Practical Guidance For Climate Communicators

This is one of a series of blogs entitled Principles and Advice for Grassroots Climate Communicators, in which I share and reflect on a range of ideas within the field, with a view to helping grassroots activists and groups communicate effectively. For an overview of approaches and challenges in the field, please see my post Climate Communications – An Overview.

I have not provided a summary at the end of this post because there simply too many detailed suggestions. Instead I am providing an index so that you can scroll through to find ideas relevant to your current communication needs. I would encourage you to dip in every now and then as there is far too much advice to absorb in a single reading.

I’m aware there are some repetitions; that has occurred because I am emphasising different aspects of related points. If you prefer to go to the original reference documents, which are usually more succinct, you will find them listed in the bibliography attached to my post Climate Communications – An Overview.

a) The purpose of a communications strategy  
b) Some guidance on designing a communications strategy  
c) A repository of tips and models for climate communicators (centred on the ‘gradualist’ approach), organised under 6 headings:  

Approach: be clear about the intentions and values that run through all of your communications
Engagement: get people’s attention / invite them in
Rapport: connect / build a relationship
Conversation: listen and learn
Messaging: deliver reliable information appropriately / persuade
Empowerment: inspire and enable people to take action  

Mention is also made to a 7th topic, Politicisation. I have discussed this in more detail in a separate post – Politicisation: how can climate communicators help people move into campaigning?  

Case studies highlighted in boxes in the text include:
Hope for the Future
Climate Outreach: Britain Talks Climate
Carbon Literacy
John Cook’s work on inoculating people against denialism
Carbon Conversations  

Emergency mobilisation: Please note that this post does not include practical guidance on emergency mobilisation strategies including, for example, direct action. I compiled this document when I was reviewing the literature a few years ago and the emphasis at that time was on the gradualist approach. Now, in 2021, after the enormous success of Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion in boosting the climate and nature emergencies up the political agenda, this seems like a serious omission. I would point grassroots climate communicators wanting advice on more confrontational approaches to look at the Extinction Rebellion website and similar. For a discussion of the pros and cons of the emergency mobilisation approach, please see my post ‘Emergency mobilisation’: the heated debate about the harnessing of uncomfortable feelings – and some possible solutions.

a. The purpose of a communications strategy

Definition and purpose of a communications strategy

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NVCO) provides a useful guide to developing a communications strategy on its website.[28] It says the purpose of a communications strategy is “to help you and your organisation communicate effectively and meet core organisational objectives.”[1] This means that the starting point is to be clear about those objectives. It seems to me that they are likely to include:

  • Letting people know that you exist and why
  • Letting people know about things that you are doing
  • Inviting people to participate in different ways
  • Disseminating accurate information about the climate emergency and its implications for people in your area
  • Countermanding misinformation (errors in understanding), disinformation (incorrect information deliberately promoted with the intention of deceiving) and denial (rejection of climate change science)
  • Provoking discussion and reflection
  • Persuading or encouraging people to take notice and take action
  • Sharing and celebrating successes

My key recommendation to practitioners on the ground is to embrace a learning approach; to try out different messages and approaches with different audiences, and give time to evaluating them, thinking critically about both successes and failures, and adapting practice accordingly.

A fundamental principle: think critically when planning communications

Below I list some of the ‘gradualist’ principles that many people working in this field think work best. However, there are no one-size-fits-all rules. Before engaging in any piece of climate communications, ask yourself the ‘question word questions’:

  • WHO is my audience?
  • WHAT do I want to communicate to them?
  • WHY? What result do I hope for? (Behaviour change? Policy change?)[2]
  • HOW? What content, vocabulary and tone would be most persuasive for the recipient(s)?
  • WHEN and WHERE is that communication likely to be best received?
  • WHO would be a good person to make that communication?

b. Some guidance on designing a communications strategy

Most of these recommendations are taken directly from: Communicating climate change: A practitioner’s guide. Insights from Africa, Asia and Latin America. (Climate and Development Knowledge Network 2019.)[3] This is an excellent resource written by somebody working in the field and I strongly recommend that grassroots climate communicators study the whole document. Although it is aimed at practice in developing countries, where people may be living on the front lines of climate change and climate impacts may be more salient, many of the principles apply in the UK too.

Below you will find the main headings/recommendations from that guide. There is much more detail in the original document. (Please note that I have added a handful of additional suggestions to the list below, taken from other documents referenced later in this post.)

Develop a good communications campaign

  • Identify and understand your audience
    • identify the stakeholder group(s) who can affect positive change, what information and analysis they need and how you can help meet their knowledge needs.
    • segment the audience and tailor communications to the specific concerns and needs of different target groups, to make the content as useful and relevant as possible.
    • understand the intended audience’s knowledge and values. Use framing and language that will resonate with target audiences and evolve their understanding of, and contribution to, an issue.
  • Work to identify who the best ‘messengers’ are for your content: Who is most likely to capture the attention of your intended audience?
  • Request audience feedback often, and revise and update messaging, content and engagement activities to improve when things aren’t working well.
  • Learn lessons from previous public information/ advertising campaigns and be prepared to test your assumptions.

Tailor knowledge products and use multiple formats

  • Craft knowledge products and services that frame the information in ways that are tailored and relevant to the stakeholder group(s).
  • Use appropriate language: Translate literally into different languages and/or use more or less technical language according to the target group’s needs.
  • ‘Layer’ the message: Start with simple, eye-catching headlines, and signpost to more complex levels of information and analysis: 5-second read, 60-second read, 10-minute read, 30–60-minute read.
  • Produce diverse formats when the budget allows: Tell the same story, where possible, in multiple formats to cater to people’s varying personal preferences. For example, use text, pictures (picture galleries, photo essays, etc.), slide packs, films and animations, as well as multimedia products that combine all of the above.
  • Make content easy to access, easy to use, easy to share. Make sure content can be readily understood, applied and distributed by your intended audiences.

Recognise how digital and face-to-face communications can amplify each other

  • Devise digital outreach campaigns that elevate serious climate change messages in the midst of huge online ‘chatter’ by using well-tested tactics – such as high-quality imagery, innovative infographics, clear copywriting and even memes – to make content compulsively shareable.
  • Give audiences at face-to-face events (meetings, conferences) the digital tools to spread content to their networks, for an ‘amplifying’ effect on your communications campaign.
  • Combine face-to-face engagements in smaller groups with digital outreach via larger broadcast communications, as a way to achieve both depth and breadth.

Get the climate change framing right: Learn how to develop one or several story angles that will resonate with your target audiences:

> General audiences

  • Find the ‘human interest’ stories – in other words, people’s own words about their own experiences – that tell how climate change has negative impacts.
  • Use the most authoritative statistics and analysis you can find to back up your stories.
  • Find the stories about iconic cultural and historical assets that could be negatively affected by climate change.
  • Look out for the insidious, small-scale impacts of climate change that are weakening people’s resilience over time and affecting their ability to ‘bounce back’ and fulfil their human potential.
  • Highlight that action on adaptation can prevent the loss of livelihoods, assets, health and well-being – even loss of life – from climate change impacts.
  • Show the power of positive solutions. People don’t want just bad news, they want inspiration!

