Ecological Transition: the need of a public communication in order to address the stakes posed
Global warming, energy price hike, record numbers of nuclear reactors in shutdown simultaneously… Accelerating the ecological transition has never been more urgent. However, the government struggle to bring out a strategy that will initiate the shift and help make French understand that it will means major changes. The President of the Republic intend to emphasize the ecological transition during his second presidential term, but how can he proceed to finally raise public debate to meet the stakes, beyond controversies on symbolic measures?
Public debate too often cannibalized by symbols.
Expansion of renewable energies, revival of nuclear industry, consumption reduction, recycling and reuse, biodiversity protection, agricultural transformation, the list of projects and therefore, communication subjects list is long. Despite undeniable efforts from ministries and public agencies like the Ademe, endowed with probably insufficient resources, too often are the symbolics aspects than the core issues emerging. Thereby, the prohibition of heated terraces sparked a real controversy. But how much, does, really, a heated terrace consumes ? Even if the energy waste to heat the outside is undeniable, what is the actual ecological balance of heated terraces? Moreover, more recently, private jets were subject to an outspoken debate within political factions regarding their carbon footprint when their trips represent only 1,7% of air emissions and 0,09% of French CO2 emissions. French deputy, from La France Insoumise, Manuel Bompard did not hesitate to claim that private jets are “no longer compatible with ecological goals”. Even if, Clément Beaune, minister in charge of Transportation, highlights that “it is not with private jets that we will massively reduce emissions”, he remains open to European regulation, whose climate benefits would in that case be inefficient regarding of the stakes.
Government communication switch between short and catchy sentences, from “end of abundancy” to “end of recklessness” and the symbols seek that could create media coverage, by provoking controversy and thus by continuously feeding the news channels. The turtleneck of the minister of the economy, Bruno Le Maire remains the symbol of the actions of the executive this fall. Indeed, Bruno Le Maire announced that we would no longer see him “with a tie, but with a turtleneck” to convince the French to lower the heating system and thus reduce energy consumption. This has led to many fierce criticisms and mockery on social network as well as debates in the media on the true meaning of this communication for the French, with in the background the fear of a “punitive ecology”. Politics and media, however, are wrong, in way that ecological awareness of our fellow citizens had never been so high. They are now ready, even claimants, for a more technical and complex speech on ecological transition.
The fundamental refocusing of governmental communication.
Moving from symbols, and emotions to pedagogy, from the instantaneous urgency to the long-term action, those are the challenges to convince the French of the necessity to transform our consumption and production patterns. Accordingly, it is essential to implement reason and knowledge into the debate on ecological transition.
The effectiveness of public policies is often questioned. There is, however, one whose results no one can dispute because they are expressed in two figures known by all. Between 1970 and 2010, the number of on road deaths has decreased from over 18 000 to just under 3 500. The results of constantly renewed efforts in substance (security norms strengthened on vehicles, road network transformation, speed limitation) supported by a policy of repression but also by government communication that has ignored political changes even if it has evolved over time. Ecological transition must be the subject of a public communication policy of the same nature, of the same scope and probably of the same duration. It is not about debating the aims and measures to take, neither to restart the citizen convention in any way or nor to convene new “Etats-Généraux” but to contribute to the evolution of behaviors by a long-term communication, based on a stakes and measures to be implemented pedagogy. In the sixties, facing the first oil shocks, governments had not hesitated to invest into large campaigns whose strength and occurrence left their mark, by claiming for example, that “in France we do not have oil, but we have ideas” or by launching “the hunt for waste”. Efforts too quickly abandoned as oil prices fall. Nowdays, we must go beyond on-off campaigns on ecological transition, the field of transformations to be carried out is much broader and more complex. It is appropriate to address the youngest widely because they are tomorrow’s actors of transition but also because they are very often prescribers of the evolution of their parents’ behaviors. And therefore, innovate in the choice of media and means.
This responsibility should be taken over, given the totally interministerial nature of the strategy to be defined and implemented, by the new Ecological Planning Secretariat. It is up to the latter to play for the ecological transition the role that was that of the Road Safety Agency in terms of long-term communication strategy.