Making climate action meaningful: Communication practices in the New Zealand climate movement
The climate crisis requires urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; however, ‘business as usual’ continues to fuel further increases. Instead of the social change needed to safeguard the wellbeing of people and the planet, there has been an unpromising mix of active resistance, lukewarm concern, lack of engagement, and lack of hope. In the face of this, climate communicators seek to make climate action relevant and meaningful to people, thereby mobilising them to create a social consensus on climate action and the political will for change. A core dynamic in climate communication is the balance between, on the one hand, speaking to the facts of the climate crisis and to what makes climate action meaningful to climate communicators themselves, and on the other, speaking in a way that is meaningful to those being communicated with. If the balance is right, climate communication will empower people, thereby helping translate belief in, and concern about, the climate crisis into behavioural change and political engagement, cumulatively creating social change. If the balance is wrong, however, communication efforts risk not connecting with people, emotionally overwhelming them with the weight of the climate crisis, or overly diluting the message, leading to no effect, or to a negative effect. An important way in which this dynamic manifests is in the balance between moral and economic framing. Morality and economics are two fundamental elements of what gives a sense of meaningfulness to climate action, and therefore underlie decision-making around both climate action and climate communication. Combinations of moral and economic framing are of particular interest in the way they call for radical action while speaking to people’s desires for security and prosperity. The climate movement is at the heart of efforts towards social change and the creation of a social consensus on climate action. It is therefore to the experiences of climate movement participants that I turn to explore these issues. I take a movement-centred activist scholarship approach to research on climate communication decision-making via interviews with fourteen members of the New Zealand climate movement. Highlighting the importance of knowledge development within social movements, I seek to contribute to activist and academic understanding of effective climate communication.