I’ve been privileged to work with University College London’s Climate Action Unit over the last couple of years. These very clever folk have studied all of the neuroscience and psychology that helps answer questions such as:
- How should we communicate about Climate Change in order to generate action?
- How can we have cross-sector and cross-functional conversations about Climate Change that lead to meaningful action?
- What can any individual do about such a wicked problem as Climate Change?
The Climate Action Unit do incredible work to create meaningful action on climate change across society from Government to Academia to Religion to Business to Journalists to Local Communities, and in the intersections between.
In this piece I want to pass on some of what I have learned in order to help those organisational leaders who might be grappling with some of these questions too.
How should we communicate about Climate Change in order to generate action? The Climate Action Unit is very clear that fear does not motivate action. Scaring people does not make them feel resourced to take action, unless in very simple contexts where the next step is clear and will definitely remove the danger. If there is a fire and there is a nearby fire exit, a bit of fear might speed up the necessary escape. But climate change is not like that. Easy next steps that directly remove the threat are hard to come by. So what about hope? Well, that’s not so great either because, again, it does not necessarily boost the sense of agency. It can give us the feeling we don’t need to do anything or that others are taking care of it.
What is needed to generate action, is stories of the action of others. Not stories about the issue of climate change, but stories of climate action. The more your organisation can tell stories of what leaders and colleagues are already doing about Climate Change the more likely that others will find their own agency and meaningful actions. We are social learners. These stories should include the struggles and pitfalls along the way. If you want more people in your organisation to do more about climate change, talk honestly about what some people in the organisation are already doing, whether it’s packaging innovation, carbon reduction in the supply chain or community action. Tell stories of action, warts and all. These stories of action lead to more action.
How can we have cross-sector and cross-functional conversations about Climate Change that lead to meaningful action? If you’ve already tried to work across sectors or functions on any complex problem you’ll know it isn’t easy. Cross-sector conversations are beset with politics and misunderstandings. One of the problems the Climate Action Unit see regularly is that the same word can mean something completely different depending on your sector or function. Try asking three different functional leaders how they define the word ‘risk’ and see what you get back. It’s essential that this issue of language is acknowledged and navigated otherwise conversations continue at cross-purposes. Designing sessions and using trained facilitators can make the difference between climate conversations that get to meaningful results and the ones that end up going rapidly South.
What can any individual do about such a wicked problem as Climate Change? It’s easy to get disheartened in the face of the Climate and Ecological Emergency. Many people who have studied the facts in the IPCC Reports or have watched the latest David Attenborough film have experience fear, overwhelm, anger, sadness or hopelessness. I know I have. One of the limiting beliefs I had to get over when thinking about my climate action was the belief that whatever I did had to be BIG. But small things are a place to start, and the more I do, the more I find I can do. What are meaningful actions to me might not be meaningful to you. And that’s OK. We need a diverse multitude of actions. Here are some of mine.
- Talked and written more about climate action.
- Been brave enough to talk about climate action in conversations even when I’m not sure how it will be received.
- Educated myself with podcasts and books.
- Built a wildlife garden – bit by bit. (Have I told you how excited I am about dragonfly larvae?)
- Continued to support my green energy provider.
- Donated to climate causes.
- Made changes to my shopping and travelling habits.
- Got my late Granny’s slow cooker into regular action. Thanks Gran.
- Switched my investments to funds with an ethical and sustainable mission – this was something I took ages to get around to but it was easier than I thought.
- Done more work with the fabulous Climate Action Unit team.
However small your action is, tell someone! It will most likely inspire them to take some climate action of their own. It doesn’t matter if your climate action was taken by accident because it happened to be cheaper or more convenient. It still counts – you’re taking climate action! Tell your climate action story.
Find UCL’s Climate Action Unit here: