Climate Communications Blog Series

Blog 5: Discussing Your Individual Choices

Briony Latter, 10th May 2019

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This blog series explores different aspects of climate change communication. Talking to people about climate change and trying to engage them with the subject involves more than simply getting your facts straight. It’s really important to think about who your audience is and how you talk to people. In this fifth post we explore how to discuss individual action on climate change and the difficulties that can arise when doing so.

How to talk about people’s individual decisions in response to climate change without making them feel guilty is a topic that came up in a recent Hope for the Future training session. There are many areas that could be discussed here, including the decision of some people not to have children due to climate change, but I will focus on food and travel.

Credit:  Gabriel Gurrola

Food

Our diet can have an impact on climate change, and meat consumption, particularly beef, needs to be reduced. Vegetarian and vegan food is becoming more widespread and a record amount of people signed up to Veganuary for 2019. The BBC have even published a handy food calculator to show the impact of your diet on climate change.

If you’re already vegan or vegetarian, that’s great, but when you’re talking to someone about the potential impact of their diet on the climate, it’s important to understand different people’s circumstances. They may have dietary requirements that could restrict their ability to eat certain foods. For example, as someone with a severe nut allergy, a vegan diet is just not realistic for me. However, almost all of my diet is vegetarian and I ensure that any meat or fish I do eat is sustainable. When talking to people about reducing their meat consumption, Hubbub’s Protein Pressures project may be able to help. They recommend that future communications on this issue should be “positive, upbeat and focus on what is gained by diversifying protein, not what is given up” and should provide information about alternatives.

Travel

Credit:  dsleeter_2000

There are a number of difficulties and contradictions when thinking about different modes of transport in relation to climate change. Cars can sometimes be essential for people to travel depending on where they live, particularly with the decrease in bus routes. Try to understand the other person’s situation and identify other things they could do instead if they are reliant on their car. For example, you could discuss car sharing or buying a more environmentally friendly car.

Flying can also be a difficult topic to discuss. Would you count flying as luxury emissions, or does it depend on why and how far away you’re going? What about if you’re visiting family or traveling for work? Is it okay to fly if you’re traveling somewhere to raise awareness of climate change? This contradiction can be demonstrated by a couple of recent examples. The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently visited Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya in only 5 days whilst at the same time promoting the UK’s role in tackling climate change. Also, back in January there was a huge amount of individual private flights for leaders attending climate talks at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Some argue that individual action in this area is key, but there is also the argument that individual action will have a limited impact unless “the economic system can provide viable, environmental options for everyone – not just an affluent or intrepid few.”

This is a complicated area and, again, people will have different circumstances so it’s good to be aware that not everyone you talk to will be able to take the same action that you can. However, you could discuss carbon offsetting, using a carbon calculator to look at the emissions for different travel options or simply reducing the amount that you fly rather than stopping altogether.

There are no absolute right or wrong answers for the above. It’s also important to remember that individual choices are just one part of tackling climate change. Change has to come from other places including government. You may feel able to talk to friends, family and acquaintances about their individual choices, but what about your MP? Even if you know that your MP doesn’t have the most environmentally friendly behaviours as an individual, don’t forget that they have the power to make changes in a different way as your locally elected representative. That’s where we can help. Our team can help you to work with your MP and develop a tailored strategy for them. Have a look at our resources for more information.

Hope for the Future Case Study

Steve Baker MP

Steve Baker MP

We recently supported Jo, a constituent of Steve Baker MP, to meet with him about climate change. Mr Baker has very different views to the constituent, as a hard brexiteer and climate-sceptic. In the meeting it was clear that Steve felt negative about encounters with climate campaigners because of the reaction he receives when expressing his sceptisism of the science. Jo was able to listen to his doubts and show him how making progress to reducing emissions was not necessarily counter to his own agenda. Using questions is a powerful tool to discover the interests, needs, anxieties and desires behind someone’s position. Read Jo’s blog on her meeting with Steve Baker.