Climate change is starting to affect businesses worldwide. Enterprises are struggling with the effects of natural disasters, or expensive investments brought on by stricter environmental regulations. While these effects are already being felt and discussed, the issue of how we talk about the environment has been neglected. The right choice of words, accurate translation of our messages, and proper localization give us the biggest chance to reach wider audiences and cause real change.
When discussing climate change, we often hear about alarming reports of excessive plastic pollution, which will weigh more than all fish in the ocean by 2050. We also hear about how cities like New York and London will be flooded.
While these claims are grounded in scientific fact, for many people, these threats are too distant and therefore do not mobilize people to enact change. This is also true when we hear about damage in places that are located on the other side of the globe—it feels like the problem doesn’t concern us.
This is, of course, a huge mistake. Climate change is already affecting the entire globe, and the effects of potential disasters will be the most tragic for countries that are not prepared for them.
According to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, the safest places to live in the future will be Scandinavia. On the other hand, the most vulnerable are countries within Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands.
Therefore, to build eco-consciousness, promote good practices and introduce real changes, actions on various levels are needed:
- Translation and localization of content on climate change that will be understandable and accessible to various groups, also those diversified in terms of culture and language, which will strenghten the voice of isolated societies, previously ignored in the discourse.
- Content localization, i.e. adjusting it to many different groups, including sceptics.
- Translation of the latest research results and scientific reports not only into English and their transmission in a form that will be understandable also outside the laboratories – to the average recipient. This will allow presenting the gravity of the problem around the world, not just in highly developed countries.
- Supporting international dialogue through translations and proper use of language, names as well as narratives that speak to imagination, emotions and reactions.
Good translation and localization are key to consensus
Due to that fact, high-quality translation and localization is even more important. Without them, reaching agreement between various impact groups is simply impossible. And it’s not only what we say, but also how our arguments are presented.
For example, the term ‘global warming’ emerged in the 1980s, dominating public debate. Because of the use of the word ‘warming’, the debate centred on whether human activity was causing the planet to get warmer and whether warmer weather was even a problem. This caused the discussion to lose its relevance.
That is why the term ‘climate change’, which more precisely describes the phenomena that threaten the environment much more precisely, is used today.
Large, global media enterprises have also recognized the need to change the way we communicate about climate change. In 2019, The Guardian introduced new language guidelines for journalists who deal with environmental issues. For example, instead of writing about ‘climate change,’ they should use even stronger terms, such as ‘the climate crisis’. This focuses the reader’s attention to the seriousness of the problem and better describes its consequences for the world.
Language impacts public debate on climate change
A new and growing branch of linguistics—ecolinguistics—is intent on proving the impact that language has on shaping environmental communication.
Researchers exploring this field are investigating how people form a narrative about the environmental issues. They then study the choice of words in different languages to find out how specific phrases affect climate change behaviour.
By using this information to improve translations, it becomes possible to popularize research results not only within narrow scientific circles, but with public audiences around the world.
However, to motivate society to act, it is also necessary to localize—i.e. adapt content to the beliefs, culture, and customs of individual countries. Environmental translation is therefore an extremely complex field that is not yet fully mature.
This means that only professional and specialized translation agencies can undertake such a task and effectively address international recipients.