> Business and economics focused audiences

  • Look for examples of risks to company profit – or to a company’s entire business model – posed by climate change impacts on assets, work force, production systems and supply chains.
  • Find the stories of risk to competitiveness – of company, city, region, country – from inattention to climate change impacts.
  • Highlight that action on adaptation can create a resilient firm with long-term prospects for business growth and stability.
  • Demonstrate that assessing climate risks to the business demonstrates a robust vision and strategy to shareholders, aimed at ensuring the firm’s long-term value. It is about being ‘ahead of the curve’.

For more detail of the above recommendations, please see the original document.

A note on the limitations of mass media campaigns

In Talking Climate (2017), Corner and Clarke argue: “Although mass media promotions are often the most cost-effective ways of ‘reaching’ large numbers of people, one-way communications have been most effective when combined with more interpersonal or community-based initiatives to support individuals [e.g. in quitting smoking] and to visibly shift social norms.” Research on the effectiveness of HIV campaigns points to the importance of fostering environments where ‘the voice of those most affected by the pandemic can be heard.” (Panos London 2003.) They conclude that: “Targets are important and necessary, but they should follow (rather than precede) a process of public engagement.” (page 23)[4]

This proposition echoes one given to me by a venerated community drama practitioner, Noel Greig, who told me not long before he died: “It’s all about shoe leather.” What he meant was that there is no replacement for getting out there, having one-to-one conversations and building trust through authentic dialogue. Your community group (like ours here in South Yorkshire) obviously cannot hold one-to-one conversations with every person in the region but I think we should be realise the limitations of remote and generalised forms of communication and we should maximise the opportunities for authentic dialogue in whatever we do.

That said, it is also important to take on board that we now live in a digital world. The social media aspect of communications is not my strength so I would recommend that you look elsewhere if you want further advice to supplement that given above.

In Should the arts, creativity and stories be at the heart of climate communications and campaigning?, I give a few examples of digital and creative approaches to communications. Stephen Duncombe, in particular, makes the point that nowadays many people are ‘prosumers’, not just consumers but producers. In suggesting that authentic, face-to-face conversations should be at the core of our communications ambitions, I may be reflecting the perspective of an older generation. You and your organisation may be well advised to come up with digitally-based projects that will capture the imaginations of the video-game generation.

c: A repository of tips and models for climate communicators (centred on the ‘gradualist’ approach)

In this section, I have gathered principles and tips from a number of different sources,  in the hope that they will be helpful for practitioners on the ground. The sources used largely agree on taking an optimistic approach and avoiding triggering fear, guilt, anxiety and disavowal. As noted above, this section lacks guidance on more confrontational, ‘emergency mobilisation’ tactics.

I have organised the gradualist principles under six roughly chronological but overlapping headings. I was thinking about the process a person might go through with a grassroots organisation or campaigning group, from when they first encounter it through to (perhaps) becoming a committed activist or leader themselves.

  1. Approach: be clear about the intentions and values that run through all of your communications
  2. Engagement: get people’s attention / invite them in
  3. Rapport: connect / build a relationship
  4. Conversation: listen and learn
  5. Messaging: deliver reliable information appropriately / persuade
  6. Empowerment: inspire and enable people to take action
  7. Politicisation: support people into campaigning

Detailed practical tips for politicisation are currently lacking from this post. I hope to fill that section out later. For a discussion of some of the issues around politicisation, please see my post Politicisation: how can climate communicators help people move into campaigning?

1. Approach: be clear about the intentions and values that run through all of your communications

What principles are you working with? What is your theory of change?

Align communication objectives with the overall aims and objectives of the programme

Be clear about the top communications priorities:

  • Breaking the silence and starting the wider conversation is the primary objective of climate communication. This is necessary in order to build the social mandate for the radical changes that are needed.
  • It is more important to establish, build and keep the relationship than it is to get a particular message over. Better that people are engaged but disagree than that they don’t engage at all.

Understand and countermand (a) the psychology of disavowal and (b) the politics of denial.

Adam Corner of Climate Outreach claims that denialism has had its day. There is no point in fighting last year’s battles, he says. But the impacts of denialism are still with us and may surface within our conversations on the ground. Communicators might be well advised to prepare themselves to handle such moments confidently.

Disavowal and denial  

Disavowal, used in the climate change context, means an attitude of disconnection from the issue of climate change, and how serious it is, and a lack of a sense of responsibility for taking action. Although concern about the climate and nature emergencies has risen exponentially in recent times, we are all still prone to disavowal,  to differing degrees.

Why so?  One explanation advanced by people like George Marshall is that, for most people in developed countries, global warming doesn’t yet feel either urgent or scary, so both politicians and the general population keep putting off taking effective action. The theory is that we human beings evolved to respond to immediate threats. We switch to alarm mode when we hear a sudden danger signal, such as the crack of a twig in the undergrowth or a smell of burning. But climate change isn’t sudden; it’s gradual. It is often invisible. To us, in the global north, it often seems remote, and we cannot easily see what we should do about it. You can’t just point a fire extinguisher at a warming ocean and cool it down in a few seconds. Climate change requires us to use our brains, to look at the gradually accumulating data, predict how things will develop and take preventive actions. It will never feel urgent until it is too late – and we are perilously close to that point now.[5]  

Psychoanalysts such as Sally Weintrobe point to a different possible explanation. Human beings cannot tolerate too much reality, they say. We hide uncomfortable truths from ourselves; we dream of omnipotence and live in denial of our own mortality; global warming triggers ‘annihilation anxiety’.[6] Rosemary Randall emphasises that disavowal has the purpose of trying to protect oneself from such difficult feelings.[7]  

A further possible reason, advanced by Feinberg and Willer in 2011, may be that “dire messages reduce belief in global warming by contradicting just world beliefs.” A just world belief is the belief that everyone ultimately gets what they deserve. These beliefs may be more common in people with conservative, authoritarian political values, and in religious people.[8]

The burning of fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – is the main cause of global heating. There is evidence that some of the corporations that produce fossil fuels have deliberately suppressed accurate information about their impact on the atmosphere. Even now, there are wealthy corporations and individuals spending millions each year to sow confusion about the science of climate change in the media. Climate communicators therefore need to be ready to confront misinformation (errors in understanding), disinformation (incorrect information put out by climate sceptics) and denial (rejection of the whole global warming threat.)  

