Talking about the Climate Emergency
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It feels like we’ve known about climate change for ages. But now, more and more people are talking about the climate emergency, its impact on our lives and what it will mean for future generations.

The science tells us that we must prevent temperatures rising by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, to reduce the effects of climate change. To do that, we will need to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions globally by 2050. Net zero means that all the remaining emissions are offset by things like planting trees, which remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Most people accept the need to act. In Fife, a recent opinion poll[1] found that 83% of people agreed with the statement ‘Climate change is an immediate and urgent problem’. But what to do, and who is responsible? It’s easy to say that something must be done, or to wait for others to take the lead. The Climate Action Fife project is about showing how we can all – individuals, communities, businesses and government – play a part in the solution and act now. Working together, we can make a difference.

We can start talking about climate change, bring it into focus and into everyday life.  The Climate Action Fife team has developed this guide Talking about the Climate Emergency to help you start climate conversations in your community. It is the first in a series of guides and tools we are planning, to support climate action in Fife. The guides are based on our own experience, and on the research and resources created by experts in the field.  

We would love to hear your feedback on this guide – please email ea@greenerkirkcaldy.org.uk to let us know if you found it useful, and if there are any topics you would like us to add.

I will – will you?

Every part of society – communities, individuals, business and all levels of government – needs to act.

Globally, action is coordinated by the UN. Their next Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is being held in Glasgow in November 2021. The Scottish Government has committed to a target for ‘net zero’ emissions by 2045, and Fife Council has published the Climate Fife plan setting out ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions. Many businesses are also showing climate leadership.

As individuals, we can encourage action by governments, by telling our elected leaders that we are ready and want the big changes that need to happen. We can influence business, through how we spend and invest our money.  We can also have a direct impact on our own climate ‘footprints’ through the choices we make – for example, where we go on holiday and how we power our homes.

This guide focuses on the impact we can have by working together as communities.

The science

To talk about climate change you don’t need to be an expert and you don’t need to be able to disprove every climate myth. There are thousands of climate scientists globally and 97% of them agree that climate change is a manmade problem and that we need to stop emitting greenhouse gases[2]. You can direct people to credible online sources – some of our favourites are:

Let’s talk

You are a trusted messenger

You are the perfect person to get the conversation going in your community. As a community leader, you have the trust of your community and your peers will listen. If individuals can see themselves in a messenger and see you as ‘on their side’, they will value your message and be more likely to take it to heart.

Be human. Facts and graphs are not enough – for some people, they will instantly result in switching off! Others might try to argue about the details. We need to appeal to the ‘emotional brain’ and not just the rational one. We find that the best approach is to refer to the expert sources listed above, and move on to talking about how the climate emergency affects our lives, locally.

And be brave – try holding a climate conversation in your community. Groups across Fife are doing this in many different ways. In Tayport, PLANT’s Evenings with Climate project supports groups to talk about climate and inspire change. Greener Kirkcaldy runs Wild Walks to explore local green spaces and chat about the changes to our climate. Rosyth EATS weave climate conversations into their work to reduce food waste and encourage local people to grow their own veg.    

If you are new to talking about the climate, try having a conversation about it with your friends or family, or email ea@greenerkirkcaldy.org.uk to ask us about training and support. 

Language matters

We refer to the climate emergency rather than climate change. The phrase ‘climate change’ can sound rather gentle, when this is a crisis – action is needed now. Similarly, we avoid the phrase ‘global warming’, which on a cold Scottish day might sound a bit too appealing. 

Make it relevant

Many people struggle to come to terms with the climate emergency as an issue, and can dismiss it as a problem for another place or for the future. We also all have everyday issues to deal with and only have so much space in our brains, so we tend to focus on more immediate matters.

Making the climate emergency local and relevant is vital to get the conversation going. Knowing your audience and linking the climate emergency to issues that people understand, or have experience of, brings the climate emergency into the real world.

One comment we hear a lot in Fife is that it won’t affect us here. But extreme weather is happening, here and now – local flooding is happening ever more frequently – and sea level is also a real risk to our coastal communities. The opportunities offered by climate solutions, for example green jobs and cleaner air, are also very relevant locally. 

