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Britain’s choice and how we talk about climate

By Susie Wang on November 9, 2020

People in discussion at Nourish Scotland conference

Division and polarisation are understandably forefront in people’s minds as we emerge from a week focused (or for some of us, trying not to focus) on the high-contrast red and blue map of the United States election – and as our organisation prepares to release our Britain Talks Climate project on 18 November.  UPDATE: Britain Talks Climate toolkit now live!

Closer to home though, the polarised lens that has fixated the UK on Brexit, and the identities of Leavers and Remainers, seems to have eased slightly in 2020, in part due to the unfortunate common threat of Covid-19 according to a new report from More in Common. Stepping away from the battleground of Brexit, the report argues that Britain is not as divided as we might think, with a national ‘choice’ before us: do we take a path of division, or work towards greater unity? 

Building on the research in the More in Common report, and in partnership with the European Climate Foundation, Climate Outreach has been working on an exciting new project – Britain Talks Climate – that launches on 18th November. 

Using More in Common’s core belief model, we have mapped seven distinct groups of Great Britain according to their shared values and beliefs, and developed a toolkit full of recommendations and guidance for engaging across the seven segments and avoiding a culture war on climate change.

Britain is not a country that is divided into two opposing camps, but distinct fragments of a kaleidoscope that come together in different ways, depending on the issue at hand. For instance, the left-wing and politically vocal ‘Progressive Activists’ are on the opposite side of the spectrum from the patriotic ‘Loyal Nationals’ on the issue of immigration, but both groups are very worried about, and seek radical policy solutions for climate change. 

In fact, climate change is a unifying topic for these British segments, regardless of age, politics, income, or class. Overall, 70% of Britons understand that climate change is real and caused by human activity, 57% say that we are already feeling the effects of climate change in the UK, and 62% want the UK to be one of the most ambitious countries in the world on climate change. 

While there is unity on some things, the way the segments engage with the issue differs in important ways. Among the key findings, we see that climate change concern isn’t dropping off a cliff due to Covid-19, and there’s a strong impetus for change across most segments. The majority across all segments don’t want things to go back to normal after the pandemic, they want things to be better – but there are many different visions for what this future will be. 

Moving forward, it is crucial to maintain this sense of unity and collectivism. We need to bring all of Britain forward on climate action, to engage with all the fragments of the kaleidoscope to piece together a greener, more unified Britain. 

By Dr Susie Wang

Susie is a Researcher at Climate Outreach, and is responsible for the design, execution and delivery of quantitative and qualitative social science research on a range of projects. She has a background in environmental and social psychology, and comes to Climate Outreach after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, and her PhD at the University of Western Australia. 

Growing up in Australia, Susie was figuring out what to do with her life in the confusing context of the country’s acute vulnerability to climate change (extreme heat, bushfires, and drought) and politically polarised landscape of climate delay and denial.  For this reason, Susie is interested in the factors that lead people to feel close to climate change, particularly the role of emotions, identity and social connections. Her work spans climate change communications, imagery, pro-environmental behaviours, neuroscience, and behavioural economics. Aside from English, Susie also speaks Mandarin, and is attempting to learn Dutch. She is based in the Netherlands, where she enjoys making art, climbing rocks, and growing food in her backyard.

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