You don’t have to be a climate policy expert to be inspired by stories. People respond better to climate change solutions than a bitter argument about its causes.
This week marks the five year anniversary of ‘climategate’, a rather grandiose title given to the theft and online publication of controversial email correspondence between climate scientists in November 2009. Since this date, no fewer than six separate inquiries have rejected claims by climate sceptics that the emails contained evidence of scientists manipulating data.
But if you’re scratching your head trying to remember exactly where you were when this momentous event took place, you are in good company. Although the affair was big news around the water cooler of climate science departments, and has continued to reverberate around the blogosphere, there is little evidence that ordinary members of the public either noticed or cared about the claims.
In fact, although the sceptic bogeymen (and they are mostly men) continue to draw the ire of scientists and environmental campaigners, there is increasing evidence that the contrarian positions of climate sceptics are becoming irrelevant for most ordinary people.
In COIN’s latest report, Young Voices, we spoke to young people in the UK aged between 18 and 25 about their views on climate change. Most were not interested in fighting a battle against organised scepticism. Debating solutions, rather than the science, was deemed a much higher priority.
The ‘solutions not science’ mantra is likely to be a much more effective method of overcoming scepticism overall, rather than slogging it out in the scientific arena. A new paper by scholars Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay confirmed what several previous studies have hinted at: Republican aversion to the conclusions of climate science diminishes when presented with responses that fit more closely with their values (policies that don’t challenge the logic of the free market, for example).
This insight is also reflected in 10:10’s #ItsHappening campaign, which promotes creative ways of tackling climate change from across the globe on social media. The logic of the campaign is simple: show people that solutions are not only possible but already proliferating, and a powerful sense of momentum will grow.
Interestingly, though, a study conducted in Canada suggests that people don’t necessarily need to know much about climate policies in order to support them. There is no direct relationship between policy knowledge and support for them.
In other words, you don’t have to be a climate policy expert to be inspired by positive examples of low-carbon solutions, in the same way that it is not necessary to understand the physics of the greenhouse effect to be concerned about the impacts of climate change.
More important than the actual solutions are the stories that grow around them, and the meanings people attribute to different technologies and ideas. The success of #ItsHappening is most likely driven by a sense of social momentum rather than anything inherently ‘likeable’ about the projects shared.
Consider the contrasting ways that people respond to wind farms. Those who support onshore wind equate the turbines with progress, and feel reassured about the prospect of a clean energy future. And those who oppose them tell powerful stories about money-grabbing ‘outsiders’ and pledge solidarity in the face of undemocratic imposition on their community. Crucially, there is nothing written in the blades and motors of the turbines themselves that underpins these narratives. They are entirely social in nature.
We shouldn’t get too carried away with the idea that communicating climate solutions is a panacea for public lethargy. Climate answers breathe life into an otherwise frustratingly arid subject because of the stories they tell.
This means that telling the most powerful and compelling stories is the key – stories that relate to the aspects of people’s lives they care passionately about.
It is encouraging that there is a growing movement away from ‘myth-busting’ and towards ‘solution sharing’. But we should remember what dozens of studies on climate change communication have taught us: people fit the facts to their pre-existing narratives about the world, which are first and foremost a product of their values and political outlook.
A climate solution is only as good as the story that surrounds it.
This article first appeared on the Guardian.