Saturated With Climate Change Doomsday Prophecies? Change How You Talk About It

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Are people getting saturated with all the climate change news you talk about? Is all the doomsday and apocalypse prophecy surrounding climate change discussions becoming surreal and movie-like to them?

Is this saturation leading them to switch off mentally when they hear you talking about this topic? Then just change the way you talk! But how?

An inspiring TED Talk by Per E. Stoknes, a leading psychologist, gives interesting insights. His view is that most of the discourse around climate change often revolves around pointing the moral-finger at people – be it your families, friends, businesses or communities. Nobody likes to have the moral-finger pointed at them again and again, and there is a need to change that tactic if it has to be effective.

More importantly, we have to surmount the inner-defences of people when we talk to them about issues they would prefer to ignore and pretend don’t exist. These inner-defences are part of our cognitive system, which create mental walls, or barriers, and prevent us from imbibing the message someone is giving us. Climate change discussions are often prey to this.

These inner-defences include the aspect of distance; when we feel that the problem is still some time or distance away. Children in Ghana suffering from polluted water or tribals in Brazil’s Amazon suffering from forest-fires, feels miles away from India, so we feel it does not directly impact us. Similarly, when big institutions bring out glossy reports about climate projections in 2050, most of us switch off because we feel we will anyway be dead by then. The issue of distance is also connected with another inner-defence, that of dissonance. Beyond a point, the human brain is wired towards cognitive dissonance when it receives too much of anything. At that time, we understand we face a problem but are so detached, that we only end up doing the status-quo.

Another inner-defence is of doomsday. We become de-sensitised to the excessive flow of apocalyptic and doomsday prophecies surrounding any climate change discussion. Beyond a point, it just falls on deaf ears, rendering the very talk ineffective. Denial is another inner-defence, which flows partly as a result of the moral-finger issue mentioned previously. Since the topic makes us uncomfortable, we prefer to live in denial by ridiculing or ignoring the facts. It is a more comfortable option. Tell a typical chain-smoker to quit smoking as it affects their health, and then hear their fact-bashing about cigarettes and its correlation with health.

When we speak to people about climate issues, it is important to bear in mind these defences, and circumvent them for our talk to be more effective. One way is to talk about our income, jobs, health, etc. and the impact of climate on these. The human brain relates to the former, everyday things, more easily than to things they are less aware of. Jobs, health and income affect each and every one of us, and any conversation around these topics will gain ears. Build the climate aspect surrounding these themes, instead of the other way around. In other words, reframe the way you talk. The moment you talk about positive and negative arguments on everyday issues that people can relate to, the wall of the inner-defences lowers a bit. How many of you have ever spoken about inflation (mehengai) and its relation to climate risks? Just start the talk with inflation instead of climate, and 1.3 billion Indians would listen!

Instead of advising paradigm transformations to peoples’ habits, simply nudge small changes step by step. Again, the human mind is wired to resist major changes. The average person hates leaving their comfort zone, especially on everyday habits like diet, plastic usage or transport. Nudge small changes, like using public transport just for a few days each week, or eating climate-smart food for just a few days each week, or keeping a cloth bag rolled up inside one’s study or office bag for only those days when you shop while returning from office or college. None of these suggestions is talking about leaving the past habit entirely and taking up the new habit. It is about nudging small, incremental changes whilst doing both, and thus giving the person the time to get comfortable with the new idea! Nudge-based incremental changes also have less risk of retraction, i.e. people giving up and moving back to the way they did things earlier.

Last, use visualisation and story-telling, instead of the lecture-mode. That would draw more people to listen to you – and for a longer time! Visuals always work better than words, and social media tools make this job easier. Use it wisely. Story-telling is more appealing and engaging, unlike a lecture-mode that is bound to raise the inner defences, owing to the moral-finger issue. Talk about solutions and inspiration – that would be more rewarding to any conversation around climate change!

This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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