Communicating Climate in a Complicated World – and why I love 2050 Climate Group

Adventures of a first-timer in a United Nations Climate Conference – Final Part

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The following blog post was originally published on the 2050 Climate Group website, which can be found here .

It is largely inspired by a talk by George Marshall, and most of the points that I make are in fact his; to find out more about his work check out his organisation Climate Outreach or read his excellent book “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”.

Finally, for ease: this is the last post I will write about COP23, if you haven’t yet stumbled into the previous ones you can find them here: Part 1 , Part 2 , Round-Up .

“It is such a precious thing, this conference. People who are all passionate about climate change, discussing solutions, research, projects, and policies. Everyone is keen. Everyone is interested. Everyone is buzzing.

It’s a shame that that’s all pretty much restricted to this event though.

When we go home, we go back to the silence on climate change. Most people don’t talk about climate change in their everyday lives. People around us are concerned, but don’t voice it, don’t engage with it, and more often than not don’t see it as an immediate issue that they have to do something about in their own lives, or one that impacts them. It’s in the future, it’s those poor polar bears, it’s in the small island states and in Africa. While this motivates some people to buy clean energy, turn down the heating or vote for greener candidates, most people are more concerned about immediate issues (or ones they perceive as such): getting a job, paying their bills, getting food for your children, getting a mortgage. Climate change is indeed big and bad, but essentially something somewhere else, for somebody else with more time on their hands to do.

One of the things I’ve constantly been impressed with about 2050 Climate Group is how it really addresses this issue, through making climate change relevant for young professionals by bringing it to the sphere where we have to operate in. We might want to do something about climate change, but often focus instead on things that will pay our bills, add experience to our CVs, or build us networks. 2050 fits into that framework. It makes being a part of the global action against climate change useful and fun to us, in our own specific terms, together with other people like us.

Yesterday I attended a talk by George Marshall, and I realised how special and crucial that is. George Marshall is a climate change communicator and the founder of Climate Outreach, a non-profit research organisation supporting those that want to work on climate communications. He stresses that tailoring the message is crucial; too often we use the same polar bear and disaster images, too often the messages are tailored to us who are already keen and identify with the issue, not to those that are not. Especially as we see the global politics reaching points where major countries can elect leaders that don’t believe in climate change, we, as people who know that this should not be a partisan issue, should acknowledge that we have allowed it to become one. There are values that we all hold dear involved in promoting climate change action, but they are not the same values for those on the left, as for those on the centre right, or those in faith communities, or environmental activists, or coal worker communities, or British people or Finnish people or Chinese people. For some it’s a question of justice and planetary environment, and those messages get aired often; for others it’s about fairness, or working together, or bringing the world to balance, preserving our heritage, protecting the world that is a gift from God, or keeping champagne production possible in Champagne. Authenticity is key; we want to see people who are like us, and care about the same things as we do, tell us that we can work together to protect those things. That’s why we can’t leave talking about climate change to environmental activists; their messages are relevant for people like them, but then again, people like them are in most cases already engaged.

Most importantly, these conversations need to happen and continue to happen, outside this bubble. Often they aren’t easy; at least I often inherently assume that no-one else is interested and that I come across as nagging, which is unlikely to be true. We need to create space, and have conversations, and make spaces for conversations that are appealing and create communities. The 2050 Climate Group has provided that for many of us; now we need to continue to spread it out to everyone else.”

COP23 – Highlights

Adventures of a first-timer in a United Nations Climate Conference – Round-Up

After a day travelling home on trains (for those interested: Bonn-Cologne-Brussels-London-Edinburgh, 9am-7.30pm), and another one catching up with life admin at home, I thought it’d be nice to do a little round-up post gathering highlights from the trip through the interactive medium of a collection of tweets. You’ll notice that most of them carry the hashtag #2050atCOP23 . I was at the COP as a part of the delegation of 2050 Climate Group (so many thanks for 2050 for the opportunity to go, as well as to the University of Edinburgh who helped us get accredited!), and that hashtag was our way of tracking what we had been up to. You can use it to find out what the week 2 crew are up to at the moment. Also check out the group at www.2050.scot ; we work on engaging, educating and empowering young people to take the lead in tackling climate change.

