Green Reads – Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement

Editor’s Note: Here we have a book review contributed by Katy Cooper. Katy is a consultant and writer on preventing non-communicable diseases, focusing particularly on the lifestyle factors of poor diet, physical inactivity and smoking, and on the impact of the environment on health. You can read a more extensive version of this review on Katy’s blog at http://www.katycooper.co.uk

Even in Britain where we talk incessantly about the weather, broader climate change is rarely a topic of conversation. It may make the news occasionally, but it is far from a mainstream concern – despite being, as The Lancet put it in 2009, “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. In the timely, thought-provoking and cogently argued Talking Climate, Adam Corner and Jamie Clarke set out how climate change can be brought not only into conversation but into our way of life, breaking the “social silence” that surrounds it and – one hopes – setting us on our individual paths to a sustainable future.

The book lays down five principles to begin to bridge the gap from established science to everyday reality – establishing a process to engage the public at this crucial time for the planet.

First, learn from previous campaigns – which have, largely, failed to make anything other than a fleeting impact. Next, “being right is not the same as being persuasive”, and climate change must connect with people’s existing, established values. This is not a right- or left-wing issue: Mrs Thatcher, herself a scientist, was entirely convinced by the evidence for climate change, and framed action as being about responsibility, leadership and safeguarding our world.

We also need to tell new narratives (stories) that speak to actual experience – our visual and verbal language (whether an image of a polar bears or talking about ‘2 degrees’) has fallen short.

Just nudging us into recycling or providing us with short-term economic incentives isn’t going to make the difference. Instead, something intrinsic needs to click: we need “climate citizenship” (and taking responsibility for the future) to be part of our individual identity. Finally, the new narratives must be supported by new and different voices (trusted messengers) – whether sports teams, Mumsnet, trade unions or religious leaders.

Talking Climate is particularly prescient in the context of the ongoing seismic political shifts in countries such as the UK and USA – shifts that themselves speak to deeply held, intrinsic values but which, all too often, distort the evidence. The challenge here is to counter this post-truth trend, creating an even more convincing alternative that speaks to values and uses narratives that ring true, even in a context in which expertise is downplayed or simply ignored.

But the one thing that we cannot and must not do is remain silent.

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Adam Corner and Jamie Clarke, Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement (2017), is published by Palgrave Macmillan.