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How do you explain climate change to a taxi driver?

Lottie Oram

Assistant Project Manager for Asia, BBC Media Action

A Climate Asia community assessment in Indonesia.

"How do you explain climate change to a taxi driver?"

This was our question to a panel of international journalists, as we led the opening session of the second annual climate communications day at the UN climate change talks in Doha. 

It wasn't a gimmick. We genuinely want to know.

Our research for BBC Media Action’s communications project Climate Asia has introduced us to all kinds of audiences. From the policy maker to the journalist to the driver taking us to our next focus group, each person has a different understanding of climate change and some find this term difficult to link up with their own experiences. In the course of nine months, Climate Asia has involved us talking to more than 30,000 people in seven Asian countries to understand how people experience, understand and are responding to an often changing environment. 

"When I talk to people about climate change in Bangladesh, what they really want to talk about is water and sanitation," said Lisa Friedman of Climate Wire. "We should stop making people emblematic of climate change. Our job is to write about specific audiences and the nuances of their needs." 

"(The term) 'climate change' is so freaking boring," said another presenter later that day, whose name I will withhold as I know he said this to make a point – and we do get his point – that 'climate' terminology can sometimes get in the way of what we really want to talk about.

As we presented Climate Asia to our audience of journalists, researchers, scientists and communicators, we used the story of Suraiya, a young mother living in a Dhaka slum, whose photograph was used in global report on climate change.

We wanted to turn the tables and stress the importance of thinking about her as an individual with her own unique set of challenges and her own lived experience rather than as a victim or as an illustration. We wanted to stress the importance of taking into account her individual needs, her own perceptions of how she is experiencing the consequences of climate change and the unique things she can tell us about herself: her values, whom she trusts and even how she likes soap operas on TV.

There was a consensus that we need to provide people with access to relevant information on climate change. "Climate information is as important as health information," one panellist stated and the need to communicate more effectively was stressed throughout the day. 

But it seems, when it comes to climate change, not a lot of time has gone into thinking about how to present this information to any particular group or target audience.

It was reassuring to hear questions from people who wanted to know more about how they could make the issues surrounding climate change digestible for their audience.

"How do I convince journalists to write about my research?" asked one scientist. "Keep it simple, keep it short, keep it locally relevant" came the succinct response from a journalist.

This echoes what some media professionals have told us in Asia and it shows us that there is a space for Climate Asia research in helping many actors develop communications. 

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Related links

From the BBC Media Action blog: 

Know your audience: the Climate Asia team's challenge to attendees at the UN climate change conference in Doha

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