loneliness of the long-distance climate conversation

"The words collapse, sink and die in mid-air and the conversation suddenly changes course ..."

This, according to George Marshall, is the inevitable outcome when you try to engage somebody in a conversation about global warming. We no doubt feel George's pain. We've all been there. We only have to unzip our sustainable snuggle-up onesies to realise others aren't feeling the heat as much.

But there is an added significance to George's observation. He is co-founder of the Climate Outreach & Information Network (COIN) - an organisation that specialises in climate change communication. And he's realising it's a lonely occupation.

Talking to Climate News Network, George relays his experiences in coming up against glazed expressions time and time again. "It’s like an invisible force field that you only discover when you barge right into it. Few people ever do, because, without having ever been told, they have somehow learned that this topic is out of bounds."

Interestingly, George's organisation COIN has just produced a report Climate Silence which claims that public interest in the issue peaked back in 2008 when the Stern Review was still in full throttle. What followed however was Copenhagen and mass disappointment when the attempt to globally govern climate change failed. Scientists have also become increasingly reticent on the matter, fearing personal attacks, not least by the national media.

So fast-forward to 2013. The debate is now stale and somewhat fatigued. The best we can muster? Only that climate change has effectively morphed into a target-led corporate culture vulture; a brand reputation and reporting exercise for business. As a social issue, it has fallen by the wayside.

If you doubt this, just take a peek at the results of a forthcoming report from the Royal Society of Arts, which surveyed 2,000 ordinary people this year on green issues. Of those, 40% said they never speak about climate change to their friends, family or colleagues. Scale that up and it's almost half the population.

So what’s to be done? Well basically, we need to find new ways of telling what is essentially a human story. Back in April I heard Tony Juniper speak - an impassioned environmentalist, Tony also comes with a refreshing dose of pragmatism. He cautioned against taking an overly-scientific or information-based approach with the messaging - as all it will do is result in psychological rejection.

"Certain individuals really don't want to change their world view and their behaviour because their values clash with what is being said," he reasoned. "The implications of climate science are leading to an utter rejection of the whole agenda because it's about big government and constraints on personal freedom."

Tony advocates an approach that taps into what makes us tick - where it can start infiltrating into the cultural dynamics of community, peer pressure, ingrained habits and individual status. As a starting point, COIN proposes a national series of conversations embracing a broad cross-section of society - including those who might be sceptical.

Humanity is what defines us. Communication on climate change must reconnect with that basic fact if it is to have any hope of making us prick up our ears.

1 comment:

  1. To see whether change in perspective about climate change is happening, we should look at young generations. Significant changes happen with changing generations. This also means that we should keep at continuing climate change education, diversify it in a way it relates to personal lives (after all, that's the major reason for anyone to care about it), local environments, and other things people can relate to. It has to be an ongoing conversation.

    It is inspiring to see how people equipped with good information react to injustice to themselves, their neighbours, or someone far away they can relate to, and their local environments.