Hakuna Matata no more!

We have been warned about climate change for decades now and yet most of us have settled into a state of awareness, rather than action. It’s time to change that.

Published: 7 Oct 2020
Author: Zurich Insurance
Type: Insight

On encountering the banished lion cub Simba, the meerkat Timon tells him to turn his back on the world and teaches him a new ‘wonderful phrase’: Hakuna Matata.

But this attitude has seeped far beyond the Disney movie and into real life as people struggle to reflect the urgency of climate change in their daily lives. Perhaps believing in Timon’s advice to Simba: “bad things happen, and you can’t do anything about it...”

Scientists have been warning us for decades that humans are causing severe and potentially irreversible changes to the climate, essentially baking our planet and ourselves with carbon dioxide and methane.

Climate change-induced events – from devastating hurricanes to deadly wildfires – make headlines on an increasingly regular basis, accompanied by messages from a new generation of environmental activists.

And yet, it took a global pandemic to make a significant – albeit temporary – impact on our collective carbon emissions.

The issue is not one of awareness. The 2018 Pew Research Center survey, which polled 27,612 respondents in 26 countries, found that 67% of people consider climate change to be a major threat – up from 56% in 2013.

Instead, it starts as a communications challenge that requires transforming awareness into action by inspiring people to internalize their individual roles in addressing climate change.

Doomsday overkill

One of the main roadblocks preventing people moving from awareness to action on climate change is the way we talk about the topic, says Norwegian psychologist and economist Per Espen Stoknes.

“Climate change is usually framed as a looming disaster. So many of us are suffering from a kind of apocalypse fatigue,” Stoknes explains in his TED Talk, ‘How to transform apocalypse fatigue into action on global warming’.

“And when people hear about the climate, we hear about something far away in space, far away in time, and it is slow moving. It’s not here; it’s not now. It seems outside my circle of influence,” adds Stoknes.

Conny Kalcher, Chief Customer Officer at Zurich Insurance Group (Zurich), agrees with Stoknes and believes we need to adopt a more optimistic tone in our communications.

“We need to start voicing a positive picture of a carbon-neutral future and stop focusing on the rhetoric of catastrophe in our communications,” she says.

Kalcher adds: “We must also talk in a way that is local and personal. Pacific islands submerging into the sea may feel remote if you live in Europe. Climate change impacts us all, so we should extend the conversation to also talk about how climate change will impact local livelihoods.

A new post-pandemic lens

Since the Pew Research, another challenge has appeared: Covid-19. A Harris poll from December 2019, discovered Americans believed climate change to be the number one issue facing society.

Surveyed again eight months later – and post-pandemic – climate change came second to last on a list of a dozen options. Covid-19 and the resulting recession has reordered priorities.

But Covid-19 also offers hope. It demonstrated that individuals can take the necessary actions to combat a global crisis. We worked from home, wore face masks, practiced physical distancing, and made personal sacrifices to help halt the spread of the virus.

Francis Bouchard, Zurich’s Group Head of Public Affairs and Sustainability, believes we can learn from this experience to help combat climate change.

“I don’t know what the climate equivalent of wearing a mask will be, but I do know that governments respond to voters and businesses respond to consumers, so individuals have a voice in demanding that clear path,” adds Bouchard.

“Similarly, companies with the scale to drive system-level changes will need to show the same ingenuity they have over the past few months to deliver value while protecting their customers, employees and society from a common risk.”

In ‘The Lion King’, Simba eventually drops his problem-free philosophy and takes decisive action to return to his pride after his father’s spirit tells him to take his place in the circle of life.

For us all, we need to look at our own personal role within our own circle of life. Right now, most of us are having a negative impact on the circle of life. We all need to discover a new ‘wonderful phrase’ that inspires us to adopt an action-first philosophy on climate change.

This article was originally published by Zurich

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