This will not be my last blog post from COP23 – one is currently going through organisational check-ups as I wrote it for the 2050 Climate Group – but it’ll provide a bit of an overview of the event as a whole for anyone interested.

As those of you who read the first blog post I wrote about COP23 will know, I arrived at the event directly from the plane, with flat hair and loose-fitting jeans.

The first event I made it to was a press conference on using legal means to act on climate change. The panelists included young people who’d sued their government over climate change. It was acknowledged that legal processes are often slow, boring and incomprehensible for those of us that haven’t studied law, but that that shouldn’t stop us from using them. Attention was also drawn on the crucial part that scientists being able to attribute single events to climate change plays in making litigation possible.

I did also follow some of the actual negotiations, although not much as it was immensely slow and difficult to follow, even having studied the Paris Agreement in great detail.  This discussion was on the Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement, in which developed countries agree to disclose information on climate finance streams, and on how exactly that would work in practice.

The next day was the youth day of the conference, and included this panel of young African women discussing the lack of engagement by African youth in climate decision-making, due to political and resource reasons.

You’ll notice that this is when I discovered the grid app for photos. The third day I attended was the energy day, when I hopped around a good half a dozen energy events.

…and also saw Al Gore.

The space in the COP is divided to a few areas. There is the “Bula Zone” which hosts the negotiations and only some of the participants have access. Then there is the “Bonn Zone”, where a variety of ‘side events’ take place, in a dozen meeting rooms, but also in pavilions hosted by various countries. The Nordic Council of Ministers shared a space, which was one of the coziest pavilions in the area (although some were hard to beat; India with its occasional yoga classes, Fiji and sing-along sessions in the evenings, and Germany and free coffee, for example).

I wish I’d taken a selfie with him, but the conversation was so interesting that it didn’t cross my mind! George Marshall is one of my favourite climate people (read his book, “Don’t Even Think About It!”) and he held a talk in the UK Pavilion, which ended up lasting over 2 hours and was easily one of my favourite parts of the whole COP.

My second trip to the Bula Zone included this midway stocktake of the progress of the negotiations. Very interesting, although I felt that most of the disagreement was in the sub-text which I didn’t quite understand. Next time.

Loss and damage is one of the more contentious issues of climate negotiations. Also, look at the Fiji Pavilion! So lovely!

This was the first event in which we as the 2050 Climate Group took part. It was a busy event by Adaptation Scotland on climate-ready cities in Scotland, and how Adaptation Scotland, Climate Ready Clyde and 2050 Climate Group work on addressing adaptation across Scotland, and particularly in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

By the time we were on it was standing room only at the event (!)

Then there was our own event! In which we all spoke, presenting the current work and future plans of 2050 Climate Group, and running a workshop on youth participation in policy-making.

Natalie Bennett was also there, which was pretty cool (!) – generally we had a really good audience, the room was full with engaged people interested in increasing participation and engagement of young people across the world.

Like I mentioned earlier, the trip home was a full-day train adventure across northern Europe and the UK. Virgin Trains East Coast kindly provided us with free travel from London to Edinburgh, which made the trip that much more affordable for us, as we covered all other expenses ourselves, the volunteers that we are.

Even in this year that has been packed with exciting things, this past week stands out. Part-festival, part-negotiations, part-education, I came out of the COP23 being more committed, more confident and more excited than ever. The big changes that are bound to happen in the next few years and decades will not be easy. But I am ready.

Listening to The Enemy on Energy Day at COP23

Adventures of a first-timer in a United Nations Climate Conference – Part 2

A couple of days in, and I’m starting to adapt to the world that is the COP23. The formal COP23 app, while not as convenient as it could be, sends me alerts on all the events I’ve highlighted; every 15 minutes I get a reminder of several things I can’t make it to because there’s just so much going on and I can only be in one place at a time. And sometimes need to eat. But it is nice; there is never a dull moment and always something to do or learn or explore. Today was particularly tough on the overlapping events front as one of the themes was energy, one of my main interests in this context. And while I attended plenty of events, the key insights of the day I got from two occasions where actors that would easily be considered “the enemy” braved the stage.

