Should We Rebrand Climate Action?

Eric Benson
5 min readApr 7, 2023
Photo from Bureau of Land Management, edited by Eric BensonAttribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

“You cannot talk about anything without talking about climate.” — Gabrielle Mérite (Information Designer & Data Illustrator)

I have struggled over the years to figure out how to inspire climate action through design. Through this journey, I wondered often if an important way we could encourage more progress was to rethink and rebrand how we communicated climate action to the public. This question was the impetus for season two of my podcast, Climify, and also my guide to locating climate thought leaders that could help think through the idea.

Ban the binary

In the first episode of the season, paleoecologist Dr. Jacqueline Gill stressed that as a society we focus too much on the apocalypse embracing the binary where we either all die horrifically in extreme storms or live in a lush utopia. Climate change will bring death and destruction, but it won’t be as extreme as in the two choices we’re presented with. What we’re facing in the future will lie somewhere in the middle. So, to ensure our survival we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by what the IPCC reports suggested by 2030 (~50%). And to do that we need a bigger community of folks changing the system from within and pushing at it externally.

So, should we rebrand climate action? What I learned from the discussions was the answer was “possibly”. There is a lot that is not working well in climate messaging now. Images and videos of catastrophic storms and prophecies of a future with no coffee or chocolate largely leave people fearful and frozen with inaction. Author, comic artist, and Afrofuturist scholar John Jennings argues that “…the final thing is affect — how that object or that experience makes you feel when you leave… if you’re scaring the hell out of people, then the people don’t want to interact with that, you know?”

If anything, Kate Yoder, a writer at the environmental magazine Grist says we need to “rebrand who’s responsible for the mess that we’re in” — fossil fuel companies. That is a provocative project to undertake. It would address political and consumption actions we should take but also could devolve into negative finger-pointing. What’s most important to realize is that we have solutions already and there is hope (just look at the price of solar energy).

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Eric Benson

Associate Professor and Chair of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Co-founder of Re-nourish & Fresh Press Agri-Fiber Paper Lab.