Don’t play the blame game

Guilt is a poor motivator and does not forge lasting change. When we feel like we are being attacked, we tend to get defensive and shut down. Don’t criticise people for their lifestyle or choices. Instead, praise the positive steps they taking, and gently encourage them to build on that.

Focus on the positives

It is easy for people to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the climate emergency, and see it as too difficult to solve. We humans don’t deal well with sustained levels of doom and, after a while, when the perceived threat doesn’t seem to have any impact on us, we can dismiss it from our minds.

So mind your language. Do be honest, and acknowledge the scale of the emergency, and the scale of the solutions required, but also talk about the benefits associated with those solutions. Focus on the rewards of taking action rather than the apparent sacrifices. People who are taking sustainable action report having an improved quality of life![3].  And by taking climate action, we will:

  • Create a fairer society
  • Have more green space for recreation and socialising
  • Be healthier and happier
  • Be more connected to nature.

© CartoonArts International (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

A lot of the changes people can make to ‘go greener’ also save money – for example, energy efficiency is a win-win for the climate and our pockets But be careful not to focus too much on financial savings as an incentive. It can backfire! Firstly, some green measures seem to cost more than the alternative, and secondly, the ‘rebound’ effect – when people use the savings they have made in one area to spend in other areas without thinking about the climate impact. (For example, saving on your fuel bills by being energy efficient, and spending the savings on a weekend away by aeroplane).

Beware Eco-anxiety

We are a worrisome species, we keep track of all threats even if they are not immediate. (This is a feature of our evolution – is that a hungry lion on the horizon?).

Eco-anxiety or climate anxiety simply means anxiety related to the global climate crisis and the threat of environmental disaster. Worry about the climate emergency is affecting more people as global heating becomes more apparent around the world. This is a reasonable and healthy response to this kind of global threat.

There is evidence that by talking about this worry and taking practical steps can lessen its impact on you. The key is not to freeze into inaction when it all seems so overwhelming.

Some advice from Climate Psychologists.

  1. Validate – Accept the negative emotions. Recognise that they are there.
  2. Balance – you did not cause the problem on your own and will not be able to solve it by yourself.
  3. Media blackout – step away to give your brain time to reset.
  4. Connection – connect with likeminded people that are committed to positive action.
  5. Set goals – it’s important to set meaningful goals that you can commit to and achieve.
  6. Celebrate success – we’re often rubbish at this but need to celebrate every success, even if it’s just cutting one day of meat from your diet in this week.

And… Action!

What actions should we be talking about and encouraging people to consider? The answers are different depending on your community and the people you are talking to.  We suggest trying a few things out and seeing what works. 

One idea that works for anyone is to find out their carbon footprint using WWF’s tool – an eye-opener for most people!   

The Scottish Government’s Net Zero Nation website and Fife Council’s What can you do? page are great sources of information on the actions people can take. 

In general we suggest talking about these key behaviours.

Food

  • Eating locally produced, in-season food
  • Enjoying a few more meat-free meals or days each week
  • Avoiding food waste.

Travel

  • Cut down on local car journeys by walking or cycling instead
  • If you need to travel by car, choose an electric vehicle if you can
  • Fly less by holidaying closer to home.

Energy

  • Keep the heat in by making sure your home is well-insulated – anyone in Fife can book a home energy check from Cosy Kingdom
  • Make best use of your heating controls and timer
  • If you can, invest in a low-carbon heating system or renewable energy generation. 

Reduce, Reuse and repair

  • Think whether you really need to buy that thing
  • Reuse or rehome items you no longer want
  • Repairing when you can.

And of course – spread the word

  • Join groups
  • Sign petitions
  • Talk to your friends, families, neighbours and colleagues.

Hopefully, this guide will help!


[1] In March 2020 the Fife People’s Panel carried out a survey about local attitudes towards climate change. 416 people took part, online. The respondents were from all parts of Fife and a wide range of backgrounds.

[2] https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024/pdf;jsessionid=7A015E840E382E518E7763C764921E71.c1.iopscience.cld.iop.org

[3] How to have a climate change conversation webinar 1, Climate Outreach.

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