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‘No’: Why hope and positivity is a powerful tool for change

The film ‘No’ offers up a unique take when it comes to inspiring change in the face of despair. Can this concept help when it comes to climate change?
a message that reads 'be positive'

When we’re constantly bombarded with images of wildfires ravaging forests, communities left homeless by endless rain and flooding, and loggers chopping down the Amazon rainforest, it’s incredibly easy to let the growing feeling of doom take over and to start to question if there’s even any point in trying to prevent climate change. 

The film ‘No’ offers up an unique take when it comes to motivating action and inspiring change in the face of despair and gloom.

👉 The power of hope, and imagining a promising future may seem like an idealistic, even childlike take on a serious and frightening situation, but they can be powerful motivators. Can this concept help inspire action when it comes to climate change?

‘No’ - what's the premise of the film?

The film ‘No’ is a 2012 historical drama directed by Pablo Larrain that presents an interesting idea centring around the concept of positivity as a tool for change. It follows the story of René, an advertising professional based in Chile in the late 1980s, who finds his comfortable life temporarily upended when he’s approached to head up an advertising campaign that could potentially lead to the end of Chile’s military dictatorship. 

The political context of Chile at this time is central to the film and its message. By the late 1980s, the Chilean people had lived under the brutal military rule of General Augusto Pinochet for 15 long years. His ruthless dictatorship led to numerous human rights abuses and is responsible for the killing of over 3,000 political opponents, not to mention the thousands more who were tortured and exiled. 

In the late 1980s Pinochet found himself facing significant international pressure to hold a national vote (known as the 1988 Chilean national plebiscite) which would ask the Chilean people directly whether Pinochet should remain in power for a further 8 years of rule, or whether there should be an open democratic election. 

👉 René finds himself playing a central role in the outcome of the referendum vote when he is asked by the ‘No’ campaign to help them create an advertising campaign that encourages citizens to vote against a further 8 years of rule under Pinochet. 

The ‘No’ campaign aren’t very optimistic about their chances of success, assuming from the get-go that the whole thing is rigged. They don’t believe they can win the vote, but want to get their message out there and highlight the abuses and horrors that occurred under Pinochet’s dictatorship. 

René however remains hopeful; he believes that there’s a chance they could swing the vote. And he’s convinced that the best way to do it is not to focus on the cruelty and terror of Pinochet’s regime, but instead to create a campaign based on positivity and joy. Something that focuses on Chile’s promising future and a life without the specter of dictatorship. 

And it turns out he was right! Despite initial resistance and the insistence that a positive advertising campaign ignored the injustices and brutality of Pinochet’s rule, the ‘No’ campaign’s focus on joy and inclusion proved to be a success, with the ‘No’ campaign coming out on top. 

The film ends with a hopeful new Chile stepping out from the shadow of dictatorship and looking towards a brighter, democratic future.

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What’s the central idea of 'No'?

The central message of the film is that hope and positivity is more powerful than fear.

By focusing on images and messages of abuse and torture, people were made to feel powerless and hopeless, which was actually having the opposite effect to what was intended. Instead of turning anger and outrage into motivation to take action, Chilean citizens were left feeling like no matter what they did their actions were powerless - so much so that they even questioned the point of voting. 

Positivity and hope on the other hand is a powerful motivator, helping people to feel like they can effect change.

The actor Gael Garcia Bernal acting in a film

How is this relevant to climate change?

The central message is a powerful one that transcends the political context of 1980s Chile. That idea that hope is a more powerful motivator than fear is an incredibly useful learning that can be directly applied to a huge number of scenarios - including in the context of climate change. 

It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed these days by all the climate change doomsday messages. We’re constantly being told that we’re not doing enough, that the world is still on track for disaster, that global warming is threatening our futures and the futures of our children too. It’s easy to feel hopeless about the situation which can lead many of us to feel like no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try - it just doesn’t make any difference. It’s easy to understand why people simply give up. 

👉 This is why it’s so crucial that we get the messaging around climate change and global warming right.

There’s a fine line between giving people enough information about the seriousness of the situation so that they understand the urgency and need to take action, and overwhelming them to the point of feeling hopeless and useless. 

