Climate Science for Beginners
DRAFT TEXT July 2020 – Getting the Narrative(s) Right!
Much of our learning comes from stories passed down from generation to generation. So what kind of story can we tell about climate science that's easily understood by beginners? Noah's Ark is a pretty obvious one but so long ago and so slowly are the effects of climate change felt that it has little meaning in modern times. We all know the animals went in two by two for reasons not lost on Biology Science Beginners, because nothing's changed in that department since the even older story of Adam and Eve.
But here's the thing: we need to construct stories based on what science is telling us now, within our own life expectancy, not what happened four millennia ago.
Our World in Data 2013
Max Roser, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Hannah Ritchie
Life expectancy is the key metric for assessing population health. Broader than the narrow metrics of infant and child mortality, which focus solely at mortality at a young age, life expectancy captures the mortality along the entire life course. It tells us the average age of death in a population.
But before we get down to the serious business of climate change in our lifetimes, let's look at how "story" is defined by the dictionary:
1. An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
2. An account of past events in someone's life or in the development of something.
If we're really daring, we can even help expand Cottenham Wikipedia to gain a permanent place in the village's History in the Making Project; from a small island community in Roman times, to a permanent medieval village in the Middle Ages of the 5th-15th centuries – to Silicon Fen-Edge Village of the Year in 2021 at open.cottenham.info (under construction).
Back to Normal or back to Better?
Human beings are natural storytellers and narratives have been central to life for thousands of years. Stories and narratives help us to make sense of the world around us, allow us to communicate with others and build long lasting relationships.
A narrative consists of a collection of stories which together convey a common worldview or meaning - it is a shared interpretation of the world and how it works.
(McBeth et al., 2015; Fisher 1984)
In the world of social change, the stories that we tell can be an extremely powerful tool in shaping public opinion and influencing policy. Narratives, if framed in the right way, can be used to communicate with your audience, spark changes in their thinking, shift difficult conversations in a positive way to create more resilient and inclusive societies.
Small shifts in mindset can trigger a cascade of changes so profound that they test the limits of what seems possible.
(Dr Carole Dweck)
With the decline of traditional journalism, the prominence of social media and growing misinformation, it seems like populism and polarisation are on the rise. What can activists do to change narratives?
Drawing on our own experience and the work of our partners and wider network, we set out below some lessons and resources for anyone interested in working towards progressive narrative change.
So there's the story-line...
The Great East Anglian Fen
Cottenham-on-Sea & The Cambridge Estuary
Voyage Into a Watery Future
Fens for the Memory
Silicon Fen-Edge Villages of Cambridgeshire
Who Put the Peat in Peterborough
Waterworlds Need Waterwings
Beware the Tides of March
Welcome to the Waterworld of Wisbech
Eel Pie island
Return of the Paddle-Steamer
Oracles and Coracles
Tinker and the Crab
Who Put the Beach in Landbeach
Sands of Waterbeach
Raised in Rampton
Willingham and Tillingham
Duke of Dykes (The Story of Cornelius Vermuyden)
Niet Zonder Arbyt (Nothing Without Work)
Waterbeach; A Footnote in Time
Friday, 1st January 2021
European Climate Foundation
Britain Talks Climate
A toolkit for engaging the British public on climate change
Britain Talks Climate is an evidence-based toolkit designed to support any organisation that wants to engage the British public on climate change. It makes clear that there is currently no ‘culture war’ on climate change in Britain. But building narratives that resonate with a diverse range of values and everyday concerns is critical for the long-term goal of deepening public engagement – and keeping it there.
The research included a survey of:
The summary explains the motivations behind Britain Talks Climate and previews some of the themes to look out for as you move through the rest of the toolkit.
Britain Talks Climate groups the population into seven different segments based on people’s core beliefs. It provides an evidence-based, shared and strategic understanding of the British public and – against a backdrop of growing concern about polarisation – identifies ways to to engage across the whole of society.
Britons know that climate change is real and that humans are causing it.None of the seven segments are defined by strong, ideological scepticism towards climate change. All segments agree that we are already feeling its effects across Britain, and they share the understanding that the threat requires a global (rather than purely national) response.
Climate change is consistently seen as a concern for ‘everybody’, not just rich, white, middle class or left-wing people (pointing to little evidence of a ‘culture war’ – i.e. an entrenched opposition between groups with different ideals and values). And there is widespread recognition that the UK should be one of the most ambitious countries in the world in tackling climate change, and that doing so could unlock new economic opportunities and jobs.
Certain values and ideas have almost universal resonance across Britain: protecting future generations, creating a healthier society and preserving the countryside in ways that end our throwaway culture.
All segments acknowledge some (unintended) positive aspects of the Covid-19 lockdown – for example, fewer vehicles on the roads leading to cleaner air and louder birdsong – and have become more aware of the need to protect ourselves against future climate impacts, as well as the need to protect our healthcare system against ‘double’ catastrophes (such as a heatwave during a pandemic). Other messages have become more salient during this time, with every segment agreeing that our recovery from Covid-19 offers opportunities to create new green jobs, bolster British manufacturing and hold businesses to higher sustainability standards.
Strikingly, no-one wants to go back to ‘normal’ after the worst of the pandemic is over. Social systems usually resist radical change, but people don’t want to come out of this crisis the wrong way, and recognise that a window of opportunity for fundamental change has opened up.
Britain Talks Climate also points to noticeable differences between different groups of the British population.
British Population Groups (7)
Progressive Activists – (13% of the British Public) Vocal and passionate, politically active but pessimistic about the direction society has taken, climate change is central to Progressive Activists’ identity and politics. They are despairing about governments’ moral failings on the issue, which they believe will make all other challenges and inequalities worse.
Backbone Conservatives – (15% of British public) Conservative, patriotic and optimistic, Backbone Conservatives take pride in tangible success stories about British environmental achievements and care deeply about food, farming and the rural economy. But they are more sceptical about grand claims of global leadership, or the ‘virtue signalling’ of (what they sometimes see as) symbolic lifestyle changes.
Civic Pragmatists – (13% of British public) Moderate and tolerant, Civic Pragmatists are anxious about the future, with climate change contributing to that fear. They try to follow a low-carbon lifestyle, but feel demotivated by a lack of political ambition on climate change and other social issues. Reflecting their pragmatic nature, they are likely to look past their opinion of the government of the day and support progressive climate policies when they see them.
Established Liberals – (12% of British public) Confident and comfortable, Established Liberals have a global outlook driven more by their professional networks than a sense of solidarity with communities around the world. They don’t necessarily view climate change as something that will affect them personally, but they do want to hear how low-carbon solutions will drive economic resilience and growth.
Disengaged Battlers – (12% of British public) Feeling unheard and unrepresented, Disengaged Battlers are nevertheless broadly convinced of the need to take action on climate change. However, they do not yet believe the transition will benefit them, and are too busy surviving from day to day to give it more of their attention.
Disengaged Traditionalists – (18% of British public) Disillusioned and sceptical, Disengaged Traditionalists recognise tangible environmental risks like air pollution, but are far from ‘sold’ on the need for action on climate. They are more likely to see it as a problem for foreign governments to deal with.
Loyal Nationals – (17% of British public) Traditional and proud to be British, Loyal Nationals feel threatened and are galvanised by issues such as crime, immigration and terrorism. They believe the UK is already living with the reality of climate change, but they understand it as an issue linked to localised (rather than global) inequality and environmental degradation. Their relatively high political participation is driven by moral outrage about a system that supports corporate greed over everyday working people.
What does Britain Talks Climate provide?
Britain Talks Climate provides an evidence-based, shared resource that can be used to anchor climate campaigning and communications in a deeper understanding of the British public’s core values and beliefs. It offers:
Something shared – Individual organisations rarely campaign under a single banner or overarching strategy. They have distinct theories of change and target diverse public constituencies. Many different roles come into play in any transition towards change, and this diversity is a strength. But the better we understand the British public – the tensions among different segments, and the communal beliefs and values that unite us – the better equipped advocates will be to design work in a way that ensures the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Something that deepens understanding – By checking assumptions against an expanded and rigorous evidence base, we aim to help improve the effectiveness of engagement on climate. One-off polls can be useful and influential – but they only ever capture a moment in time. By focusing on core beliefs, which underlie many habitual behaviours, thoughts and feelings, and which are less likely to change over an individual’s lifetime, we can get much closer to the real drivers behind public opinion.
Something challenging – New insights invite challenges and sometimes force us to re-evaluate the answers we thought we already had. They raise questions about not only the content of climate messages, but also the credibility of climate messengers for different segments.
Something necessary – As a critical decade gets underway for curbing carbon emissions, the momentum on public engagement that was felt in 2018 and 2019 may stall or even be reversed by the direct and indirect impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s not hard to imagine how this crisis could send us down an even darker path. The promise of ‘building back better’ will only be realised if a broad social mandate is established for a green future. To do this, advocates must campaign sensitively and in ‘surround sound’, with different organisations creating coherent, compatible content for their audiences.