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Dealing with the Climate Crisis

Anthony Day helps you plan a sustainable future with expert guests and reports on green technologies from across a warming world.

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Short-term pressures are building. Although the conflict has gone off the headlines, we are all concerned about the continuing situation in Ukraine. In the UK, and no doubt throughout the world, the cost of living is generating headlines, driven by the rise in energy prices. The pressure is particularly acute at the pump because many people have to fill their cars just to get to work. There's inflation at levels not seen for 20 or 30 years and while food prices have gone up there are fears that there could be shortages and prices might be driven still higher.

Long Term Risk

With short-term pressures it's very difficult to consider what to do about longer term risks. The problem is that the climate crisis is such a risk, it hasn't gone away, but people are too preoccupied with day-to-day survival to give it much attention. Unless we get that message across, unless people express concerns about it, it will be ignored by politicians and despite ever more urgent warnings from the IPCC and the rest nothing will be done; certainly nothing will be done in time.

Managing the Message

How do we manage the message? This seems to be a recurring theme for the Sustainable Futures Report , which is hardly surprising, because it's important.

So how do we manage the message? I spoke to a man whose business is communication. He's a prize-winning speaker and he's recently written a book. How to Apologise for Killing a Cat: Rhetoric and the Art of Persuasion will be published by Simon and Schuster on 1st September. The book may be humorous - I’ll look out for it. Our conversation was deadly serious. 

Here’s Guy Doza.

Anthony:

Today I'm talking to Guy Doza. Guy, welcome to the sustainable futures report.

Guy:

Thank you.

Anthony:

Now, you are a writer. Your business is writing, you’re non-partisan and you've worked with all the major political parties. You've written for scientists and research groups to help them get difficult messages across, but you're also a speaker. Your TEDx talk is on YouTube. So are others of your speeches. You're more than a writer. You're a communicator. Is that all right so far?

Guy:

I think that's fair enough. I think that's very generous.

Anthony:

Communicator 

Okay. Well, I like to think of myself as a communicator. My aim is to make people aware of the climate crisis and encourage them to act, to do something about it. As a professional speaker, I found that no one wants to pay for bad news. Now, I know that you think the issue is important, and I know that the IPCC thinks the issue is very, very important, but how do we inform the public without scaring them into total inaction?

Guy:

Next Generation

I think you've touched on some really important points there, Anthony, and I think the big problem about the environmental crisis and the way that we communicate it is, that we're presenting people with two options. Option one is a really bad, devastating outcome. Option two is an even worse, even more devastating outcome. We have to somehow motivate people to fight and work really hard for what is inevitably not going to be the best outcome. How do you motivate people to do something like that, when for many people, they would much rather just bury their head in the sand and ignore the problem and say, it's not my generation's problem? It's the next generation's problem, which has been going on for a really long time now. How we communicate, I'm not going to pretend that I've got answers, but one of the things I can do is maybe talk about some of the problems or some of the strategies that people have used in order to try and communicate it in a way that is hopeful.

Tipping Point

Lots of people talk about the tipping point. Lots of people will say, we have already passed a tipping point. Lots of people are saying we are inevitably approaching a tipping point. Now of course, a tipping point is a metaphor, but that's a metaphor that people really understand. If we have too many people talking about too many different tipping points, people start to not understand the metaphor. When the metaphor becomes not understood, we begin to think, well actually, is this really an issue at all? We tend to switch off. 

Experts

I think one of the things that struck me is that there's a quote, it's actually from George Osborne, the former chancellor, he said, I think it was something along the lines of Britain is fed up of hearing from experts. I think that when it comes to climate change, that's very much the case.

Gloom and Doom

People are fed up of hearing from scientists who are preaching doom and gloom and activists who are preaching doom and gloom. Now whether preaching doom and gloom is the scientifically correct outcome or not, I don't know. I would assume so, because lots of world leading scientists have told us that this is the direction that we're headed in. The big question is how can we actually take our understanding of the current situation of the environment and communicate that in a way that motivates people? That's the challenge that we really face. There are lots of different people and lots of different groups. They're communicating it in many different ways. We have David Attenborough, who's coming up with a very, almost hopeful, approach to the things that we can achieve if we work together and if we do X, Y, or Z. Then we have groups like Extinction Rebellion, who are basically saying, the human race is going to face extinction if we don't act now.

David Attenborough

Now the interesting thing is that David Attenborough also talks about the collapse of society and he does talk about doom and gloom, but no one seems to register it when he talks about it, because I think that in their mind, David Attenborough is separate to Extinction Rebellion. One of the things as a speech writer, that we constantly have to be aware of is what is our audience's preexisting assumptions or understanding of us as a speaker? You have to address that. If you are talking about the environment and you're representing an environmental agency, lots of people will say, this person is an extremist and they'll then cancel that person before that person has said anything.

Extreme

You're starting an argument and say, well, I'm speaking as a vegan, lots of people will cancel you for being a vegan, because they work on the assumption that's a sort of very extreme version of an ideology that they don't necessarily align to. The question is how can you talk to someone about these issues? I think the most important thing is first of all, is to understand what their prejudices are against the campaign that you're representing.

