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Was Hurricane Irma a climate change phenomenon?

The British always love to talk about the weather. Perhaps it’s the variability of the climate where the UK is situated. However, for many months to come the weather in the Atlantic is set to be the stimulus for some debate. At least it ought to be, as the politicians and scientists in America seek to be heard by their President and the environmental regulator who seem to have dismissed climate change as a ‘hoax’.

For hundreds of years scientists have worked hard to gain an understanding of our planet, how it works and the effects of human activity upon it. The laws of nature do not change and scientists can predict hurricane activity. Irma, Jose and Katia were no surprise. Dr Gerry Bell, the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicted them and had identified that this summer would be an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. Since the season began on 1st  June  there have been 12 named storms, four of which strengthened into hurricanes, with maximum sustained winds above 73 miles per hour. “We’re seeing the activity we predicted,” comments Dr Bell.

Dr Bell and his team understand how Hurricanes are formed. They are fuelled by warm ocean surface temperatures and require lower wind shear to help them build.  Irma is unusual as a ridge of high pressure prevented it travelling into the cooler northern ocean, sending it westward intensify with an abundance of warm Atlantic water. Coupled with six cycles of a phenomenon called eye-wall, Irma grew and persisted for three consecutive days in the Atlantic Ocean as a Category 5 storm with maximum winds of 185 mph for 37 hours.

Dr Bell and his team have clearly done an excellent job of predicting and forecasting hurricanes and their scientific knowledge and understanding has helped save lives with thousands of people being evacuated from Florida before Irma hit land and wreaked havoc.

When it comes to taking immediate short term action in the face of adversity, the American government clearly took rapid and appropriate action to protect its people in the face of an environmental calamity. However, it seems that politicians can be very selective about the scientific evidence they choose to believe and that they care to dismiss.  For years scientists have been predicting global warming and there is extensive research on greenhouse gases and their effects on influencing the environment. Yet President Trump walked away from the Paris Climate Agreement to protect American jobs and businesses. The environmental regulator too has shunned the scientific evidence. Mr. Scott Pruitt, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency has declared that carbon dioxide emissions from cars, power plants and other sources are not the primary contributor to global warming, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. The E.P.A. has removed many mentions of climate change from its website and is rolling back regulations aimed at curbing carbon dioxide emissions.

Time to talk Climate change?

The scientists in American understand the political agenda and appear to be careful with the wording of their funding proposals as they know that research on climate change will head for the bottom of the pile. The American administration is also suggesting that to discuss climate change in the light of recent events is insensitive. On the other side of the pond the rhetoric is more direct. Climate experts are clear that Irma and the pattern of three hurricanes in a row can occur naturally and may not have been the result of climate change. However, climate change contributes to the strength and energy of the hurricanes increasing the damage they do. “Climate change may not have caused Hurricane Irma, but it is making its impacts a whole lot worse,” said Dave Reay, Professor of Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh. “Rising sea levels and a warmer, wetter atmosphere are combining to intensify flood risks all around the world.”

According to Bloomberg, cleaning up after Irma in Florida is expected to cost over 50 billion dollars and a further 30 billion dollars in the Caribbean and Cuba. So, after the clean-up will President Trump and the EPA engage with the scientist, reassess their position on climate change and make changes in fossil fuel policies? Despite Mr. Pruitt suggesting that it is an insensitive time to discuss long term prevention, once clean up gets underway it is important to cease the moment to examine long term mitigation strategies and to listen and act on well researched scientific knowledge.

Are you a digital party pooper?

Social media has developed significantly over the last five years and continues to do so. If you are not using social media as an integrated part of your marketing mix then you either have a very specific limited business objective or you are not aware of the power the exciting channels to market social media present.

In a recent project to promote high street retail in a town centre, our team spoke to shop owners about how they market themselves. Many independent micro-business retailers had not explored social media and did not even have a Facebook or Twitter account. Some even professed to not know how to use these. In stark contrast, big high street brands know about social media and are using them very effectively to bridge the digital physical divide, engaging customers at a range of touch points in the customer journey.

The lack of social media knowledge and understanding of how to use it caused us to create a simple social media handbook for these retailers. At the heart of using social media effectively was a key message: Listen.

I describe social media to the uninitiated as a party. The analogy seems to work well. Then, I describe an individual who bursts through the door shouting at everyone and handing out a brochure. I ask how quickly that person is going to find themselves sat in a corner with nobody interacting with them. The classic party pooper: are they worse than someone not going at all?

The most popular person at the party has a different approach. They have joined a group of people and taken the time to listen to the conversation. They have understood the topics of interest and made relevant comments and observations when appropriate. They have learnt about the lifestyles and interests of the people in the group and demonstrated understanding of their interests, points of view and concerns. They then find the group introduces them to other friends and their social network continues to grow.

When it comes to social media strategy, it’s important to think socially. The approach is not complex, although the range of tools channels and protocols for using them differ. Being the most popular person at the party requires strategy. Charming individuals may be charismatic in nature, but they have learnt a way of behaving that makes people want to know them and what they have to say. They say things in the right way, that has appeal and resonance, as they understand the people they speak with. They achieve this through a lot of listening, together with processing and understanding the information they gather. Social media strategy is no different.

There are a wide range of tools out there to help companies listen and interpret what they are hearing. The big brands what to know what impact they are having across 10 or 15 social networks while tracking discussions on blogs, forums, news sites and a range of other channels. They are looking to understand what their customers think about the brand, be able to react to it and importantly to analyse where their marketing budget is being effective.  While these tools are useful the smaller business can achieve the same intelligence with some diligent analysis of the arena they are operating in.  If you are targeting a young audience social media holds a wealth of data. Twitter and Facebook have been around since 2006 and 2004 respectively, so a generation has grown up with these channels. Millennial’s views, relationship history, consumer preferences, social life, work life and even geographical location are on the internet.

Listening, interpreting and telling a good story then analysing effectiveness is something good marketing professionals have been doing with traditional media channels for years. The same principles apply in the digital arena. Being social is not scary, it’s party time.