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When the entire country’s fed up, and our politics is ever more febrile, how can we make progress on the climate crisis?

By Rachael Orr on March 1, 2024

This week, Extinction Rebellion has once again taken to the streets. Or more specifically, to the offices of the insurance industry. But while millions of us care deeply about climate change, most don’t feel the environmental movement speaks for them. But there are other stories of climate action. Ones quietly unfolding all around us. Ones that we need to get better at sharing.

Person looking at their phone on public transport.
Photo credit: /iStock

Extinction Rebellion week of action aims to “disrupt, challenge and call out the City of London firms most responsible for providing BP, Shell, and their oily pals with the insurance they need to keep drilling and burning.” Activists and campaigners in the environmental movement do an important job of keeping the escalating climate crisis on the front pages. And these days most of us are in no doubt that climate change is real, and it is bad.

In the UK four in five of us care about climate change. Season after season of wild weather – from floods to heat waves to hurricanes to wildfires – mean the climate crisis is hitting home. People want leaders to act, to protect our precious natural world, and to safeguard the planet for our children and grandchildren.

But while millions of us care deeply, most don’t feel the environmental movement speaks for them. It’s not just the inconvenience and the disruption. The language, tactics and overall vibe can be divisive and alienating, even for those who are completely on board with the need for action and change.

Many people care about change and progress, but don’t want to express this by signing a petition or joining a demo. Many feel the loudest voices in this conversation don’t speak for them.

And this matters. If protest is the only climate story people hear, many will feel there’s no role for them in facing up to the crisis – and tackling it.

Many will conclude there’s no hope of a pragmatic way forward. They will hear a story not of progress but of inaction. Many will look away, or give up.

But inaction and protest is not the only story. There’s another one that’s quietly unfolding every day.

It’s in the nine year old beach cleaner writing her second book about the environment. It’s in the teachers talking to students about climate and nature. The schools shifting where their energy comes from and what food they serve up.

It’s in the record numbers getting solar panels fitted on their homes. The communities coming together to build wind turbines and saving thousands on energy bills in the process. It’s in the social housing tenants fighting for healthier heating. And the housing officers working with communities to upgrade insulation and install heat pumps.

It’s a story of people rolling up their sleeves and getting on with the job, all the while looking for the leadership needed to change the big things that individuals and communities can’t sort out.

This story offers something that’s in short supply when we think and talk about the climate crisis: hope.

Hope is not a luxury, it’s something our country desperately needs right now. People are yearning for it – for something that feels like progress, or even just the potential for progress. Our collective response to the climate crisis can fuel hope. We need to get far, far better at sharing and showcasing it.

Climate change affects us all, and involves us all. We have to make sure that all the stories we tell about it showcase people’s willingness to act on climate change, and don’t risk compromising it.

By Rachael Orr

Rachael is the CEO of Climate Outreach. She works closely with the board to ensure effective governance and growth of the organisation and with our senior leaders in defining and delivering the organisation’s overall strategy, goals and impact.

Rachael has spent her career in the voluntary sector in leadership roles combining a deep commitment to social justice and to public engagement. She has run campaigns for Shelter, led programme and campaigning work at Oxfam and currently serves as Chair of Trustees at the Refugee Council.

It was in her last role, leading a network of housing associations, that Rachael really appreciated the huge gap in public awareness and engagement on climate change – and the huge opportunity to fill this gap. Housing, like many sectors, is in a race to decarbonise, and the sector is still really developing its approach to community, resident and public engagement. Rachael firmly believes that Climate Outreach is uniquely placed to help many sectors fill this gap.

Rachael is a mum to two young children so most of her spare time is spent playing schools or superheroes – and tidying up. She spends any time she gets to herself running, cycling and going to the theatre.

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