 

Anthony:

Bad Outcomes

Okay, well you said at the beginning of this and it's understandable that they are motivated against it, that the two outcomes are either things are going to be really, really bad or they're going to be equally bad in a slightly different way. Is that actually fundamentally true? I believe there are a lot of people who are saying, if we act now, if we change things and we try and do things differently, then we can survive and to some extent avoid the changes. I think one of the big problems is that everybody, from the citizen in the street, to, in particular, the government, is wedded to business as usual. I think the science is telling us that business is as usual is not sustainable, but that doesn't mean that life is not sustainable if we abandon the business as usual model and we organise ourselves in another way. Do you see that as a possibility? I mean, I'm not necessarily going to say here, “and the way we do it is this”, but I mean, is that not a more saleable message?

 

Guy:

Another Way

I think it's a much more saleable message. I think that people don't like hearing doom and gloom. It's true that certain damage has been done to the environment, which is potentially irreversible, but that shouldn't be doom and gloom. That should be a “look at what has happened now” and “let's try and understand this in a rational way and try and prevent more of this from happening and try and focusing on the positives of what we can achieve if we do work collectively to bring about a sustainable future.” I think that makes a lot more sense than standing up and telling people the situation is, either catastrophic or catastrophic minus one. Let's fight for minus one.

 

Anthony:

Government Power

My view is that it's only governments who have the power to make changes happen and that they are wedded to business as usual. Others would say that governments will only do what people want them or at least allow them to do. Should we be focusing on trying to change governments and political parties, or should we be focusing on trying to change public opinion, which will then force the political parties and governments to follow that?

Guy:

Social Contract

I mean the social contract theory between the citizen and the state is incredibly complicated and different in most states. You very unlikely to find two states that are similar. I think at the end of the day, we have to work on the assumption that a government should be accountable to the people. When something is popular, in Western democratic governments, when something does become popular with, I mean, not obviously the people I'm going to say the voters, then all of a sudden politicians and the government are interested. Actually, if as voters, you can convince your political leaders that you are interested in this, you are more likely to bring about change than if you just sit within an echo chamber and don't actually express those views. One of the conversations I often have with people, who are campaigning for things is they can get very angry.

Write to your MP

They can go on the street, they can chat on a megaphone and I'll say, but have you written a letter to your MP yet? All of them say no. I think, well actually, surely that's the first step. The first step, if you want to bring about some sort of change, is to go through the proper political procedure of lobbying. You write to your MP and you say, this is my view. This is what I'm worried about. If let's say there are 500 people in the constituency who are worried about the environment, and two of them actually send an email, that member of parliament, I'm working on a parliamentary level, but even on the council level, but like that member of parliament thinks, okay, two people are bothered about this.

Popular with Voters

If 500 people in one day sent a letter to their MP and that MP is now inundated with letters saying, what are you doing? That MP is going to think, oh, I need to take up this cause, because it's really popular with voters. Whether that MP actually believes in the environment or not, is a completely separate matter. What that MP wants is to win the election or the next election. If they think actually by taking on this cause, I'm going to tap into this voting group, they're more likely to do it. Actually, that's a way that you can bring about a positive change without necessarily convincing people, the change makers of the policy that you're advocating for.

Anthony:

Citizens’ Assembly

Okay, you mentioned XR and they are banging the drum and warning of human extinction, although perhaps not as extremely as some other bodies, like Deep Adaptation and that sort of thing, but they want to have a citizens assembly. The idea is to get together a randomly selected group of citizens, who will spend some time considering all the issues with the benefit of the best scientific and other brains available to them. Then on the basis of what they decide, on the basis of the knowledge that they've shared, they then advise the government. Does that sound like a reasonable strategy to you? It's a strategy which has worked on other issues in Ireland. Should we be looking at that? 

 

Guy:

Citizen Representatives

I'm afraid I'm probably not the most qualified to talk about the benefits, the equation cons of a citizens’ assembly or not. One of the things that I will say is, it's important to remember and to bear in mind that our parliament, even though they're not randomly selected, they are democratically elected are supposed to be acting almost as a citizen assembly. We have a secretary of state and quite often that secretary of state is not from that field. For example, we do not want to have a former general as our secretary of state for defence. We want to have a citizen representative, who is secretary of state for defence, who then deals with a military from a citizen's perspective. It would, and I think it's healthy to actually view government in that light as opposed to viewing them as just politicians. They are essentially citizens who have decided they are interested in legislation and politics and then have been voted in.

Power for Change

I think that is a preexisting structure that already has a lot of power to bring about change for sustainable future. Then if you are going to have a citizens’ assembly, you need to think, how would that work in relation to the existing government? 

Credibility

Most importantly, how can you make it credible? How can you make it credible so that people don't dismiss it as simply being another extremist group or another extremist initiative? Of course, whether or not XR  are extremists or not lots of people have lots of different views. My personal one is that I'd like to think that they're not, but lots of people would disagree with that. I think they're people who actually see a situation that they have interpreted as being very extreme. They're trying to communicate it. Again, the question falls back to how do you communicate it without sounding hysterical? Once a movement sounds hysterical, people won't listen to it.

