Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Stop Blogging, Start Doing

If you only read one post, read this one. I’ve written a lot about the problems plaguing public engagement with climate science, and what we might do to boost it. This post sums up the conclusions from my work, various studies and lectures mentioned over the past three months.

The Problem
There exists a gap between the needs of society and the current role of climate science (Rapley & Meyer 2014). The science isn’t engaging, and despite the scientific consensus and increasing certainty, a large proportion of the public either do not believe in climate change, do not believe in human forcing, or do not consider the problem big enough to warrant action (Leiserowitz et al 2014).

1)     Framing: discussions of climate change should be tailored and targeted to specific audiences. Doing away with scientific complexity to make the problem identifiable and understandable. Examples: Stories, Benefits orientated approach, removing enemies and selecting heroes, economic framing, health framing, human ingenuity, technological advancement....
2)     Recognize that climate change is here and now to combat the economics of discounting and  appeal to the side of the brain that prioritizes threats.
3)     Credible, transparent and regular information from scientists, government and communicators. Perhaps mediated by a new formal institution that not only provides scientists with communicative skills, improving the impact of journals, but helps build a social marketing campaign.
4)     A single party government intent on ‘out-greening’ the opposition, with will to make individual beneficial choices easier and financial impetus for large capital.
5)     Engage all stakeholders for climate change (which means EVERYONE) to help educate, deliberate and incentivize action.

There are obviously many many more potential avenues for improving societies engagement with science. I find that more and more scientific evidence isn’t helping, we know that climate change is a problem, what we need now is to see a) the potential effects and how we can mitigate against them and b) how to inspire action. A radical shake-up is needed and perhaps as Naomi Oreskes says it is time to disband the IPCC and repurpose their funding to  help people recognize the work that’s been done, because at the moment the fact that the IPCC drafts are being used in control groups for the understanding of climate change isn’t exactly helping.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

You're My Hero

I’ve talked pretty extensively about framing, and how it helps to tailor messages to the individual. Capturing a particular message on climate change which attracts specific attention and can help make the problem understandable. Now the issue with framing is that given the multiplicity of the public you can end up with hundreds of different frames, and should a person encounter more than one in a short space of time this could be confusing or overwhelming. So is there a frame that can reach everyone?

Jones 2014 has used a message as old as civilization itself. Stories, that is a tale with a setting, plot, characters (both good and bad) and a moral or solution have been successful in various fields but especially advertising (Matilla 2000). Just take a look at the Christmas adverts this year with John Lewis’ Monty the Penguin or Sainsbury’s war time fable.

Across the entire political spectrum, turning climate change into a story had a great impact on understanding and willingness to act. However it was not the setting, nor the moral or even the bad guys. The biggest factor in inspiring change; The Heroes of the story. In nearly every case respondents identified with the heroes of the story, be them concerned NGOs, Individualistic Capitalists, or scientists. Even more interesting was the control group, who were left to interpret the IPCC executive summary without any framing.

Leonardo DiCaprio helps narrate this video by Green World Rising. Will his contribution help reach more people, greater influence those it does reach, or both? Is his lavish lifestyle hypocritical. Role model involvement in climate change poses numerous ethical and logistical questions.

Putting climate change into a media that humans have always used has the potential to be beneficial across politics and beliefs. We identify with those we believe to be good or knowledgeable but only when speaking in a medium we understand. This explains why respondents scored higher when scientists were heroes in the story rather than the people behind a bland IPCC report. I think the issue of heroes has even more leg room, celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio have become increasingly involved in the climate change movement, both narrating for NGOs and speaking directly to the UN. Ignoring his use of numerous private jets for a moment, his ability to play the hero both on an off screen has great potential for reaching wider audiences but also helping them to engage with the topic. Even if he is used to speak pure science people are more likely to respond than coming from a face they cannot recognize as a force for good.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Next Period - Science (Or is it Politics)

I’ve mentioned before the difficult situation climate science finds itself in, research as part of the 6 Americas project tells us that increasing levels of scientific literacy do not positively affect peoples willingness to act on climate change. In fact the opposite is true with greater understanding of the issue potentially creating greater political polarization (Kahan 2012). This is due to our formation of worldviews, subsequently rather than adapt this view in the face of new evidence we attempt to twist the evidence in favour of what we already believe. (This is both skeptics and believers guys so remember to hold on to your scientific integrity!). I’ve shown how a variety of tools may help address this inaction; narratives, framing of the problem, ignoring it all together in favour of talking about other issues e.g. clean growth or greater stakeholder engagement but a recent paper from the USA (Stevenson et al 2014)has pointed in another direction.