At the time of writing, in 2021, it seems that explicit denial has become much less socially acceptable. However writers such as Michael Mann warn that the proponents of fossil fuels are still trying to delay action behind-the-scenes, using a range of tactics, including encouraging the view that it is too late to make a difference. Mann calls this ‘inactivism’. Others sometimes use the term ‘delayism.’ It should be noted that some ‘climate sceptics’ reject the term ‘denier’. They believe that their scepticism is founded in good evidence and isn’t just a cynical attempt to maintain fossil fuel profits. Your group will need to decide whether it wishes to engage in such debates or not,  and on what terms. For more on confronting denial, see the box below on ‘Inoculating’ people against denialism’.  

Explain and countermand the psychology of disavowal

Blaming people for their disavowal won’t help at all;  better to explain how natural it is and to design your communications to countermand it as in the table below.

Characteristic of global warming[9]Possible communications response
DistantFind local relevance
HugeBreak global warming down into small components
ComplexAcknowledge the complexity but promote scientifically recognised levers for effective decarbonisation (e.g. reducing beef consumption, using public transport,  insulating homes)
Slow moving and invisibleHelp people to notice changes that are happening now
IntergenerationalEngage with young people whose lives are likely to be directly affected by rising temperatures
Challenges our way of lifeSeek solutions that enable people to have a satisfying, if somewhat different, quality-of-life Ensure that the necessary transition to a sustainable economy is well-planned, well explained and that everybody’s needs are thought about fairly

Proceed with confidence based on scientifically sound information

Surveys show that concern about climate change is now high in developed countries and overt denialism seems to be in retreat.[10] Climate communicators can therefore assume an acceptance of the need for action in the abstract but should recognise that specific decarbonisation objectives will need to be repeatedly explained and justified.

Extinction Rebellion scientists have produced a paper that aims to present the crucial facts about the climate emergency. Even the short version runs to several pages, however, so grassroots climate campaigners will need to select a few key points that they want to emphasise, or bring in at appropriate moments. (Drawing this list up might be an important early job for your comms team.)[11]

Adopt a flexible approach based on continual learning

  • Climate communications is not a perfect science, but an on-going process of learning through doing.
  • Climate communicators should research and learn lessons from previous campaigns (their own and others’).

ii. Engagement: get people’s attention / invite them in[12]

People are more likely to be drawn in by activities that look fun, intriguing, non-threatening and heart-warming.

I include this principle on the basis of personal experience with arts-based projects and festivals. Most people enjoy simple, non-threatening activities such as cutting and sticking, drawing and photographing as well as seeing performances – music, drama, poetry, stand-up or film. It doesn’t always have to be artistic. Many Transition groups have run events such as cider-making days or seed-swap days. In the past, Tupperware parties were very popular with women and Ann Summers parties still take place.

However, Stephen Duncombe warns that engaging younger people in the 21st-century may look very different.[13] He advises communicators to think in terms of video-games and exciting spectacles, and to recognise that many young people are now producers themselves, e.g. with their own YouTube channels. 

With each new person or group, ask yourself ‘What is their entry point?’

  • This includes politicians. (See the advice of Hope for the Future on how to research the interests of your local MP and what might be the best way in to a constructive dialogue with them.
  • It can be useful to focus on things people can visualise and care about, e.g. changes in Nature near where they live.

Make and remake a clear contract with each new person or group.

When somebody agrees to engage in an activity, there is always an implicit contract. Communicators should make clear what they are offering or asking for. People will back away if they feel they are being pressurised into something they don’t understand or don’t want to commit to. It is important to gain consent and to regain it regularly. It is easy for people to burn out or feel overwhelmed. This is why Extinction Rebellion has adopted the ambition of developing a ‘regenerative’ internal culture.

Utilize ‘trusted messengers’ and promote new voices to reach beyond the usual suspects.

  • Messengers are often more important than the message.
  • People hear the music not the words; the non-verbal aspects of communication are the most important.
  • Some sections of the population are venomously opposed to people they see as left-leaning, white, middle-class environmentalists. They are more likely to listen to somebody they can identify with, who they believe understands their lives and perspectives.
  • Peer-to-peer approaches are the best; it is worth investing time and money in finding, nurturing and training potential communicators within target areas and communities.
  • Engagement should be targeted at social networks, thus enhancing social capital and increasing the likelihood of peer-to-peer learning.

Including people with conservative values is essential for building effective public engagement.

Climate communicators must embrace those who identify with the centre right and with different faith groups if they are to have a sufficiently wide impact to bring about the new social mandate. For more information on communicating with these groups and others see the excellent guidance documents on the Climate Outreach website.[14]

iii. Rapport: connect / build a relationship

Rapport is a word for when you are ‘in tune’ with somebody – or to use a different metaphor – when you feel you’re ‘walking in step’ with them. Often you can spot from a distance friends who are enjoying each other’s company because they are sitting, standing or walking in similar ways and adopting similar tones of voice, whether laughing together or having an earnest conversation. With some people you have an instant rapport; but in public communications, you will often have to work at it a bit, especially in the first few moments of a conversation. Being warm, open and attentive, and listening respectfully are crucial.

Being in rapport makes a conversation easier – especially a difficult one.

Communications should be tailored to specific audiences, local cultures and local needs:

  • Geert Hofstede has defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.”[15] A down-to-earth definition of culture that is often used nowadays is ‘the way we do things around here’.
  • Do careful research into the culture, worldview, values and beliefs of the person or group you are planning to approach.
  • Start from where they are at – their current state of knowledge and their immediate concerns.
  • Climate communicators might want to be aware of such elements of culture as values, language, symbols, heroes and rituals, as well as more salient aspects, such as religion, food and music.

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and align your climate messages with:

  • their values: what is important to them in their lives
  • the specific issues that matter to them
  • their needs

Be sensitive to context, especially the pressures that people are living with

  • Pick your time and place.
  • Be aware of people’s limited ‘worry bank’ (i.e. we can only worry about so many things on any given day!)
  • Be sensitive to the context of the pandemic (2021); this is an uncertain and worrying time.

Choose words carefully to respect and reflect the interests and values of your audience

This is not a matter of trying to manipulate your audience by using ‘magic words’, which would very likely seem inauthentic. It is more a matter of knowing which words not to use – words that might come over as disrespectful or patronising or which might sound like the vocabulary of a different social group.

Hope for the Future: Apply the above principles to politicians too!

Hope for the Future is an organisation that advises and trains constituents in how to most effectively lobby their local MP around climate change.[16] Their approach is based on Non-Violent Communication (NVC) which emphasises the building of empathy through understanding the other person’s fundamental psychological, physical, social and spiritual needs, such as appreciation, safety, respect, choice and inspiration.[17] They run training courses on their approach which has been effective in building relationships even with politicians who are apparently opposed to action on climate change.

They emphasise the importance of doing research beforehand, going in with the intention of building the relationship, and having a range of ‘asks’ in mind which are things that the person could reasonably do, starting from something very simple that aligns with one of their own priorities. If you want to write to or visit an MP, Hope for the Future can help you with the preparatory research and can even advise you on the best approach.  

