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Communicating about climate change

How can we best communicate the different behaviours related to climate change without confusing people?

One of the best ways to communicate about behaviour change is to emphasise the positive: people won’t want to change their habits if they think they will be missing out or made to feel guilty, but will be more likely to change if the incentives are made clear e.g. they will save money, feel happier and are healthier. This also helps people to remain hopeful and to understand the positive impact they can have.

Professor Katharine Hayhoe also highlights how it is important to empathise with your audience and connect with them personally in this TED Talk. Think about how climate change will affect the person you are communicating with: will it impact their job? Their hobby? Where they go on holiday?

To avoid confusion about what things make a difference to your impact on the climate, the WWF questionnaire breaks your environmental footprint down into four sections (travel, food, stuff and home), making it easier to identify where you can make the most impactful change(s) in your life. Scientists at the University of Oxford also have made a great climate change food calculator, which shows the impact dietary choices make.

Climate Outreach also has some great climate communication resources, including the Talking Climate handbook.


How can we stop the seeming distrust of science and fact?

Trust in scientists is high, but disproportionately loud voices may skew our opinions about this. We have seen a shift from outright denial about climate change to climate delay and distrust in recent years, but this is a huge subject and goes far beyond climate change. Distrust can come from not wanting to deal with “threatening” messages that challenge how people see the world, especially their political views. Facts alone often won’t change people’s minds but optimistic messages, achievable goals and connecting change with things that people value can help create common ground.

It is also important to be wary of “doomism” or the belief that we are too late and that there’s nothing we can do to prevent disaster. This is not true and now is not the time to fall to climate doomism. Some people and companies are using it as an excuse to carry on with unsustainable lifestyles and business practices. It is important to remember that 1.5°C and 2°C are not hard limits where one side is completely safe and the other completely catastrophic.

Science education, so that you understand how the world works, is really important. Be careful to get your information from reputable sources, not just social media. This said, you can find many climate scientists and science communicators on social media which can help to diversify your intake of climate-related news and in some cases allow direct communication with scientists.

The media also has a significant role to play in this by ensuring sufficient coverage of climate change and its impacts by educated and knowledgeable communicators. Thankfully, there has been a big shift in reporting of climate change coverage in the UK media over the last few years to be mostly scientifically accurate; this is not true in all countries, and we still must guard against doomism in the media.


How can we influence politicians on climate change?

Get to know your local politicians and find the ones who are already supportive of climate issues. Show them you care (MPs judge this by the number of letters they receive) and provide them with the tools and resources for them to convince their voters (see the Climate and Ecology Bill, and the Climate Coalition Show the Love campaign for materials and inspiration). It helps to know how politicians think: a study by Rebecca Willis for Green Alliance gives really useful insights and approaches. Can you relate any impacts of climate change (e.g. increased risk of flooding) to your constituency? Can they help to create green jobs and opportunities?

Can you get climate researchers into schools to teach about climate change?

We think this is a really good idea! Researchers are keen to get involved with helping schools (it’s also good for them to get to talk to young people about climate change). The new Climate Ambassadors programme will link experts with local schools and colleges to provide tailored advice and training.

There is also a new Natural History GCSE being introduced to give students a better understanding of the environment and how they can help to protect the planet.

We think it’s really important to have more climate change education – which is why we are making a start here by answering your questions!

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