Those communicating about climate change have had a turbulent time over the last few years – with an often vicious war of words between those with differing opinions, scientific understanding, and values. PIRC has responded to this according to what we’ve seen as the needs of the time; through addressing the gap between science and policy, providing accessible science for wide audiences, and, most recently, through deepening the understanding of the effects of our cultural values on how we process information and act upon big issues.
Some of our more recent projects include:
- Being a partner in the Climate Change Communication Advisory Group (CCCAG) – made up of a diverse range of individuals from academia and the third sector, with expertise in climate change communication and engagement. CCCAG’s aim is to use current academic research and practitioner-based expertise to best inform government and non-governmental climate change communications and engagement.
- Publishing The Climate Factsheets, providing up-to-date and accessible climate science for third sector and government communications.
- Common Cause; a network of people and a series of initiatives aiming to help to rebalance our cultural values to promote action on climate change and the other big issues of our time.
- In collaboration with COIN we created Talking Climate, an online gateway to research on climate change communication.
People who cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change are ‘environmental’ types, right? They love ‘nature’ and get fired up by those photos of polar bears stranded on melting ice. They might even rate ‘protecting the environment’ or ‘respecting the earth’ as their number one value.
Well, no; not necessarily.
As part of a research project on promoting lower-carbon lifestyles, I interviewed people who have cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change, to try and understand more about what motivates them. Concern about ‘the environment’ for its own sake is not generally their main reason for action. They tend to be more bothered about the effects of climate change on poorer people in developing countries. They’re often motivated by a deep sense of the injustice of a situation where those who will suffer most are those who have contributed least to the problem, and they talked in terms of trying to live with a fairer – therefore smaller – share of the world’s resources. When I asked them to imagine that we live in a different kind of world, one in which climate change would threaten polar bears with extinction but would somehow have little effect on humans, several interviewees said they would probably not be so anxious about the issue, and would not be trying so hard to address it.
Che Guevara said that “the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love”. But not just any love, the love of humanity that transcends the day to day love of individuals (our family for example). In a way its a shame that the actual content of this paragraph from Che has been bastardised to be about some nebulous love that drives revolutionaries. Instead what Che was talking about was a very real dilemma. How to keep ourselves motivated, heading towards the goal, when we have so little time for our real “loved ones”, so little time for ourselves, and to develop our personal lives.
This is a serious issue that is often unconsidered by the left. But more over today those of us who have invested years to the cause of stopping climate change are at risk of demoralisation, depression, exhaustion, and alienation. For me this has been a confronting reality as I have struggled with depression for the better part of 2012 and have undertaken to see a psychologist. I suspect there are others out there in a similar state of mind.
There is an idea that well sums up the reality of our task as climate activists “combining pessimism of the intellect with optimism of the will”. Unfortunately getting the balance right is no easy task, nor will that balance be achieved accidentally. Read more
This guest blog is by Valerie Mocker, who recently completed her postgraduate degree in Environmental Policy at Oxford University. Here, she describes findings from her dissertation research. They suggest that framing climate change as an ‘economic’ challenge may not be the best way to engage conservative audiences, leading people to externalise responsibility of climate change and express higher degrees of fatalism about the issue. This blog was originally posted on Talking Climate on 22nd November. Read more
Since the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 and the ‘Climategate’ debacle of early 2010, media interest in climate science has declined, and the public become somewhat more sceptical about its veracity. Yet the evidence base itself has only become more robust in that time. Conveying the certainties and uncertainties of climate science to the public – through a media that has become much more polarised about the subject – is a recurrent challenge for campaigners.
Responding to this, PIRC has put together the following set of factsheets, covering different aspects of climate science. The factsheets look at the evidence for climate change from a range of angles, such as global temperature trends and Arctic ice melt, and traces the fingerprint of climate change in various phenomena, from floods and heatwaves to wildfires and species extinctions. Each briefing contextualises the issue in question, summarises the background science, and addresses common objections raised by sceptics. Drawing on the latest peer-reviewed studies, they are intended to be a solid, reliable and concise guide for campaigners wishing to communicate climate science with accuracy and confidence.
Climate change research encompasses tens of thousands of peer-reviewed studies, decades of observations and the work of thousands of scientists. But too often this valuable knowledge doesn’t reach the people who need it most: climate change communicators & campaigners. By taking the latest scientific research and translating it into practical factsheets on a wide range of climate change topics, we hope to ensure that those responsible for communicating climate change to a wider public have easy access to the best available evidence.
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Ro Randall is founder and director of Cambridge Carbon Footprint, a Cambridge based charity that uses approaches drawn from psychotherapy and community work to engage diverse audiences in work on climate change. She blogs at rorandall.org.
Behaviour change is the new black – although the idea has been around for a while it is increasingly the mantra of those working on climate change. Funders are interested in it. Government swears by it. Researchers puzzle over it. Voluntary organisations take it as their agenda. What’s not to like?