Communications should be sensitive to gender and other protected characteristics

Sensitivity to gender is crucial not only when approaching some faith groups but there can be gender-based differences in attitudes to the technical aspects of cutting your carbon footprint e.g. in my experience of running Carbon Conversations groups, the men and women sometimes had different entry points and interests. This is just one aspect of a much larger discussion about being respectful of different groups, and sensitive to the pressures they may be under, including economic and social discrimination in their various forms. At a global level, it is worth noting that the Project Drawdown suggests that the education of girls may be one of the most important decarbonisation strategies, as educated women tend to have fewer children, thus slowing down population growth.[18]

If you have never done any training in unconscious bias, it might be a good thing to do – though I would recommend seeking out a highly experienced and empathetic trainer as this can be quite a challenging experience.

Public engagement should start from people’s values.

People are motivated by shared values and identity, and the joy of belonging. People hear only what confirms their beliefs so they need to hear:

  • This is who you are (someone who cares about these things)
  • Other people like you agree with this/you
  • When you embrace this you belong more to your group (not less)
  • And the world becomes more how you want it to be (not less)[19]
Some notes on speaking to an audience’s values, taken from a presentation by George Marshall from Climate Outreach at the University of Sheffield,  November 2017.  

Consider both the language you use and the narrative you tell.  

FAITH: Use language that works across the five faiths: e.g.
·      The world is a precious gift
·      Climate change is a moral challenge
·      We care for the poor and vulnerable
·      We preserve the legacy of our parents
·      We provide for the future for our children
·      The world is out of balance; climate change is a message that something is wrong.
·      We need action at all levels  

TRADE UNIONS: “Climate change is the biggest social justice issue of all time. We’ve sat out this issue and let it be dominated by middle class environmentalists. We need to be involved and doing what we do best – we need to stand together to protect our communities and our jobs!” [solidarity]

Case Study: Southern US Christians
The audience: conservative evangelical Christians
Values:Biblical truth, responsibility, protect innocents, not-liberal, not-green  

Case Study: Preventing litter
The audience: general public but especially young disaffected men
Values: male pride, tough, macho, anti-authority, defensive/insecure, peer pressure    

Because people hold very different values, mixed groups can be hard to handle; look for shared ‘communal’ values or a common enabling narrative.

  • Communal values that cross party-political divides might be such things as a concern for nature or a dislike of waste.
  • The Common Cause Foundation have led the way in the UK in researching values. They distinguish between extrinsic values which rely on external approval or rewards – such as wealth, power or public image and intrinsic values such as community, love for friends and family and creativity. They have also researched kindness as an important value to promote across the political spectrum.[20]
Segmenting your audience: Britain Talks Climate  

George Marshall and Climate Outreach have undertaken research with a variety of social groups, seeking to understand their values and perspectives and exploring which climate messages chime with them (if at all.) Their reports cover the Centre Right, faith groups, young people, rural councillors, work in Europe, Tunisia, India, Canada, etc.:  

Directly relevant to grassroots communications planning in the UK is Climate Outreach’s 2020 survey, Britain Talks Climate, which segmented the UK population into seven groups or attitudes who could well be considered when planning particular projects or campaigns:

Progressive Activists – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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.[21]  

iv. Conversation: listen and learn

Climate conversations can be spontaneous or planned, short or long. They don’t have to be ‘big picture’, they can be about all kinds of small related topics e.g. “Could you ever give up cheese?”

Listen and have genuine dialogue [22]

The #Talking Climate Handbook produced by Climate Outreach proposes the mnemonic REAL TALK as a set of guidelines for holding productive climate conversations:

  • Respect your conversational partner and find common ground
  • Enjoy the conversation
  • Ask questions
  • Listen, and show you’ve heard
  • Tell your story
  • Action makes it easier (but doesn’t fix it)
  • Learn from the conversation
  • Keep going and keep connected

For shorter training sessions, I have used just the first four letters – REAL (which may be more memorable too.)

It may help your climate conversations to have a cue sheet

In the Climate Communications Hub in Sheffield, we have developed a foldable pocket ‘cue sheet’ to support people with initiating and structuring climate conversations. First collated by Tim Allen coming out of our group conversations, it has evolved over time, e.g. Thame COP took it and adapted it for their community engagement programme in the lead-up to the COP 26 conference in 2021. You may find it useful to adapt too.

The climate conversations cue card we developed in Sheffield, adapted by Thame COP for its ‘community researcher’ project. It can help to have a loose framework in mind, especially if you are having a planned conversation.

Authenticity is critical for building trust

  • Tell the real stories of real people, not PR spin.
  • Tell your own story of concern. Strong communication says who you are, what you care about. Use ‘I’ to make it personal. Why is this important to you? What are your own feelings about the climate emergency? What do you find difficult about reducing your own footprint? How have your own views changed over time?
  • It is important to be authentic, but your communication probably won’t go down well if you are currently feeling desperate or hopeless; better to let somebody else do it (and get some help for yourself.)
  • Vocalise your thoughts about climate change; talk about the things that you are doing to reduce your own carbon footprint.
  • Stories of and from people who have experienced the front line of climate change can be very powerful in bringing the reality of it home.

“Stay with the trouble”[23]

  • Be ready to have tricky conversations e.g. about eating less meat and dairy or travelling differently.
  • When people express views different from yours, take them seriously; ask questions, listen and avoid blaming. The Braver Angels program in the USA offers some very helpful resources in this respect. One of their guidelines is to ‘Connect before you disagree’ (which is another way to say ‘build rapport.’)[24]
  • Take on board Hope for the Future’s advice about talking to politicians: engage them in conversation, don’t just give them a presentation. But do ask difficult questions. Reject ‘stealth strategies’ (when politicians say they would rather address climate change behind-the-scenes); ask them to make the issue upfront and explicit.
  • Based on her psychotherapeutic experience,  Rosemary Randall warns that you may have to deal with ‘projections’ onto you, people saying you’re trying to make them feel guilty. She suggests using the technique of reflecting their comments back to them, e.g. “You seem to see me as a kill-joy! I don’t like that.”

Where appropriate, help people to develop their skills in thinking critically

The literature on climate communications repeatedly emphasises the non-rational nature of human beings and the primacy of emotion. But this does not mean that there is no place for rational argument or for challenging logically invalid arguments. The challenge is to do this with sensitivity and rapport.

When trying to connect understand and connect with people’s worldviews, Critical Thinking practice is good to fall back on. Good practice, led by a  spirit of generosity, revolves around trying to understand (‘reconstruct’) your opponent’s argument before you propose a different point of view.[25]

George Lakoff has written extensively about political values. It might be worth noting that he claims that some people are attracted to the right because it seems to assert a straightforward morality and it engages powerful emotions such as anger and pride; in contrast, the left, he says, comes across as intellectual and equivocating.[26] If you agree with him, you might want to think about keeping your messages simple and direct, with a strong emotional appeal.

v. Messaging: deliver reliable information appropriately / persuade

A range of placards at demonstrations. What exactly do they want observers to understand or do? How helpful would such messages be for people in your target community?
What do we mean by a ‘message’?