It should be noted here that I absolutely think everyone, whatever their industry, should be involved in the transition to a low-carbon economy, and that companies and people involved in, for example, fossil fuels, have plenty of expertise and knowledge that we should be directing to the right direction, instead of casting them aside. This is one of the key thoughts I had going into environmental politics from offshore energy industry recruitment; that there is no point in having people with so much knowledge and expertise sit idly at home when they could help provide the technical expertise necessary for renewables and who knows what else. Jeff Merkley, the Senator of the State of Oregon, also brought this up today – that in the name of social justice and a just transition, it is important that no fossil fuel worker is left behind.

Regardless, it’s hard to not see these companies and organisations as a little out of place in a conference full of defendants of the environment and people swearing by renewable energy. The Energy Day opening event had a representative of Shell defend their continued relevance in this changing time. He argued that the transport sector low-carbon transition will require both time, during which demand for fossil fuels will continue, and extended infrastructure, in which Shell is involved through, for example, providing electric car charging facilities and a pilot hydrogen refuelling station in London. He also argued that while power generation is reaching a point where a pathway is visible for decarbonisation, other industries such as cement, metallurgy, shipping and aviation show currently no clear path forward, which will sustain the demand for fossil fuel services. An audience member challenged Shell on continuing to drill for more fossil fuels at a time where we can’t afford to burn them if we’re to reach the Paris Agreement targets; the Shell representative turned to demand and supply arguments and declared an aim for a managed transition to defend the company’s actions. I’m not sure how convinced I am by this, but it is clear that it is the responsibility of users to reduce demand, rather than expect fossil fuel companies to reduce supply unless there is a business case for it.

From one controversial actor to another. Via a detour to see (the less controversial) Al Gore speak – providing the room with terrifying images of the changing environment and exciting prospects for the future, which was inspiring even if there was nothing particularly new in what he was saying – I followed up with a panel on aviation, featuring an international airline organisation and representatives of various airports. It was a difficult event to attend; on one hand, I felt that the incremental changes proposed by the airlines were nowhere near enough, and as much as I appreciate the efforts of airports to go zero-carbon in their activities, it feels a bit beside the point to focus on having LED lights at airports when their existence supports high-emitting planes coming and going. On the other hand however, what is the alternative? We are used to a connected world, and while some air transport can be replaced by high-speed trains and video-conferences, I can’t see people willing to stop flying entirely – including myself. In that light, having airlines commit to carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and a reduction in emissions thereafter is… something? There were also some interesting new things for me: for example, that 5% of airline emissions are emitted taxiing on the ground, and that planes have to take inefficient routes to avoid military airspaces, go round country borders and due to poor airport navigation.

This having been my first full day at the COP (from 9.30am to 7pm and counting), I find myself exhausted from the amount of information and people and action. As I am writing this, I’m sitting next to a stage and in the background there is a young man playing guitar and singing (Despacito at the moment, it seems), so I think I’m going to leave you with a few videos of some of the entertainment I’ve seen here. It’s not all deep discussions here, sometimes there is a need for men (or women; but in this instance, men) and guitars.

And now for some entertainment! #cop23

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Thoughts of a COP newbie

Adventures of a first-timer in a United Nations Climate Conference – Part 1

I know it has been radio silence from me for a few weeks. A combination of work, volunteer projects, and many travels got in the way of writing much. I have a backlog of a few posts that I’m going to be posting in the next few weeks as things calm down (if they do – life as a freelance environmentalist has so far proven to be full of unexpected projects, twists and turns!) but right now I’m keen to document the exciting adventure I’m currently living through – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties, affectionately called COP23 by those following these kinds of things.

I arrived in Bonn yesterday and, perhaps against common sense, immediately made my way to the conference. In my travelling gear I was an odd sight among the formally dressed negotiators, observers and members of the media – although not as much as I could have been, as some of the people were definitely only slightly scrubbed-up field environmentalists and activists rather than career diplomats. Interesting mix of people. I like it.

I was recommended not to write a formal blog post on the first day I arrive by some more experienced COP-goers, and I understand why – taking it all in is an intense experience, I ended up wandering aimlessly and ending up in various events mostly by chance for most of the afternoon and evening, and got to my accommodation exhausted afterwards. But I also want to record these impressions, because it already all kinda makes sense, and I want to remember how it feels like when it didn’t.