Did they come to these conclusions themselves? Courtesy of the Guardian (An art project about climate change and sustainability by year 3 pupils at Ambleside primary school, Cornwall. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Alamy Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images/Alamy) [Accessed 18/12/2014]
Children are yet to form worldviews (Vollerberg et al 2001), they learn, question and change opinions far better than adults do. Increasing their scientific literacy then may not dictate their risk perception in quite the same way as adults. Stevenson found increasing both the amount and quality of earth sciences education led to children more concerned about climate change in later life.

Whilst this on the face of it seems positive it’s a treacherous area. Firstly the school system in the US is a very politicized arena. Wars have been waged in senate and congress over the teaching of evolution and to introduce climate change into that fray is not easy. The second, a point raised by George Marshall when I asked him about the topic, is that we must be careful not to use children as propaganda tools. Whilst an excellent scientific education is of course brilliant, introducing the politics behind it, either directly or indirectly isn’t something children should be subjected to. I’m all for increased levels of education but this should give children the analytical skills to come to their own conclusions, and help them to be better scientists, not prescribe a worldview either way.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Happier Economy

One of the major issues preventing action on climate change is its economic framing. Using the market mechanism means that environment costs or ‘externalities’ are not factored in to the costs of energy. This leaves the cost of fossil fuels far below that of renewables despite their longer term implications. When coupled with the issue of discounting, driving an economic argument for clean tech is very difficult. People have tried arguing for green growth, with the development of 1million clean energy jobs a cornerstone of Labour’s 2015 manifesto, but again you are struggling with this idea that benefits are in the future but financial costs are here and social/environmental costs are unaccounted for.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_SA23mlXNY&spfreload=10 [accessed 18/12/14]

An interesting idea currently being research by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) is structuring economic policy by well-being rather than GDP. They note that despite the rise in UK GDP since the mid 20th century life satisfaction doesn’t change, with other studies suggesting that beyond a certain monetary threshold happiness doesn’t improve (Boyce et al 2010). In a recent talk at the institute of global prosperity Charles Seaford, head of Wellbeing at NEF, suggested that introducing well-being into policy decisions allows for a more integrated process and targets ‘better growth’. Improving aspects such as job security, inequality, housing provision etc. It’s important to stress this isn’t a subjective analysis, rigorous work such as the happiness index produces quantitative data on life satisfaction. This means you can look at things such as zero-hours contracts and say, actually this is negatively affecting lives by a quantifiable amount (in this case it was 0.52 on a scale of 1-5).

Looking a climate change through a well-being lens could provide excellent benefits. Introducing a carbon tax may reduce the GDP of certain countries and individuals but would bring secure jobs in a new ‘green’ economy and massively reduce health and social problems. The key benefit however would be inequality reduction. We know that climate change disproportionately impacts the poor, both nationally and internationally, which is especially poignant given the poor produce the smallest emissions, reorienting policy decisions by assessing wellbeing could help then adjust the cost-benefit analysis into one that is more likely to inspire action.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

From Blue to Green to Red and back again

So we’ve seen how public opinion on Climate Change is under threat (Ungar 2014), but has UK political action followed suit. Carter (2014) presents an excellent rundown of the history of the Climate Change movement in UK policy which highlights some interesting points. Unlike climate politics in the US British attitudes to policy have been characterized by cross-party support. The last election was characterized by each party trying to ‘out-green’ the other and helped shift from preference accommodation to preference shaping of the public. This help build both media coverage and public opinion to action at the time. In 2010 David Cameron promised to be the ‘most green government ever’ with the catchphrase ‘vote blue get green’, but has this actually happened? As I mentioned in the last post political action for things such as climate change is stifled when unemployment and GDP suffer, and this has contributed to the Coalitions inaction. However one key driver of action identified by Carter is that of a single party majority. The Con-Lib coalition has left many conservative backbenchers unhappy, and increasingly we are seeing a wedge driven between the two parties over issues such as climate change. Not only has Cameron’s rhetoric fallen off, the slate of MPs employed in DECC following Chris Huhne has included some prominent climate denialists. Owen Paterson’s tirades over the ‘Green Blob’ and his work for the Global Warming Policy Foundation don’t exactly appeal to progressive policy. Whilst in his time as junior energy minister John Hayes pledged to no more onshore wind farms and actively fought against subsidies for renewables which he claimed were a ‘green tax’.

Hope is on the horizon, Britain has pledged significantly to the Green Climate Fund, and pledges on emissions reduction from other nations give hope for British action (or reaction). However with UKIP on the rise there is cause to worry as well. The party may hold the balance of power come the next election and their desire to scrap the seminal Climate Change Act (2008) and of course leave the EU emissions trading scheme. International action is certainly on the agenda, but a future for British policy is highly uncertain, prominent voices such as Sir David King and Ed Davey are working in the right direction, but with public opinion wavering it is unlikely to be a major issue for the next general election.