I put together this checklist based on a quick internet search. Brief as it is, I think it makes some important distinctions.[27]

Marketing messaging represents how a brand communicates to its customers and highlights the value of its products. “Messages” refer to not only the actual words and phrases used by a brand in advertising but also the feelings and emotions associated with what they say.

A political message is a short, truthful statement that lays out for voters why they should vote for you. Crafting and consistently using a compelling message is essential to persuading targeted voters to vote for you.

What then is a climate message? By extension of the above definitions, a climate message could be said to be a short, compelling statement that persuades citizens to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is relatively straightforward when we are aiming to promote specific behaviour changes. However, we know that the climate and nature emergencies are complex and our messaging is complicated by needing to break through the insidious, multilayered veils of disavowal and denial. So our climate messages may also be about informing, educating, encouraging or provoking thought. And even when a person is reasonably well-informed and reasonably – or even passionately – committed to taking action, there are many questions about which kind of action would be best to take, and bewildered citizens may welcome advice about risks, realities and relative impacts.
It is said that the test of a good political message comes when a campaigner can give a concise, persuasive reply to the question, “Why should I vote for you?” With specific decarbonising behaviour changes, there is a clear parallel. We need to have succinct, persuasive replies to such questions as: Why should I drive less? Why should I eat less meat?
But we might also need answers to questions such as: How do we know for sure? Why should I be bothered if their island goes underwater? How am I supposed to get to work if I don’t use the car? Isn’t it all too late anyway?

Realise that behaviour is complex.

Climate communication is not simply a matter of stating facts clearly; it means engaging with emotions, beliefs, values, etc.

Accept that giving correct information is crucial but, on its own, it is not enough.

It may even be counter-productive, serving only to provoke people to defend their incorrect views. However, feeling confident about the key facts may help people to engage in conversations about the climate emergency. Many people worry that they do not know enough or do not understand the science. This was one of the points made by students feeding back on the pilot climate conversations course I ran at the University of Sheffield in December 2020 and points to the value of providing Carbon Literacy training. (See box below.)

Focus on key messages

  • Simple messages that connect with daily life
  • You don’t need much data (too much data can be off-putting)
  • Promote local activities that will make a difference to the global challenge. This combination is more likely to promote self efficacy: on the one hand the activity is local and therefore accessible; on the other hand, it seems worthwhile in the bigger picture.

In addition, I would suggest that behaviour change messages should:

  • be scientifically sound
  • seem realistic/feasible
  • make sustainable behaviours seem easy and the ‘new normal’
  • be encouraging
  • appear fair
  • address disavowal (seek to make climate change salient and relevant)
  • promote communal values and/or be tailored to specific groups
  • communicate both urgency and agency
  • seek to provoke critical thinking and dialogue
  • be aligned with your organisation’s long-term strategy
  • and ideally be imaginative too.

Produce your own list of pertinent information messages

We discovered when practising and facilitating climate conversations through the Climate Communications Hub in Sheffield that people often felt insecure about their level of knowledge. So, in terms of information messages, your group might consider producing a ‘crib-sheet’ of key facts – perhaps sorted into ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’ and definitely made as relevant as possible to your target audience and your locality.

Sense when people are glazing over

Rosemary Randall points out that people switch off when they reach information overload (which could be after a sentence or two!) At this point, they need help to process what they have heard. If you don’t stop and give them time to do that, you may lose them for the rest of the session.[28]

Always test your messages (with both supporter and opponent audiences.)

Carbon Literacy  

In theory, it is good for people to know the basic facts about global warming (and to correct any misinformation they may have.) The Carbon Literacy Project therefore proposes that every citizen should have one day’s training covering these essential points:
·      What greenhouse gases are, and their relationship to weather and climate
·      How climate here and elsewhere is likely to change, and how we know this
·      How changes in the climate are likely to affect us in our region, in the UK and in other parts of the world
·      How our actions impact on the amount of greenhouse gases produced and the impact that they have
·      What we can do to reduce our impact and the benefits and disadvantages of taking action
·      What we are already doing locally and nationally
·      Where we can go to get help
·      How we can motivate others to take action, including gaining the confidence to express our Carbon Literacy to others  

Phil Korbel, one of the project’s founders, says that citizens need all three of: awareness, ability and motivation. However, he and his colleagues emphasise that carbon literacy training should be delivered in ways compatible with the rest of this document e.g. tailored to the particular group and/or organisation – their interests and needs, delivered in an engaging, interactive way and ideally delivered by peers.  

Those who have completed the training get a certificate which means that there is a certain formality about it and it can work well to deliver it in workplace settings, especially when the standard content is made relevant to that organisation or business. (I think of it as being like ‘doing your First Aid.’)  

The Carbon Literacy Project has produced free training materials for public sector organisations such as universities and is currently exploring the possibility of creating a similar module for community-based training.[29]   Recently it announced a new partnership with a consortium of trainers called Speak Carbon whose role will be to train trainers in order to spread carbon literacy more widely.[30]  

Be wary of abstract nouns / define your terms

When designing messages and giving presentations, climate communicators would be well advised to consider whether the meanings that they give to certain words or phrases might be differently received by their audience. For example, two key words in political discourse are ‘freedom’ and ‘fairness’. These are understood differently by the political right and the political left. One way round this might be to explain your own meaning and/or to ask the audience what they understand by contentious words.

Contextualise individual behaviour change so as to avoid individual blaming

Individual behaviours matter, but only as part of a more integrated and holistic approach, where personal actions have a clear relationship to the bigger picture on energy and climate change.

Relate the day-to-day questions to a bigger purpose and vision

  • Build a shared sense of purpose by asking about the future: how can we live differently and better in ways that meet the need for CO2 reduction?
  • Put climate change in a wider context. The media still tend to see the climate emergency as a self-contained topic not as systemic. In all climate communications, we can make clear how the climate and ecological emergency is affecting every industrial sector and every aspect of our lives.[31]

Make climate science meaningful

  • Tell stories and anecdotes, rather than presenting graphs and statistics
  • Talk about the real world, not abstract ideas
  • Translate scientific language and use no acronyms
  • Use familiar concepts to help people understand science and statistics
  • Adapt the narrative to the group[32]

Bring the climate emergency close to home

  • Make climate change “us, here and now”; not “them, there and then.”

Use images and stories to make climate change real and human

  • Communicate on a human scale
  • Talk about what is already happening
  • Use attractive images
  • Use images that inspire and empower
  • Show people, not pie charts
  • Use multi-pronged strategies
  • Use video games and digital technologies
  • Use storytelling to strengthen engagement

For more on using stories, digital technology and creativity to engage both ordinary citizens and politicians, see my post Should the arts, creativity and stories be at the heart of climate communications and campaigning?

