, whether in rural or urban settlements, still do not understand climate issues and some simply do not care. Then if our Namibian people do not understand that our country is in danger, perhaps it's time for the journalists to take a different approach to reach the youth.
Namibian journalists at a media briefing on climate change. Source: http://windhoek.sites.unicnetwork.org
What the media can do?
The key to good communication is to target the audience; therefore, the media needs to focus on their audience first. What is the segmentation of the targeted youth? Youth groups segmented according to various backgrounds of demographic, geographic, psychographic as well as behavioural backgrounds. Therefore, the media should think on how to convey the messages to youth from these different backgrounds.
Most of the climate messages I have seen so far focus on how few people are saving energy or how few people save water. These messages actually make things worse, because they do not highlight the solution. Instead the media should focus on people or countries who are doing it right.
Have we ever thought why the youth respond fast to issues related to terrorism, racism or human rights? Because one of the approaches of the media to catch the youth’s mind is to make the issue scarier by using fear appeals. However, when it comes to having action-oriented debates in the public interest, it is not enough to only tell young people how bad the impact of climate change is or will be, as this does not truly engage them.
Looking at the recent attack of Boko Haram, whereby a hash tag of #BringBackOurGirls was used, is a good example of trying to get people engaged, and it has been very successful in specific cases. Even though people do not find solutions to the danger, they reacted to the provoking messages. So what the media can do is to direct people towards managing the danger, rather than going into denial by providing clear and practical help with appropriate actions.
According to a book by a Norwegian psychologist called What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming, Per Espen Stoknes lays out a psychological approach for moving society to climate action:
- Make it feel personal, urgent and local
- Be positive about it
- Give people a way to take visible, consistent action
- Reduce Polarization
- Use the power of social network
Through these strategies which Stoknes outlined in his book, he believes that those advocating for climate action can make the same type of progress which other social movements have had.
Changing people’s behaviour is not easy neither it can be done overnight. But if the media and campaigners include these strategies, then there is hope to save our planet. As Kofi Annan once said, “The question is not whether climate change is happening, but whether in the face of this emergency, we can change fast enough”.
About the Author
LUCIA KAMATI is currently the Project Officer at the Hanns Seidel Foundation Namibia. She graduated in 2013 from the University of Namibia with an Honours Degree in Public Relations and Sociology. She spent over six years working in the communication departments for a diverse set of private and non-profit organisations as well as newspapers.