FACING UP TO THE CHALLENGE OF CLIMATE CHANGE COMMUNICATION

By Laura Potts

Last Saturday, I attended the Green House Think Tank’s free one-day conference Facing Up To Climate Reality at the Norwich Forum. Founded in 2011, the Green House Think Tank aims to lead the development of green thinking in the UK, and offer positive alternatives to the business-as-usual approach that has done so much harm to the environment. Their conference aimed to consider questions around the reality of climate change and what it means for jobs and the economy in this country.

First to speak was Brian Heatley, a founding member of Green House. He described our current reality as a shade of grey. We’re over the threshold: significant climate change is now inevitable, and we must be preparing for its effects while also trying to prevent any further environmental malpractice which could exacerbate these dangers. Like many other climate projects in these grey days, Heatley’s talk did not take a particularly positive outlook. I can understand that – climate activists face harsh realities on a daily basis, and that can certainly make it difficult to talk with reflective positivity. Perhaps someone further removed from this taxing work would be better able to offer an optimistic perspective.

we must prioritise the development of greener industries

A number of speakers, in particular Brian Heatley and Jonathan Essex, focused on how the disregard of the environment is inherent to the structure of capital. Our society is geared towards prioritising corporations’ economic growth, placing them centre stage ahead of the natural environment, animals and therefore, human welfare. Our current economic structure relies on the capital gain of corporations to provide jobs and distribute some small amount of their great wealth to the working populace. If we were to slowly move away from this structure, along with the reduction of harmful consumerism we would be better able to systematically reduce the demand for unethical and unsustainable practices. However, such a revolutionary shift will inevitably be a slow process, and difficult to achieve in one country alone. According to Heatley and Essex, the rapid shift that we need to ensure a more sustainable future must instead take place within existing structures, starting with the ‘jobs-led relocalisation of the economy’ and ‘a new pathway of planning’(1) focused on climate improvement rather than corporate growth. In short, as far as Green House is concerned, we must prioritise the development of greener industries, to maintain economic prosperity while minimising the degree to which we worsen the already-existential threats of climate change.

It was in many ways archetypal of the difficulties inherent in communicating the challenges of climate change

At Facing Up To Climate Reality, I found myself surrounded by people who clearly worked closely with the speakers or who were already taking action to tackle climate change. It felt like a bit of an echo chamber, with relatively low attendance from the general public, and it seemed that all the important information being presented was not being absorbed by as many people as it needs to be. Asher Minns of the Tyndall Centre touched on this, discussing the need to overcome psychological distance to the issue of climate change and move public awareness to action. Nationally, awareness of climate change and the issues surrounding it is at a peak, with the BBC recently changing their reporting rules to no longer require a climate change denier as ‘balance’ when reporting on the topic. Events like this one, which bring a group of like minded individuals together, create major opportunities for broadening awareness which so often do not get harnessed. When each of these individuals is able to offer their take on the issues discussed, the potential for generating new ideas for action is tremendous. However, this potential for group solidarity is often swamped by frustration and anger. In this case, some attendees took aim at the council, addressing the shortcomings of environmental policy at the city and county level. These criticisms are entirely justified – as one angry audience member explained, residents looking to raise environmental concerns through the correct protocol are met with email after email and no real commitment. Nonetheless, these frustrations did derail the debate at times.

Facing Up To Climate Reality was what it set out to be: a climate conference, a place to raise issues and discuss concepts of great importance and seriousness. The focus on the practicalities of climate change adaptation and economic structure were particularly interesting and gave a coherent idea as to how we might structure jobs to positively impact our planet. However, the really striking thing for me as an attendee was the echo chamber feel of the event. It was in many ways archetypal of the difficulties inherent in communicating the challenges of climate change. Overcoming these difficulties is incredibly complex, but having seen them first hand in Norwich last weekend, it is not surprising to me that most people do not want to spend their Saturdays at events like this one.

(1) J, Essex. Moving beyond capital-centred growth: planning for jobs across the UK, 2017, Green European foundation

Brian Heatley is a founder member of Green House think tank.

Asher Minns is executive director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia.

Jonathan Essex is a member of Green House and an associate of Bioregional where he advises on new project development and policy.

Featured image credit: Green House


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