Give clear messages about the most effective actions for ordinary citizens to take  

Climate communicators should ensure they are disseminating clear messages about which actions make the biggest contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is easy for people to get confused about which sources of greenhouse gases are actually the worst and therefore which actions are most effective to take.  

Very commonly, when asked about climate change, people will quickly talk about recycling. Now, Greening Steyning near Brighton have decided to accept this is where people are at, so they run days for people to bring all their recycling into a centre and put it in different bins. The days are popular and serve as a way to make contact with new people, which is great for engagement!

However, the bald reality is that, whilst recycling is an important aspect of developing a circular economy, it will not bring about significant reductions in carbon emissions. The urgent task is to rapidly reduce the greenhouse gases that are being pumped into the atmosphere, preferably to zero.  

Broadly speaking, I see four main strategies to achieve this, that I think it would be helpful for all citizens to be aware of:

Drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the biggest polluters, such as the energy, cement, steel and beef industries.

Change the infrastructure around us, such as transport and buildings, moving away from systems that produce greenhouse gases.

Maximise carbon sinks. Call for radical conservation and restoration policies for natural carbon sinks, as well as exploring the possibilities of carbon capture and storage through artificial means.

Persuade ordinary people to change their behaviours in ways that might be small in themselves but would make a big cumulative difference if everybody did them.  

All four strategies will have more success if governments take the lead. We need massive structural changes if we are to get from ‘two-planet living’ to ‘one-planet living.’ Only governments can pass laws to make emissions reductions compulsory and to create a ‘level playing field’ for businesses. They can also set up systems that will incentivise change (such as taxing carbon emitting industries or providing subsidies to encourage householders to insulate their houses and cut their energy use.)  

However, MPs who want to take action on climate change say they can only do so when they have enough constituents pestering them to do so. So when we are talking to people about what they can do, actually one of the most effective things would be for them to put pressure on their MP and local councillors to pass laws that require or incentivise reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.[33]  

Another meaningful thing that they can do is to set an example in their own lifestyle and encourage family, friends, neighbours and colleagues to follow suit. If nothing else, they/we can help to create what Climate Outreach calls a ‘social mandate’ for change by getting as many people as possible talking about the issues.  

Many books and websites recommend specific actions that ordinary citizens can take. My own list of the five most decarbonising actions, in addition to political action, that people can take is:
1.     Switch your energy supplier to one that uses only renewable energy.
2.     Better insulate your home and turn your heating down.
3.     Eat less meat and dairy foods.
4.     Drive less; walk and cycle more.
5.     Fly less or not at all.  

However, Keith Allott, Director (Power Transition) at the European Climate Foundation gave me a different list when I interviewed him (in 2014.) He saw individual behaviour change as a distraction and said the most important changes to get people to support were strategic, e.g.
·       Accept new technology (e.g. wind farms)
·       Get out of coal
·       Divest pensions from fossil fuels
·       Learn about the relative impacts of different sources of emissions

Margaret Klein Salamon (Climate Mobilisation) also emphasises the systemic nature of the problem. The over-riding message she promotes is to call for a “World War II scale transformation of the economy and society.” (For a full discussion of her viewpoint, see my post ‘Emergency mobilisation’: the heated debate about the harnessing of uncomfortable feelings – and some possible solutions.)  

And not everybody may understand that, as well as reducing our own emissions of carbon dioxide, we need to be adding, maintaining and increasing natural carbon sinks, including oceans, peat bogs and woodlands. Similarly, it is crucial that we preserve the Amazonian rainforest, the so-called ‘lungs of the planet’. This is where the ecological and climate emergencies compound each other and need to be tackled together. Again, most of what needs to be done is at the larger scale, national and international, but ordinary citizens can call for radical conservation and restoration policies, and landowners can model good practice.  

Finally, I note that fashion blogger, Alden Wicker, points out that many actions recommended for individuals to take as ‘conscious consumers’ (in order to reduce their carbon footprints) are little more than gestures. What counts, she says, is politically led infrastructural change.[34]  

Develop your self awareness

  • Reflect on your own values and influences, how you came to hold the beliefs and views that you do.
  • Be aware that your own biases and hidden agendas may come over implicitly, undermining the messages you are attempting to convey.
  • Avoid ‘green’ messaging when speaking to ‘non-greens’. (It’s not their identity.)

Practise what you preach

Climate Outreach says: “People taking action in their personal lives are more likely to persuade others that wider change is needed. When interacting with others, people tend to strongly dislike it if they think someone else is being inconsistent or hypocritical. Climate communicators, advocates and researchers are seen as more convincing — and their advice more likely to be acted upon — if they themselves pursue low-carbon lifestyles.”

Approach scepticism carefully

  • Understand why some people doubt climate change.
  • Acknowledge genuine uncertainty, but do show what you know.
  • If you have good trust and rapport, you may be able to engage people in reflecting critically on their own and others’ arguments; without trust and rapport, all you can do is disagree politely but firmly.
  • Learn how to inoculate people against misinformation, disinformation and denial.
‘Inoculating’ people against denialism  

John Cook has produced a number of resources about how best to spot climate science denial. He bases his approach in critical thinking practice and uses the mnemonic FLICC:
Fake experts
Logical fallacies
Impossible expectations
Cherry picking
Conspiracy theories  

He suggests that the best response to somebody who has been seduced by misinformation, disinformation or denial is to ‘inoculate’ them by explaining these five tactics used by denialists.

More details can be found on his website, in his graphic book ‘Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change” and in the Cranky Uncle app.  

It may be of interest to some that Cook’s approach seems opposed to that of George Lakoff who claims that contesting your opponent’s argument is usually counter-productive, you just give air time to their position and you never change their point of view. I think the distinction is that Cook isn’t getting drawn into all the pros and cons of the ‘evidence’ or arguments put forward by climate sceptics; instead he is explaining the tactics they are using.

The climate scientist, Michael Mann, claims that a surplus of misinformation is more of a problem than a deficit of good information. Although many denialists have now abandoned outright denial, their strategy is to discourage action, to promote ‘inactivism’. Mann says that campaigners need to call this strategy out and take bad faith politicians to task.

He is also suspicious of techno-optimism, as exemplified by Bill Gates in his recent book.[35] He accuses Gates of advocating “dangerous prescriptions and supposed solutions which assume a continuation of business as usual rather than the dramatic and immediate transition off fossil fuels that we actually need.”[36]  

With sensitivity, build on people’s learning from the Covid 19 pandemic

The opportunity of the current unusual situation (2020-21) may be that people are already living outside established norms and may therefore be more open to seeing things differently. When talking to people, it may be possible to draw parallels between the pandemic and the climate emergency e.g. some threats can grow exponentially if rapid action isn’t taken; governments can move rapidly when they need to, including finding money; just as it is hard to prevent an infection from spreading in a globalised world, so global warming crosses all state boundaries; etc. [37] However sensitivity is required to prevent this from seeming tasteless or manipulative.

