How should we communicate climate change?

In the second of his columns for RTCC, Transition Town Berkhamstead member John Bell debates what the best strategies for communicating the risks of climate change and environmental degradation are.

By John Bell

Since I left my job and started this journey I have chatted to a lot of people to get a feel for the scale of the problem and what is needed in response.

While I have a very logical outlook I realise that the essence of living is about what we feel rather than what we think.

I have come to the painful realisation that emotion will determine how we deal with the climate change: it won’t be about the bare science or the facts.

There is an objective truth out there we are capable of justifying to each other and to ourselves any interpretation of what we read or hear.

But the trouble is that we won’t get away from cold-hearted nature and callous physics – we won’t be able to persuade the laws of science to change their mind.

I know to my cost that getting into a conversation about climate change can lead to tempers being lost (not very common, but it happens) or worse still and more often to a subtle, unspoken and unconscious social rejection.

You may have felt the same. I want to write about some real encounters and conversations with friends and relatives, but am wrestling with the knowledge that I’ll hurt someone.

My parents care deeply about the environment (Mother volunteered for WWF; Father was a world renowned botanist).

In general they understand climate change.

At the same their time lifestyles leave plenty of room for improvement when it comes to flights, carbon or soot. The closer I get to pointing this out the closer I get to being kicked out of the house, so I avoid talking about it.

The vast majority of people don’t concern themselves at all. It seems the stark truth that almost no-one is doing anything meaningful.

The trouble is that a lot of what we need to do is fundamentally good for us, whether or not climate change is a reality.

Berkhamsted Town Council have realised that, and we will be working with them to improve the community and hopefully plan the town’s future a little more long term (this is in spite of one of the council members announcing that she hoped we fail as climate change isn’t proven).

Currently we are debating in Transition Town Berkhamstead (TTB) about the tone of our literature.

Should we boldly state the dire problem, or should we talk around the issue and instead focus on the benefits of community, local economy and the financial benefits of energy saving and generation?

I think that if we want to influence that we have no real choice – we would be marginalised if we doom monger.

So, alongside my own actions and working with the TTB, I have been talking with various people from different organisations who are involved in campaigning for action on a wider scale.

My thought is that by teaming up all of the various community groups, organisations and individuals we can create an accessible network to help common folk see through the poppycock promoted by the hard-line denial fringe, to make it easier to reduce their own impact, and to link up with local people to make it happen.

With that in place, a massive media campaign would have a chance to be effective.

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