Anthony:

Power of the Press

You're right. On the other side, in this country, at least, the press is very powerful. The press has a very strong voice. I think a majority of the press are saying businesses as usual, don't worry about it. Let's talk about something completely different. 

Public Opinion

Again, now you might be able to influence governments by changing public opinion. The purpose I think of newspapers and the media is to change public opinion. The two things are meeting head on or possibly the media are pushing it at open door. I think there's a dilemma there. I don't know how we get around that.

 

Guy:

I think these things all very much interlinked. At the end of the day, the media's objective is to get as many clicks, because it results in more money. The politician's objective is to get as many votes, because it gets...

Anthony:

More money.

Guy:

What people want to read about

More money. Yeah. A job. As well as political influence. At the same time, where do they get their money from? The newspaper gets it by publishing things that they think people want to read about. If they think that people are interested and want to hear about the environment, they will write more about the environment. If they think that by writing about the environment, they're going to depress their readers, who will no longer click onto their news site or buy their newspaper, they're not going to write about that. Essentially, they're going to write what they think will sell as opposed to what they think is right. In the same way that quite often you'll find there are some political leaders who will vote for what they think will make them popular and get them reelected as opposed to what they genuinely believe to be true or right.

Start a conversation 

I do think that actually, if the people are able to somehow communicate to the governments and to the media, this is an issue they care about, then it will start being taken more seriously by all sides. For example, if people try to write columns in newspapers or write letters to their MP's, all of a sudden you're starting a conversation. Once you've started a rational discourse down a certain line, it's more likely to catch on.

XR

I think that whilst Extinction Rebellion are getting lots of criticism for lots of things that they do. I think they are laying the foundation for a more rational discourse. I think a lot of people might not agree with how groups like Extinction Rebellion or Insulate Britain are behaving or what they're doing. I've seen situations where Extinction Rebellion locked people in a bank and people on the street, you can hear them saying, oh, but there are children inside this isn't okay. Or Insulate Britain's sitting on a road and people saying, oh, there's a bus full of school children, who need to get home dark. It is at least starting a conversation and actually without starting a conversation, we're not going to make any progress whatsoever.

 

Anthony:

Enough time?

Yes. Now the voices are getting quite shrill, even from the IPCC and the World Health Organization and more and more messages are saying, but we've got less and less time. How do you feel about this? Are you optimistic that we will swerve at the last minute and we will actually avoid the worst of all these risks that are being broadcast to us?

Guy:

I mean, the truth is I'm not a scientist and I can't say what will or will not happen, but as a communicator, I could say what message I think is more likely to bring change and what message is less likely to bring change.

 

Anthony:

Message to Bring Change

Well, I'm not a scientist either. I'm searching for the message that will bring change. Maybe the message is to take a measured response. It's a question of balancing between panic and complacency. I think it's going to go on being a dilemma, but the least we can do, I think is make sure that people are aware that there's an issue. Hopefully we will gain them momentum to get things sorted out.

 

Guy:

Hostage Negotiator

I was actually on a very interesting workshop many years ago that was run by a hostage negotiator. He said that when you are in a hostage negotiation situation, you cannot try and tell the other person to calm down. What you need to do as a hostage negotiator is you need to meet the other person on the same emotional level that they're on. Then, once you've actually engaged on that emotional level, you can talk about bringing the situation down. His message was that there's a lot that communicators can learn from hostage negotiators. He's absolutely right. There is a lot that we can learn from situations like that. When you have panic, you need to respond with panic. You can't say, oh no, it's fine. Don't worry, you're wrong. You need to say, yes, we understand your panic. We are validating your panic or say even, we understand your panic.

Working Together

Now let's work together to try and find a solution. I think to try and pretend that the panic is misplaced is wrong. I think trying to pretend that there's not enough panic, is also problematic. Lots of people are running around and saying, how are you not depressed about the situation? How are you not doing this? There's a lot of pressure on people on both sides for how they should or shouldn't be responding, which normally doesn't lead to a healthy campaign or a healthy mentality for any message that you are communicating.

 

Anthony:

The Big Issue

It's a big issue. It's a big problem, but thank you very much for sharing your ideas. We've just got to keep the issue going haven't we?

 

Guy:

Keep the Conversation Going

Yeah, absolutely. Keep the conversation going and try to do it in a healthy, constructive way that doesn't promote mass hysteria and panic.

 

Anthony:

Thank you very much for talking to the Sustainable Futures Report.

 

Guy:

Thank you.

 

Guy Doza.

 

Keep the conversation going.

That's it for this Wednesday Interview. There will be another Sustainable Futures Report on Friday.

I’ve got future interviews lined up on battling plastic pollution, plant-based milk substitutes, vertical farming, sustainable conferences and several other topics.

For the moment that was the Wednesday Interview from the Sustainable Futures Report.

I’m Anthony Day.

Until next time.

 

Guy’s Book

 

Guy’s LinkedIn profile and a link to his TEDx talk

 

 

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About Anthony Day

A weekly podcast and blog brought to you by Anthony Day. A selection of stories and interviews aiming to be sustainable, topical and interesting.
And also, I do address conferences.

Anthony Day

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