Public speaking and rhetoric.

In both this and the next section I would ideally have more advice on public speaking skills, rhetoric and persuasion. If you would like to direct me to some concise relevant resources, please contact me at[38]

vi. Empowerment: inspire and enable people to take action

Be positive

  • Be optimistic (crazily so, says environmentalist, Aaron Thierry!)
  • Give inspiring examples of innovative thinking and successful projects
  • Present the fight as winnable
  • Don’t guilt-trip, panic or overwhelm people

If people remain pessimistic, tell them that:

  • Climate scientists such as Michael Mann say there is “still time to make sure it doesn’t get much worse“. When describing where we are at, the appropriate analogy is not a cliff edge, he says; it is better to think of it as a dangerous highway that we have to get off as soon as we can. If we don’t get off at 1.5°, we need to try to get off at 1.6° or 1.7°.
  • The situation is indeed challenging but even if the chance of success is small it is a moral imperative for us to go for it, to make it more likely.[39]

Be action oriented

  • Help people know what they can do
  • Help people to connect with others through doing interesting and useful things together – possibly outdoors, in the natural world
  • Promote activities where people can see a tangible result
  • Promote self efficacy (agency) – help people to believe that they can make a difference
  • Support national and community initiatives which are changing the rules, trying to do things differently

Lead with solutions and benefits

  • Tell people about exciting new technological developments: “Have you heard about…?”
  • Highlight the benefits and co-benefits of taking action (e.g. active travel – walking and cycling – brings health benefits as well as reducing emissions from vehicles)
  • Ask questions that look to a positive future, e.g. “How would you like the world to be in 20 years’ time?”

Make behaviour change easy and rewarding

  • Suggest simple actions with genuine impact
  • Make climate-friendly choices the default option (e.g. at events)
  • Highlight the “green Joneses” i.e. that lots of other people are making changes too
  • Incentivise behaviour with appropriate rewards – including fun

Be realistic

  • … about what you/we can do within our sphere of influence.
  • …about what our target population can do within their sphere of influence.
  • Think in terms of individual actions making a contribution to a society-wide cultural shift over time / being part of a movement.
  • Promote the concept of the ‘activist’s sweet spot’: take actions (1) that you have the skills for, (2) that will make a difference, (3) that are feasible for you, and (4) you would enjoy taking.
  • Prioritise target groups (e.g. faith communities) who are more likely to write or speak to their MPs.
  • Be kind to yourself.

Be aware that people have different levels of agency in relationship to decarbonisation,

e.g. many people do not own their own homes. Even people who have some kind of political, financial or social power have limited influence and they, like the rest of us, are human beings prone to disavowal. Whatever the audience, therefore, actions should only be recommended after consideration of the situation of that audience and the possible obstacles to their taking particular actions.

Think in terms of a ladder or progression in understanding and engagement and plan accordingly.

It might be useful to find or create a model for approaching people with different levels of understanding, engagement or responsibility. This might correspond to the population segmentation in Climate Outreach’s Britain Talks Climate report, for example. Or it may be, that in approaching an MP, using the Hope for the Future model, the initial ‘ask’  is moderate and later ‘asks’ are more challenging.

Climate Outreach’s research shows that “more people undertake low impact individual environmental behaviours in their lives (like recycling or turning off lights), than high-impact behaviours (like eating a plant-based diet or avoiding flying)… People may be undertaking small behaviour change actions not because they think it is the best answer to climate change, but because they can see no other way of reflecting their beliefs and values in their day to day lives. If they can access the knowledge, community support and confidence, they may be prepared to take more significant actions… Once someone adopts a more difficult behaviour, they are also then more likely to adopt other significant impactful behaviours.[40]

‘Communicating lifestyle change (a chapter in the UNEP Emissions Gap Report)’ gives more detail and can be found on the Climate Outreach website.[41]

Channel the power of groups / social norms

People are motivated by sharing and belonging.

  • Mobilize social groups and networks
  • Focus on ‘communal’  rather than ‘self focused’  values.
  • Get kids in on the game
  • Engage Conservatives and people of faith
  • Exclude nobody; we really are all in this together.

Shift from ‘nudge’ to ‘think’ in order to build ‘climate citizenship’

Campaigns focusing on ‘simple and painless’  behaviour changes, such as switching off lights, have not lead to more significant lifestyle changes. Climate Outreach says that social marketing based strategies like the ‘nudge’ approach have not lead to sustained changes in behaviour because they do not involve people reflecting on why the changes matter. Instead, they encourage climate communicators to promote participatory conversations that build a sense of climate citizenship.

Present individual and systemic change as symbiotic / be a model yourself

  • While it is true that we need policymakers to lead on requiring and incentivising structural change systemic change, individual awareness and behaviours contribute to the cultural shift needed to support those policies. Small-scale personal and community actions help people to engage with the larger project;  denigrating them is disempowering.
  • Personal lifestyle changes by climate communicators also convey a sense of authenticity, they restore a sense of integrity when communicating with others.[42]
Carbon Conversations  

Carbon Conversations is an approach to climate education that centres on the idea of supportive group work. Founded in 2006 by psychotherapist Rosemary Randall, Carbon Conversations takes a ‘psycho-social’ approach. Members of a local community meet as a group for six sessions of two hours, over a number of weeks. The groups “combine exploratory participative learning with psychological understanding of how people deal with difficult issues and make changes.”[62]

The group members discuss different aspects of decarbonisation, such as home energy, travel and shopping; they play board games that help them to explore the topic more fully in an engaging way; and they make action plans for reducing their own carbon footprints.

Randall emphasises five principles of the project:
·       The importance of the personal
·       The necessity of connection
·       The power of creativity
·       The richness of diversity
·       The translation of the technical  

These five principles align well with the approach adopted by many grassroots climate groups. Here I would like to emphasise the second principle: we are trying to bring about a cultural shift, to establish new social norms, and to do that you have to connect with others. Consciously or unconsciously, people look to the messages in the society around them as to what is acceptable. Grappling with the information and the challenges of the climate emergency becomes easier if you have the solidarity that comes from being with others. It seems to me that climate communicators at the grassroots should always think in terms of nurturing solidarity, of supporting and developing cohesive community groups, rather than trying to persuade individuals.

That said, it is my own view that not everybody wants to join a ‘course’ or a ‘psycho-social’ group and that many of the messages we need to put over can happen through pro-environmental activities which are less explicit.  

Carbon Conversations remains a wonderful model and a great reference point. The course textbook, In Time For Tomorrow, is an excellent resource for climate education projects.[63]

The challenges with the course itself, I have found, are (a) recruitment and (b) wariness about deep psychological work. The groups I have run have worked best when they grew out of an existing community organisation or faith community and when they focused on practicalities. But I have never run one that dug in very deep.  

