Co-author of Talking Climate, Adam Corner, outlines how issues of climate change can be brought into the mainstream.
The organisation I work for, Climate Outreach, focuses on one of the issues Earth Day highlights: climate change. Although the science of climate change has been clear for some time (human activity is rapidly accelerating climatic conditions into dangerous uncharted territory), public engagement with the issue has remained stubbornly stuck in ‘second gear’. Public awareness is high, but few people in high-consuming, high-emitting Western nations are living lifestyles – or supporting policies – that are commensurate with rapid decarbonisation.
At Climate Outreach – and in our Palgrave Pivot book Talking Climate: From Research To Practice in Public Engagement – we take up the challenge of shifting public engagement out of second gear, identifying five principles to bring climate change out of the green margins and into the mainstream.
Firstly, there are important lessons to be drawn from public engagement on other significant societal issues – for example ensuring that momentum is maintained beyond the key ‘moments’ that campaigns are often structured around, by working through existing peer-to-peer networks.
Secondly, we argue that climate change has been approached from the wrong perspective: instead of working ‘downwards’ from the big, abstract numbers (e.g. ‘2 degrees’) that have characterised so many previous campaigns, it is crucial to build engagement ‘upwards’ from people’s values and worldviews.
Most people deal in stories and anecdotes, not graphs and statistics, and we argue in Talking Climate for the importance of new ‘narratives’ on climate change that resonate more effectively with a diverse range of public values. Stories – rather than scientific facts – are the vehicles with which to build public engagement.
We also consider the role of individual behavioural changes in our approach to public engagement. Early campaigns to engage the public focused on the ‘simple and painless’ changes in behaviours (such as switching off lights) that it was hoped would lead to more significant lifestyle changes. More recently, social marketing-based strategies like the ‘nudge’ approach have attracted a lot of interest, but sustained and substantive changes in the behaviours of individual citizens have not been forthcoming. We argue that it is crucial to move from ‘nudge’ to ‘think’ as a strategy for public engagement, and that participatory dialogues and conversations offer the best method with which to build a sense of climate citizenship.
Finally, we argue for the importance of promoting and amplifying ‘new voices’ on climate change, diversifying the perspectives that define the climate change discourse, to help overcome the social silence that so often surrounds the issue.
Although awareness of climate change is widespread, meaningful engagement is still mostly absent: a new approach is required. By applying the principles we identify and recommend in Talking Climate, perhaps in another half a century Earth Day won’t be necessary – or will be a celebration of a sustainable world, rather than an ever-more-urgent plea for one.
Talking Climate has recently received an impressive amount of press coverage from a number of different blogs and publications. Read some of the highlights below:
A blog piece written by Adam for The Guardian: Is it socially acceptable to challenge climate denial?
Mentioned in the New York Times article: Climate Silence Goes Way Beyond Debate Moderators
A review on Katy Cooper’s blog: Taking on the ‘social silence’ of climate change
A review on I, Science: Book Review: Talking Climate
There was also a Q&A with co-author Jamie Clarke in Publishing Perspectives: Can Better Writing Make Climate Change Less Polarizing?
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