Why do we care about the Chilean miners, and not about climate change?
15th October 2010

Like millions across the world, I’ve been engrossed by the story of the Chilean miners. Strange, really. It happened thousands of miles away, and I’ll never meet them or their families. But I was very moved to see, live on the evening news, a miner emerging to hug his wife and small son.

So why is it that we are all so hooked on the mine rescue, when we find it hard to care about climate change? After all, the miners’ misfortunes, dramatic though they were, are nothing compared to the likely human cost of climate change, as shown most recently by the dreadful floods in Pakistan.

But when you start to think, it becomes very clear why we care about the miners, and not (as a rule) about climate change:

It’s immediate. Of course, two months will have felt like a lifetime to trapped miners and their desparate families. But the timescale is short – compared to the decades of CO2 build-up in the atmosphere, and the thirty years that a molecule of CO2 released today will linger and cause damage.

It’s obvious. You don’t need an Intergovernmental Panel on Mine Rescue to tell you that you’ve got a problem – you can see it in front of you. (compare that, incidentally, to the thousands of miners who die every year, unseen by the world’s media, in China’s mines.)

It’s human. Thirty-three men, and their families and friends, enduring a terrifying ordeal. It’s hard to remain unmoved by the peril, the reunions and the celebrations.

It’s visual. From the first moment that a miner peered into the lowered camera, to the final whoops of the Chilean president. CO2, and its effects, are not nearly so telegenic.

It’s technical. The rescue involved careful design of a splendid piece of kit – the rescue capsule – and an engineering challenge, boring a tunnel deep down into the mine. No political strategies, no taxes to change, no vested interests to upset.

It’s apolitical. There was no downside to the Chilean president – and, hey, the Bolivian president too – being associated with the daring rescue.

…and you know when it’s over.  Miners rescued. Job done.

There are lessons here for how we communicate climate change, of course. As set out by my friends at Futerra, in their brilliant guide to climate communications, Sizzle. But we should also just acknowledge that it’s a tricky sell, compared to immediate, human dramas.

And the ultimate irony? Seems that the BBC despatched so many reporters to cover the Chilean miners story, they’ve blown the budget and have cut back on their correspondents for the Cancun climate talks. Story here.

About author

Rebecca Willis

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