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Talking about the climate – but how?

Sep 01, 2020 / alpMedia
Personal, visual, social: this is how we communicate the climate crisis more effectively. Around 250 people discussed language, psychology and social media in the online conference “Tell stories, prick up your ears, make contacts”.
Image caption:
Oslo, Hamburg, Vienna, Bolzano: around 250 participants from the Alps and far beyond took part in the discussions. (c) CIPRA International

“At Fridays for Future we are dealing with clever protest communication. Short, dense and fast, networked via social media,” analyses linguist Martin Reisigl. At the online conference on climate communication on 30 June and 1 July 2020, he agreed with experts from other fields that the young climate movement is doing many things right – and differently – in its communication. The organisers had made a climate-friendly virtue out of necessity and, after several postponements due to the corona pandemic, had moved the conference to the internet. A total of around 250 participants from all Alpine countries listened to presentations and discussed matters in plenary sessions and workshops with experts from Norway, Hamburg and Vienna. They voted in online surveys on climate issues and experienced a live video tour of a climate-friendly renovated residential complex in Bolzano/I.

The Climate Youth shows how it works

Disaster scenarios such as “hot summer” or abstract technical terms such as “tipping points in the climate system” make it difficult to talk about the climate crisis. For example, the German Physical Society had already warned of an “imminent climate catastrophe” in 1971, and as early as 1986 the news magazine “Der Spiegel” was already using this title. It was not until 2019, with “Fridays For Future”, that the world of politics also came under pressure. “Journalism puts the climate issue on the public agenda and thus in our heads,” explains communication scientist Irene Neverla. It alone does not create enough awareness of problems or responsibility, however. In contrast, people use social media to pick up journalistic topics, mobilise each other and become politically active. According to Austrian pollster Christoph Hofinger, good climate stories are based on empathy, promise salvation and describe how to get there in a pictorial, emotional and understandable way.

Brain-friendly communication

How do you get people to participate in solving the climate crisis? “Our biggest obstacle is 15 centimetres thick and is located between our ears,” says environmental psychologist Per Espen Stoknes. He talks about the barriers in our minds that have to be overcome in matters of climate change. Climate targets, for example, are far in the future, and the climate crisis plays hardly any role in everyday life. This personal distance can be overcome through positive role models. “Climate change should feel personal, urgent and close.” For example, if we eat more vegetarian food, it will be good for us and for the climate. Inspiring stories with which we can identify in everyday life are also helpful: from the mountain farmer who runs his old mowing machine on his own electricity, to the city council planting new trees.

Climate spring, climate protection in everyday life, adaptation strategies of a community, the Charter of Budoia, the climate game 100max, the activities of the Alpine Climate Council: motivating workshops and inputs on these and other topics rounded off the conference. Helmut Hojesky, Chairman of the Alpine Climate Council, outlined what is needed for climate-neutral and climate-resilient Alps in 2050. His summary of the event: “A model for further video conferences!” All presentations and further information are available online:


The online conference of the Alpine Partnership for Local Climate Action (ALPACA) was made possible by the kind support of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology and the Autonomous Province of Bolzano – South Tyrol.