Professor Sarah Irwin from the School of Sociology and Social Policy, and Dr Lone Sorensen from the School of Media and Communication, report on a small pilot research project examining public views of the cost of living crisis and climate policies.
We wanted to explore how the public interpret and engage with different messages regarding cost of living increases and net zero transitions by examining:
- citizens’ views of climate policies in relation to the current cost of living crisis and rising energy costs;
- citizens’ evaluations of political campaign materials that present diverse accounts of how and when to act on climate.
We ran a series of discussion groups with citizens from economically disadvantaged communities, disabled and minority ethnic groups. We found that, despite some political campaigns presenting cost of living and climate policies as mutually exclusive, people see these issues as intricately connected, for example through solutions such as home insulation.
Discussion of costs of living and of energy use was frequently framed with reference to inequality and fairness. Participants also expressed a desire for transparency in politics and spoke passionately about the need for politicians to listen and to reflect the desires of ‘ordinary’ people, especially those struggling in the current crisis. They felt that not only unbiased information but also substantive dialogue is missing in public life. While they generally welcomed debate and deliberation on issues, they did not feel that politicians were listening to them, especially on the big issues like climate change.
However, this feeling of distance from national government was not always reflected in people’s attitudes to local government. Here they valued what they saw as greater transparency, and they especially valued ‘connectedness’ – links to tangible local differences or outcomes.
On the basis of our findings, we identified a set of recommendations for climate communication:
- People want and need help now, even if they appreciate the need for thinking ahead, so climate communications should focus on short-term gains while not losing sight of longer-term strategic priorities. Messages should address climate action and immediate cost of living issues with ‘win-win’ solutions.
- People are critical of what they perceive as ‘performances’ of politics. They value expertise and transparency of evidence but also the ability to connect this evidence to their own experience. Climate communications should shy away from emotive language and aim at transparency. Scientific and policy evidence on climate change needs to connect to ‘what matters’ at the level of people’s everyday practices and experience. This includes linking to:
- the audience’s local area and the felt value and tangibility of local action and outcome;
- support in managing and improving everyday living;
- collective and community values, such as protecting the vulnerable and ensuring that marginalized voices are heard.
- The pervasive concern of people not feeling listened to should be addressed through the forms of climate communication, not just the content, ensuring that public communications are two-way. Listening to the public’s views on what to address as well as how to campaign on climate would be an effective engagement strategy in itself. People need to feel heard and engagement strategies need to give a voice to those who feel marginalised. Follow-up communication is important so people see that their views are taken into account. However, finding the right format for such conversations might be challenging and demands resources in order to reach those people who feel particularly disengaged.
In our brief report we present more detail of our methods, data and findings.