Lots. Read more
There is no shortage of authoritative documents advocating for a low carbon future. Nick Stern gave us a price tag for decarbonisation. The Sustainable Development Commission (RIP) gave us ‘scenarios’ and ‘pathways’ to a low carbon future. And dozens of engineering and policy analyst groups have put together compelling estimates of the sorts of energy technologies that might power our low carbon world.
So, we have some pathways to a low carbon future, we know what types of machines might be likely to inhabit that future, and we are told that it will be cheaper if we get on with this low carbon future sooner rather than later. This is all valuable information, and activists have made good use of it to persuade people to take climate change seriously. But does any of it tell us anything about what this ‘future’ will be like?
Guest post by Kate at Climate Sight.
The Arctic is getting so warm in winter that James Hansen had to add a new colour to the standard legend – pink, which is even warmer than dark red:
The official NASA maps – the ones you can generate yourself – didn’t add this new colour, though. They simply extended the range of dark red on the legend to whatever the maximum anomaly is – in some cases, as much as 11.1C:
The legend goes up in small, smooth steps: a range of 0.3 C, 0.5 C, 1 C, 2 C. Then, suddenly, 6 or 7 C.
I’m sure this is a result of algorithms that haven’t been updated to accommodate such extreme anomalies. However, since very few people examine the legend beyond recognizing that red is warm and blue is cold, the current legend seems sort of misleading. Am I the only one who feels this way?
This is a guest post by Jon Alexander, who writes for Conservation Economy, a blog about what the marketing & communications industry should do in an economy not based on consumption. This post appeared in its original form back in October 2010. Jon’s view has shifted somewhat since then, so if you want to engage more with this discussion, please do see what you think of that post as well.
Over the last year, we’ve been hearing references to Martin Luther King in the sustainability debate with increasing regularity. King, we are told, didn’t inspire change by saying “I have a nightmare”; the implication being that the environmental movement needs to stop being so down in the dumps and instead describe the promised land if ‘it’ wants to motivate change… Read more
With the number of polls I’ve written about here, it’s been a while since I’ve taken stock of the different results and what we can learn from them. Fortunately, MORI produced a handy collection of slides (a few months ago), which brings together a lot what we’ve seen into a single place:
My conclusions from the charts are: Read more
Imagine you were part of a highly successful environmental campaign group, that had spent the best part of the last year enthusiastically building a broad coalition of organisations – from schools, to local councils, to football teams – committed to cutting their carbon footprint. How might you choose to mark such a successful 10 months?
An attention-grabbing stunt of some kind? Great idea. A controversial and challenging video? That could work, yes. A poorly executed ‘joke’ about peer pressure involving the violent deaths of children and office workers who don’t subscribe to your campaign? Err, possibly not…
But yet, bizarrely, this is precisely what the otherwise well-respected 10:10 group opted to do. If you’ve not yet seen the video No Pressure, then you can now only view bootlegged versions as the original was wisely taken down just hours after it was launched. It made the front page of the Guardian Environment section, took a predictable bashing from the far-right conspiracy theorist James Delingpole over at the Telegraph, and sent the, ahem, ‘data libertarian’ blogs into a spin. Read more
It is the beliefs and values that our citizens bring to such difficult debates which puts breath into the inanimate skeleton of scientific knowledge. Censor or mock beliefs, and we are nothing: our knowledge counts for naught. – Mike Hulme ((In Andy Revkin’s discussion on whether scientists are from Mars and the public are from Venus, Dot Earth, June 2010 http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/scientists-from-mars-face-public-from-venus/))
In the latter months of last year and the earlier months of this one, public debate on climate change became particularly charged and divided. The media’s fragmented reporting became more and more confused following a cold Northern hemisphere winter and the CRU email-hack, dribbling out contradictory reports about apparent (later largely disproved) IPCC mistakes, and there seemed to be disagreement between everyone. As an organisation thinking about various ways of communicating climate change, we started thinking about the broad idea of ‘public engagement’ and whether it could usefully be applied to discussing climate change. Public engagement – an umbrella term for a set of different approaches to getting citizens involved in issues to do with pretty much anything, usually related to society or politics – has become a widely used tool in decision-making processes in the last ten years. Read more
The Guardian’s recent “Climategate” event – picking over the fallout from UEA’s hacked emails – was always going to be a weird one, and I left with decidedly mixed impressions. For some, this event clearly represented the rehabilitation of climate denial in even the more progressive end of the mainstream media. One friend described it as “like being in 1998”, which was not far off the mark. Two of the panellists – Doug Keenan and Steve McIntyre – fall broadly into the “sceptic” camp, while a good third of the room at least seemed to be composed of elements of the denial lobby. Benny Peiser – a serial paid advocate for mining industry front–groups – was in attendance, as was the eccentric weather theorist Piers Corbyn – whose constant heckling at one point saw him threatened with ejection from the room (to loud applause).