Tag Archives: environment

“Coal. Guns. Freedom”: Facts Fail Climate Comms


Facts alone are failing in the war on climate change communication. Instead, to truly engage, we need to share experience. Without the privilege of person-person contact, this can still be achieved remotely by inspiring others through art, to create their own experiences.

Understanding arising from experience is far more powerful than factual knowledge alone. This has been known for aeons and yet we are still failing to connect people to their environment in a way that persuades them to protect, rather than destroy, something that they are part of.

The Problem

Yesterday’s US mid-term elections are a prime example of the conservation movement’s failure “to move” the voter. To quote Brad Plumber at Vox:

Republican Mitch McConnell's re-election slogan. And it worked...

Republican Mitch McConnell’s re-election slogan. And it worked…

You had billionaire Tom Steyer spending $67 million trying to convince voters to care about global warming. You had the League of Conservation Voters pouring in another $25 million, more than in the previous two elections combined. All the while, some outlets were suggesting that recent natural disasters — from Hurricane Sandy two years ago to the ongoing drought in the West — just might push climate issues to the fore”.

Yet despite these efforts – based on pushing facts and reason – Republicans won control of the Senate by a ‘slam dunk’. The now Republican Majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, was re-elected on the back of the campaign motto “Coal. Guns. Freedom”. Recent polls show that only 36% of Republicans consider the environment an important issues, compared to 69% Democrats.

This is just days after Europe’s leaders compromised heavily on Climate Targets for 2030. While Angela Merkel was pushing for higher energy efficiency and emissions reduction targets, eastern European countries and the UK negotiated downwards. (See end results here).  The eastern countries’ unfounded fear of limiting potential economic growth is understandable, but the UK’s goading by UKIP is not. The fact that the UK government is being pushed around by a minority party on the right, who has less democratic representation than any party (including the Greens) on the left, shows a failure of imagination in communication. Arguably, this is the failure of everyone who believes in more social equality – but the environmental lobby can’t escape unscathed.

Bored Board by NaBHaN

Bored Board by NaBHaN

The facts that we’re pushing just aren’t being taken on board by a bored audience.

The Answer
Help is at hand from ancient wisdom – wisdom stretching from China dating over two millennia ago, to the surprising sagacity of Hollywood today:

  • “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”
    Xunzi, Chinese Confucian Philosopher, 340-245 BC.
  • The only kind of learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered or self-appropriated learning – truth that has been assimilated in experience. – Carl Rogers, American Psychologist, 1902-1987 AD.
  • Fictional Psychologist Sean Maguire, Good Will Hunting, 1998.

But how to share experience?



Unfortunately, environmentalists can’t physically connect everyone to their outside world. We can’t stage other peoples’ journeys of discovery, helping them realise how our interconnected nature means that their actions are affect all of life, and how they can positively affect others by making some different choices.

We don’t have enough time, power, nor moral right, to directly force everyone to this understanding directly.


I know where I’d like to be! Tannenwald (c) Gustav Klimt

But as human beings, we do have the unique ability to inspire. While a small number of species outside H. Sapiens may demonstrate culture, none have been able to express themselves as complexly as we have. Art, in all its forms is an expression of humanity and helps individuals share experiences through a remote medium.

While we seem to be unique in our ability to destroy, the human race is unique in its ability to create and imagine.

My argument is that environmental communicators now need to harness this power. Artists have always been inspired by nature, as have scientists. We now need to bring these two groups together to inspire others in the truth that surrounds them.


Skyscape from the Indian Ocean

Skyscape from the Indian Ocean

Skyscape, Indian Ocean

A view of the sky at sunset, from a pole and line fishing vessel, anchored in the middle of a Maldivian atoll.

August 2013.


Buildings, Mountains, Man.

Buildings, Mountains, Man.

I recently visited Kuala Lumpur for work purposes. On a brief sightseeing jaunt, I leaned from the viewing platform of KL’s largest tower (KL Menara), and snapped this image; a gleaming, glittering cityscape, paying testament to man’s ability to work together for the purpose of shaping a home.

