Climate Change’s Branding Problem

The first few weeks in Singapore, apart from battling a tropical superflu, one other war I was waging was contextualizing climate change in a way that was, well, less boring for people.

Put it this way, during the beginning of this residency, I was reading up on UN documents on the environment and we all know how enjoyable that is. I was beginning to be afraid that this project will be the most boring one I’ve ever done. When finally, it hit me.

Climate change has a branding problem. Not that I didn’t think so before, but it’s different when you are doing a project that is supposed to get people to want to act on climate change. My initial responses for my project were, well, meh. I felt like people were humoring me because I was a guest in their lab / college / country. I don’t blame them. People think climate change is too dry and inaccessible. Or more precisely, I believe it is seen as something separate from other concerns, when I think environmental “mindfulness” should be integrated in our lifestyles.

When I see climate change campaigns in schools and organizations, it’s mostly about recycling. Don’t get me wrong—recycling is important and we all should do it. I just don’t think that it is the cure-all for all our environmental woes. Climate change-related events are getting bigger and more serious—it’s critical to think beyond our current solutions.

Another field having a branding problem with respect to climate change is art. I think for the most part, people see it as frivolous. “Oh that’s nice,” but thinking “but let the important people do the important work” type of attitude. Again, I don’t blame them. The ivory towers and walls that distance disciplines from each other have served to alienate. (I also think that this is a one of the causes of professional burn-out, but that’s another post for another day.)

I need to get people in a state of “play” so that they will think outside the box. Hence the formation of this Apocalypse Project. It’s tricky to turn something as serious as climate change as something “fun,” but I believe that making it so will get people to start thinking beyond the box.  Dystopias and apocalypses pave the way for that. We already have these ingrained in literature and pop culture. But beyond that, ideas that seemed crazy in the beginning sometimes become the best solutions. Science fiction becomes speculative fiction and eventually reality, doesn’t it? As an example, just check out this TED talk by Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu on manipulated memories. 

Stay tuned for the next post on The Apocalypse Workshop, when the very creative minds of students here at NUS’ Tembusu college take a stab at thinking about a climate change apocalypse.

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