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Mainstreaming climate change

I never thought the day would come when I’d find myself agreeing with the TaxPayers’ Alliance over three environmentalists.  But a recent event I went to re-inforced some key points about how we should and shouldn’t communicate environmental messages.

In a debate about the role of local government in tackling climate change we heard statements about the need to “wean ourselves off our addictive way of life” and a treatise on the wrongs of our capitalist society.

I agree with aspects of those statements, and share a desire for more sustainable ways of life that don’t put irreversible burdens on the earth’s natural resources. I also agree that we need to consume less and look for measures of success other than growth. But engaging the general public with our aspirations for change is central to achieving these aims.

So when the TPA director rebutted the claim that his ideas were beyond rational debate by saying “all three of you oppose capitalism and economic growth but you think I’m the one beyond rational debate and outside the mainstream?” I could see his point.

We’ve done lots of work at Green Alliance on communicating environmental messages in ways that engage people and are relevant to their lives. The environment may never be near the top of people’s priority lists, let alone the number one thing they care about. So it falls to us to find ways of making environmental choices easier, more desirable and integrated with decisions people make about maintaining their home, how to travel and what to eat.

We also have to provide a compelling vision of the benefits of making environmental choices, rather than painting a negative picture of lifestyles that involve threatening amounts of change for many people.

Ultimately, we need to sell the future we want to see, but we can’t afford to do so on our own terms. Environmental organisations are increasingly aware of this and the need to be able to answer challenges like that from the TPA, demonstrating that environmental action can, and should be, mainstream.

Written by

Faye is head of research at Green Alliance and leads their work on public engagement with infrastructure, localism and cities. Prior to joining Green Alliance Faye worked at Involve, a public participation think tank, the Environment Council and Defra.

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