But behind the towers was what I’d really been interested in: the forested mountains of western Malaysia surrounding the capital. While not as immediately obvious as a source of shelter and protection as the buildings, they regulated the climate, provided a watershed, recycled our polluted air.

We need both. If humankind can work together to build these monumental edifices of steel and glass, surely we can work together to protect our forested defenders.


So – I am super impressed. Further to last night’s self-flagellation and my email to Marks & Sparks querying the sustainable sourcing of my favourite nut salad – I was expecting at least a few days’ wait for some ethical … Continue reading

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All Talk, No Action – Me, Myself & I.

(c) www.iwastesomuchtime.comI’ve recently realised that while I talk the talk, I don’t always walk the walk of sustainability.

I spend all day working for an organisation exploring how we can fish sustainably; I spend many of my evenings thinking about how we can engage people in these issues, and furrowing my brow over why we’re not living a more engaged democracy at a time of environmental crisis. Yet the rather concerning truth is – I, personally, could do more – a lot more.

I love the chat, chew the fat and then fly to New York for a city break. I eat turkey for breakfast and have a penchant for ready-prepared tropical fruits – whose carbon footprint I’m sure is astronomical.

My personal carbon footrpint’s not too shabby – but much of this is due to passive circumstances rather than my own action. I don’t drive, as I can’t drive; I walk to work, but that’s powered by fat fears rather than eco-love; I live in a flat with an energy of rating is A, but that’s the way it came, not the way I made it.

Not to be too self-flagellating – I do make a few positive choices – I always carry a plastic bag around with me, and I make a point of buying fairtrade/organic/sustainable label wherever possible. I’m a member of the Green Party, Greenpeace and I always turn the tap off when I’m brushing my teeth.

But that’s about it!

So. A decision has been made. I have committed to doing at least two proactive things per week in order to “make a change”. Ghandi and all that. etc.

The first is a letter to Marks & Sparks regarding their delicious and I’ve no doubt nutritious “Nutty Super Wholefood Salad“. This is a salad I simply adore – I eat it for lunch five days a week – and last week, I had it for breakfast too.

But I’m guessing that the soya beans (in the soy sauce) may have come from somewhere suspect. My worse fears is that my love for vegetable protein is leading to the deforestation of some glorious prime rainforest. Moreover, I’ve recently read some troubling reports of how quinoa production is causing food security fears and poverty in South America.

Accordingly, I need to act.On consideration, I’ve decided to write an email to the lovely people at M&S. My plan is that this will, if nothing else, prove that some of their customers are concerned regarding the sustainable and ethical sourcing of their goods. Of course, I could avoid all doubt by trying to stop eating the salad altogether. But realistically, my will power is too weak, and I’d simply end up trying to suppress some well-placed guilt.

So the email’s sent off (screen shot attached), and I’ll let you know if they respond. In the meantime, I need to think of another action before next week. I’m sure there tons – so let me know if you think of any?

I want to take responsibility for the world I live in, but realise that I’ve been shirking my role in doing this, while trying to orchestrate others to take the path I haven’t yet travelled.

Time to talk less, do more.

Email to Marks & Sparks 2nd June 2013

Listening & Emotion: A Better Way to Connect?

As part of the Conservation/Sustainability movement, I’m a bit tired of the way in which “we explain” to people why they should care about their environment.

I would like to start asking people why they value their environment. And I may be wrong, but I don’t think the answer will be ecosystem goods and services. 

I think many people may have much more of an emotional connection than we currently give credence. Nature gives us a sense of perspective, inspires awe, wonder and delights us aesthetically. Perhaps this is the most powerful way we can connect with one another about nature?

Walk in the Woods (c) danielkearney.blogspot.com -

Walk in the Woods (c) danielkearney.blogspot.com –

After all, we’re happy to join together in serving gods who give us emotional solace,  yet we currently seem only able to talk about how nature can serve us. 


I’ve recently discovered a theory of change which suggests we should appeal to human values rather than rationale – “Common Cause”. Could such a movement could take some cues from religion? Common Cause is a group of researchers who have … Continue reading

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