What sustainability needs now, is connection and activation

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Last week, I was touched deeply by Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York. Still, as a communication professional, I can’t help but wonder if her words will not work counterproductively. Shouldn’t doom thinking make way for an inspiring movement of which everyone wants to be part? Or can’t the one do without the other?

Doom thinking petrifies

The message of Greta’s speech is dark and disturbing. It’s so dark that, as a listener, I feel like there is nothing left for me to do. I feel like my only option left is to book a one-way ticket to a tropical island to party until the whole world falls apart. Doom thinking has a petrifying effect and fear will never be an incentive for positive change. Yes, fear sends us in a direction, but it sends us the wrong way. This is the main problem of the current discussion about climate change. The discussion visualises a world characterized by images of endangered polar bears on melting ice caps. Not a world that you want to be part of and which gives you inspiration and direction.

The question of guilt polarises

All who are conscious of our environmental problems and who are already making an effort to change their behaviour in positive ways, feel addressed by Thunberg’s speech. All the while, climate sceptics just feel more and more united and their joint aversion is strengthened. Lastly, there’s the biggest group right in the middle: the group that’s neither sceptic nor activist. This is a group of people who can still be inspired to become more aware to take action. You inspire them by identifying the problem, point out a spot on the horizon and suggest the first practical steps to reach that spot. You inspire them by connecting, not by polarising.

Create a movement that people want to be part of

What would it be like if, instead of Thunberg with her dark speech, there would have been five kids on the stage? Kids who would point out the problem and its disturbing facts, as well as paint a picture of the world they’d like to live in when they’re as old as the politicians present. Then, they all tell us about the first steps they’ve taken to get there; whether it’s a clothing swap, a plant-based diet, the decision to stop flying or stop using a tumble dryer. They would dare every politician to join them in taking the first step. No matter how big or small that step may be. These children would unite in the ‘First Step Club’: a movement characterised by hopeful visions and first steps.

No revolution without rebels?

We need Greenpeace to put subjects on the agenda and to get activated. Is this speech also an example of this? Does the bridge-builder need the rebel? In the case of Thunberg’s speech, I’m doubtful. What I do know is that I get my energy out of connection and activation. That is my first step. I take this step with my clients at every single job I do.