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  • Writer's picturePaul Lyons

Shifting the Narrative: The Urgency of Emphasising Pollution Over Climate Change


This image was retrieved from my hometown archives, circa 1930.


I grew up here, in Widnes, Lancashire (as it was then, although it comes under Cheshire) but many years later. It was, and still is, a working-class town in the Northwest of England, but suffice it to say, the problem back then, was obvious. I'm sure that even the residents of the time would agree that pollution was probably somewhat excessive.


It looks somewhat different these days, although, the power station in the background (known as Fiddlers Ferry) is still pumping out steam from the giant cooling towers as it continues to burn fossil fuel. They even have grass these days, and the River Mersey has more boats than junk floating along it.


At least looking out of your window, pollution might not be the word that springs to mind, unfortunately, the phrase climate change, is probably even further away too.


Climate change, a term that has become increasingly familiar, may have lost some of its gravitas over time. To reinvigorate public concern and inspire action, it is worth exploring the alternative use of the word "pollution." By shifting the narrative to focus on pollution, we can evoke a more immediate sense of urgency, generate tangible solutions, and galvanise individuals and communities to take meaningful action.


Here are some reasons why it's worth considering a different terminology:


Tangibility and Personal Relevance

The term "pollution" carries a more tangible and relatable connotation compared to the abstract notion of climate change. When people think of pollution, they often envision smog, contaminated water bodies, or littered landscapes. These visual and sensory associations create a direct connection to people's daily lives, making the issue feel more personal and immediate. By emphasising pollution, we can foster a stronger emotional response and a sense of responsibility, encouraging individuals to make concrete changes in their behaviour.


Health Impacts

Pollution has significant health implications, affecting the well-being of individuals, communities, and ecosystems. Air pollution, for instance, contributes to respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases, and even premature deaths. Water pollution endangers aquatic life and threatens the availability of clean drinking water. By focusing on pollution, we highlight the direct and tangible consequences it has on human health, making it harder for people to ignore or dismiss the urgency of the issue. Framing the conversation around public health can mobilise support for environmental policies and promote immediate action.


Linking Pollution to Climate Change

While pollution and climate change are interconnected issues, pollution serves as a critical driver of climate change. The emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane, and black carbon significantly contribute to global warming. By emphasising pollution, we highlight its role in exacerbating climate change, reinforcing the understanding that addressing pollution is crucial for mitigating the impacts of climate change. This interconnectedness creates a stronger case for immediate action to reduce pollution, thereby tackling climate change in a more tangible and accessible manner.


Empowering Solutions

The term "pollution" carries an implicit call to action by presenting a problem that requires urgent and tangible solutions. It suggests that pollution is something we can actively reduce and eliminate through individual and collective efforts. This framing encourages the exploration of practical measures such as transitioning to cleaner energy sources, promoting sustainable transportation, implementing waste reduction strategies, and supporting environmental policies. By emphasising pollution, we empower individuals and communities to take immediate action, fostering a sense of agency and efficacy.


Building Alliances and Collaboration

Shifting the narrative to focus on pollution can help bridge political, cultural, and ideological divides. Pollution affects everyone, regardless of political affiliation or belief system. By emphasising the tangible impacts of pollution and the need for immediate action, we create a shared understanding and common ground for collaboration. This inclusive approach allows for broader participation, building alliances across sectors and communities to address pollution and its associated challenges effectively.

Conclusion: While climate change remains a critical issue, emphasising pollution can reinvigorate public concern and prompt tangible action. By focusing on pollution, we evoke a sense of urgency, emphasise personal relevance, highlight health impacts, reinforce the link to climate change, empower solutions, and foster collaboration. By reframing the narrative, we can ensure that the gravity of the issue remains at the forefront of public consciousness and inspire individuals and communities to take meaningful steps towards a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future.


While climate change remains a critical issue, emphasising pollution can reinvigorate public concern and prompt tangible action. By focusing on pollution, we evoke a sense of urgency, emphasise personal relevance, highlight health impacts, reinforce the link to climate change, empower solutions, and foster collaboration. By reframing the narrative, we can ensure that the gravity of the issue remains at the forefront of public consciousness and inspire individuals and communities to take meaningful steps towards a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future.


Given that in May this year, our global average temperature hit 1.25°C above our pre-industrial levels, it seems that we are still heading in the wrong direction, so any narrative that keeps the momentum going in the right direction can't be a bad thing.



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