René’s concept of positivity in the film ‘No’ is one that could offer a useful strategy for communication and campaigns focusing on issues of climate change and the environment.

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Climate change alarmism - more damage than good?

Climate emergency, climate breakdown, the doomsday glacier… the newspaper articles and end-of-our-days style headlines attract attention, garner clicks, and sell papers, but do they actually help the situation?

We’re starting to see an emerging trend of self-professed ‘climate doomers’. Climate doomers are those who’ve come to the conclusion that the situation is hopeless and that there’s pretty much nothing we can do about climate change.

👉 This trend is a growing problem because it’s essentially pushing the message that any effort to reduce our environmental impact is futile and that we might as well give up. It’s causing activists to give up the fight, and everyday people to eschew recycling and other positive environmental actions. 

And the feeling of gloom when it comes to climate change is shockingly prevalent across the globe.

A US study that looked into attitudes towards climate change in 17 different countries found that even though the majority of respondents indicated that they were willing to change their lifestyle in order to tackle climate change, when asked about how confident they are that these changes would have a positive impact, over half of them admitted that they had little to no confidence they could reduce the effects of climate change. 

The problem is that this attitude is that it’s fuelling climate inaction. If you don’t believe that your actions will actually make a difference, then what incentive is there to ever follow through with them?  

Just like in the movie ‘No’, we’re seeing the very real life consequences of too much doom mongering, and too much negativity. But can a message of hope and positivity help to change the situation and spur people on to take action?

a wall that reads 'leave no one behind'

It's not too late

If you cut through all the noise and defeatism surrounding climate change you can actually find cause for optimism. The IPCC’s latest report, for example, outlines a plan that UN scientists believe is capable of preventing the worst effects of climate change. Granted, the need to take action is urgent and comes with a warning of ‘now or never’, but still, the point is that there is cause for hope, and it’s not too late for us to make meaningful changes. 

This is why it is so very important that we get the messaging right. Given the urgency of the situation, there is absolutely no time for stalling - if we give up now we’re sealing our own fate.
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Hope - a tool for change?

So how can we push a more optimistic climate message that encourages action and change? 

Well a good place to start would be getting the facts right. Newspapers aren’t always incentivised to paint an accurate picture when a more startling and bleak headline can attract more readers. Just take the example of the headline that we saw sprawled across newspapers, declaring that rising sea levels would flood 187 million people. Attention grabbing, right? But accurate? No. 

The reality of the situation is that 187 million people currently live in areas that may be affected by rising sea levels - but this figure assumes that over the next 80 years (which is how long its projected to take for the sea levels to rise to such an extent) no mitigation or adaptation efforts are taken, and that communities simply stay put, watching the sea water creep up around their ankles! 

Research actually showed that adaptation will mean that only around 0.3 million people will be forced to move from their homes - still a high number of course, and tragic nonetheless, but significantly less than the headline grabbing number of 187 million. 

The media has a responsibility to present the facts accurately, and to avoid contributing to the trend of climate doomism. Conversations around the subject need to be honest and open, but it’s essential that we’re presenting the whole story and not just picking and choosing the most attention grabbing figures. 

Beyond the role of the media, government’s and companies also have a responsibility when it comes to inspiring change through hope. This means that they need to be seen to be taking action (real action, not just paying lip-service), and they need to be laying the foundations for others to follow suit.

Government initiatives and investments that encourage green innovation are a good example of how hope can be harnessed to motivate change - it encourages engineers and scientists to work towards new solutions for climate change issues, and sends the message that transformation is an achievable target. 

Encouraging people to imagine a more promising future works because when you start to picture yourself living in this ‘better world’, it starts to feel real, it feels achievable.

In the film ‘No’, Chilean citizens were asked to imagine a future without fear or injustice, one filled with freedom and the respect of their rights. This exact same practice can be applied to climate change - in fact that’s essentially what government incentives and investments in green innovation does. Scientists are being asked to imagine a future where green technology helps to solve climate change, and where opportunity, profit and jobs are also created in the process.

Thinking about this future ‘good life’ can really help to kick people into gear. It recognises the fact that global warming is a challenge but that it's also an opportunity to affect societal change at a fundamental level and to make the world a better, healthier, more just place to live.

a tiny plant

What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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Yellow logo that reads, "time to change"

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