Climate Change: A Deadly Silence

There is a 97 per cent consensus among scientists. Ice caps are melting. Sea temperatures are rising. And yet we’ve dumped 200 billion tonnes of CO₂ into the atmosphere in the last seven years. Are we in denial about climate change and, as a result, unwilling to even talk about it?

Will climate change ever be discussed down the pub?

Will climate change ever be discussed down the pub?

In October 2014 I attended a talk by George Marshall, co-founder of the Climate Outreach & Information Network (COIN). He said climate change is a subject that invokes public silence. COIN surveyed a group of 18-25 year olds to gauge their views. The result? Climate change is a difficult subject to talk about because it comes with a “certain stigma of being ‘uncool’ or it’s considered preachy to do so”. COIN also found that people with children are less likely to talk about climate change than those without children. A startling fact when you consider predictions about its future impact.

But it’s not surprising that people feel this way when even the best communicators in the business – advertising agencies – are lost for words on the subject. “I’ve worked in the industry for 20 years and that’s the first time I’ve been asked about climate change,” revealed one executive from M&C Saatchi when interviewed for a project called Break the Silence. “To be fair, I don’t think it’s talked about anywhere,” added another.

Recent research by the RSA has found that while many of us accept the moral imperative to act, we continue to live as if it’s not happening. Their report, A New Agenda for Climate Change, states that climate change should not be “viewed as a green issue that is peripheral to everyday concerns, but a social, economic and security issue that is relevant to everybody”. It recommends creating platforms for public discussion so that climate change “becomes a topic of conversation in the way ‘the economy’ or ‘schools’ or ‘the NHS’ is at present.”

So while the scientific and environmental communities have been discussing climate change for decades, it appears that we have somehow left the rest of society out of the conversation. We’ve used narratives that appeal to people with shared values, while ignoring the fact that they may not engage others. Many people remain silent because they believe that it’s not relevant to them and they are powerless to do anything about it. It’s our job to explain how it is relevant. And to offer practical solutions of what each one of us can do to help. Only then can we start a global conversation on climate change.

This article first appeared in the December 2014 edition of Chagos News.

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