Curiously, the one session that got nearest was when none of the women in the group turned up and we had an impromptu men’s group for the evening. I agreed with the men not to proceed with the course materials that evening but rather just to talk about where each of us was at in a relationship to the climate emergency. And then we did have a quite deep conversation. What are the lessons here? That excellent materials such as Carbon Conversations has produced provide a safe, containing structure, but they might also prevent wholehearted reflection and self-disclosure; that the men had built up enough trust by then to feel safe to open up; and that a skilled facilitator knows how to use the materials as a springboard for deeper discussions.[43]

vii. Politicisation: support people into campaigning

I don’t feel that I have enough experience here to include a section of practical tips. What I have done is to explore some ideas and references in a separate post: Politicisation: how can climate communicators help people move into campaigning?


[1] Developing a communications strategy (NVCO):

[2] Keith Allott is critical of activists and campaigners who do things but don’t actually know what result they want to get. (See my post Politicisation: how can climate communicators help people to move into campaigning?)

[3] Dupar, Mairi. (2019.) Communicating climate change: A practitioner’s guide. Insights from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Climate and Development Knowledge Network. Downloadable from:

[4] Corner, Adam and Clarke,  Jamie. (2017) Talking Climate, From Research to Practice in Public Engagement. Oxford, Palgrave.

[5] Marshall, George. (2014.) Don’t Even Think About It. New York, Bloomsbury Publishing.

[6] Weintrobe, Sally (ed.) (2013) Engaging with Climate Change, psychoanalytic and interdisciplinary perspectives. Hove. Routledge.

[7] Beyond optimism or doom: How can we communicate the need for urgent climate action? XR Scientists webinar April 7th 2021

[8] Quoted in Connor, Paul. (2014)  Climate change communication: Key psychological research findings (and why you haven’t heard about them yet).

[9] This list is based on George Marshall’s seminal book on climate communications, Don’t Even Think About It:

[10] Recent surveys (2021) show that public awareness of climate change is high and a majority of people in the UK want to see the government taking action. See Britain Talks Climate launch webinar: researcher Adam Corner says, ”Climate denialism is really dwindling” (38 mins)

[11] Emergency on Planet Earth – Overview & Key Facts:

[12] In From What Is to What If (2019) gives an example of the creative workshop methods of Ruth Ben Tovim. It was from Ruth and her colleague Trish O’Shea that I learned this concept of ‘inviting’ people in. It’s a homey, welcoming idea – not pressuring.

[13] See my post Should the arts, creativity and stories be at the heart of climate communications and campaigning?


[15] Hofstede, Geert. (1994) Cultures and Organizations; Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival. London. HarperCollins Business.

[16] Hope for the Future: For NVC see:

[17] Rosenberg, Marshall. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Accessed at:

[18] Project Drawdown:

[19] Process laid out by George Marshall, University of Sheffield, November 2017.



[22] The #Talking Climate Handbook downloadable at:

[23] Donna Haraway quoted in: Willis, Rebecca. (2020) Too Hot To Handle? The Democratic Challenge of Climate Change. Bristol. Bristol University Press.

[24] Braver Angels focuses on transcending Republican/Democrat polarisation in the USA,  not specifically on the climate emergency.  However, the skills it teaches looks very useful for us too. Membership is very cheap and  they offer free/cheap training and free recordings of debates that they run. See:

[25] For a short description of Critical Thinking see: A fuller description can be found here: A good introductory text is Critical Thinking, The Basics by Stuart Hanscomb (Routledge 2017.)

[26] E.g. (2002). Moral Politics, How Liberal and Conservatives Think. London. University of Chicago Press. Note that Stephen Pinker doesn’t buy Lakoff’s thesis at all:

[27] I found the following websites helpful:

[28] Beyond optimism or doom: How can we communicate the need for urgent climate action? XR Scientists webinar April 7th 2021


[30] Speak Carbon

[31] Beyond optimism or doom: How can we communicate the need for urgent climate action? XR Scientists webinar April 7th 2021

[32] Many of the recommendations in this section are taken from Connecting on Climate, A Guide to Effective Climate Communication (2014) by Eco-America:

[33] I am fully aware that I am describing working within the mainstream. In fact, as I write this, the international COP26 conference has just come to a close with a widespread feeling of disappointment that the world’s governments haven’t gone far enough. There is a feeling amongst activists, as Greta Thunberg has said, “Change is not going to come from inside there [the official conference].” (Nov 1, 2021) So I’m not saying that putting pressure on your local MP and councillors is the only effective action to take and I completely accept that protest and direct action are also needed, along with the training up of skilled and committed leaders for the future. I am also aware that there is a wider – and worrying – debate under way about the limitations of democracy as we know it. At one of the COP 26 events, Prof.Herman E. Ott, a former politician in Germany and now a climate activist, asserted that democratic politics does not allow the radical action that the climate emergency demands because not enough people will vote for any government that takes it. My response to that gloomy proposition is to say (a) let’s improve the quality of our democracy (b) let’s improve the quality of our campaigning, drawing citizens into collaborative critical thinking whenever and wherever possible. (ECOCIDE LAW AND CLIMATE JUSTICEPartner event at COP26 – 52mins in:

[34] Wicker, Alden. (2017.) Conscious consumerism is a lie. Here’s a better way to help save the world. Accessed 05.03.21 at:

[35] Gates, Bill. (2021) How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, the solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need. Penguin Random House UK.

[36] Beyond optimism or doom: How can we communicate the need for urgent climate action? XR Scientists webinar April 7th 2021

[37] See Climate Outreach. Communicating climate change during the Covid-19 crisis (May 2020).

[38] A useful resource on writing and designing an effective short talk is Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo (2014.)

[39] Margaret Klein Salamon at Beyond optimism or doom: How can we communicate the need for urgent climate action? XR Scientists webinar April 7th 2021



[42] Randall and Capstick in Beyond optimism or doom: How can we communicate the need for urgent climate action? XR Scientists webinar April 7th 2021

[43] The two agencies leading on Carbon Conversations training in the UK are: and

Author: Nick Nuttgens

Nick Nuttgens is a retired facilitator, trainer, teacher and theatre maker, now focusing his attention on climate communications and visual art projects. His eclectic career included periods in the arts as a performer, director and choreographer, in the voluntary sector as a manager and trainer, and in education as a primary teacher. At one point, he was the Director of the Creative Partnerships programme in Sheffield, UK, leading on the development of creative approaches to teaching and learning in 75 schools. He was studying for a PhD in creative methods of communicating about climate change until he got cancer (luckily now in remission.) He is one of the co-convenors of a voluntary group based at the University of Sheffield called the Climate Communications Hub. Recent projects include a study group on critical thinking as applied to the climate emergency and ‘climate conversations’ training courses. More about his background, philosophy and values can be found in the About section of this blog.

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