Like I said, I attended events mostly by accident. I went to a press conference on the use of litigation as a form of climate action, and listened to young people who have sued countries and actors for climate change, and to lawyers and scientists who work in attributing climate events to climate change to help these cases. I sat in formal negotiations on climate finance mechanisms, and they were just as confusing and detailed as I expected, although I hadn’t quite processed how incredibly long it takes to get anywhere when you have all the countries of the world wanting to say “we thank this body for its work and appreciate it”. And I couldn’t help feeling disoriented by the fact that the delegates become the countries – “EU, you have the floor”, “Thank you Philippines”, these are real people, but also not. I also went to an event by Climate Action Tracker, which discussed the mostly insufficient national commitments to climate action. It left me waiting for news from the US – the #WeAreStillIn non-federal campaign should be announcing exciting things soon – and also aware of the changes in the field, from equity and fair-sharing principles to the ever-speeding up development. Where we are now is not promising – but there are things happening all across the world that give me hope that change is coming, fast.

The Bonn Zone – the area where countries and organisations present their work, hold side events, and which is accessible to much more people than the Bula Zone which hosts the negotiations – is an exciting hub of beautiful projects, interesting commitments and people who are interested in the same thing as me. It’s much more free-form – we were listening to singing from the Fiji Pavilion as we sat in the EU pavilion at the Climate Action Tracker event, India Pavilion was running yoga and the Nordic Pavilion had gin & tonics (although only for attendees of events – I need to turn up earlier next time!).

The question is, of course, will I, or the COP, save the world while we are here? Probably not. However, what I can see is many people working for the same goals through different methods in different places, sharing information, ideas, inspiration and best practice, and getting motivated by each other; and that just, maybe, might.

Meet Refuse Refuse!

Aiming for a better world with less waste, through art.

In this blog post, I thought I’d share a project I have been working on together with a few fellow Masters’ graduands (fun fact: graduand is a word for a person who has finished working for a degree but has yet to graduate. I bet you didn’t know that, unless you have been one. The spellchecker on this site clearly doesn’t).

I recently wrote a post outlining the project, which is called “Refuse Refuse!”, on its website (which you can find here). I’m cross-posting it here as this is going to be a large part of my life in the next month or so. In 10 days’ time, I will be heading to the US to attend Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), promoting the project, networking, hopefully attracting some funders, and sharing ideas with other ambitious people from around the world.

So what am I talking about?

After much preparation throughout the last year, we are excited to introduce “Refuse Refuse!” – an interactive arts installation project, inspired by behavioural-change research, to be presented at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in approximately a month’s time.

The physical project will see daylight later in the year, piloting at the University of Edinburgh with further potential in other universities and schools across the city and the UK. But before this, there’s still plenty of work to be done, from drafting and building to funding and publicity. The project planning was mostly done as a part of our application to Clinton Global Initiative University, and we thought it would be good to share the plans with all of you. Comments are wholeheartedly welcome, and if you would like to collaborate or help please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Essentially, “Refuse Refuse!” wants to refuse accumulating more refuse on campus and raise awareness of how closed-loop systems can mitigate climate change and improve working conditions for waste workers.

“Refuse Refuse!” was initiated as a Clinton Global Initiative University project, which means that it was designed to be new, measurable and attainable right from the start. ‘’Refuse Refuse!’’ advocates for sustainable, climate-conscious behaviour by addressing the carbon footprint of disposable items and poor recycling practices, combining art, academic behavioural-change research and environmental advocacy. We approach waste-management problems through the medium of accessible, interactive theatre installations, informed by behavioural psychology.

The initial project of the RR team is a portable theatre installation replicating a recycling conveyor belt of a waste facility. Theatre installations are especially suited to behavioural-change work, with their ability to be social, interactive, emotional, non-judgemental and fun. The “Refuse Refuse!” project is inspired by visits to Edinburgh’s municipal recycling facility, and presents to university students the reality of waste and recycling, addressing their individual values and knowledge, while engaging them in a sociable experience both through their engagement with the installation and through social-media networks. This addresses the Social and Individual aspects of the three-part ISM model of behavioural change – the aspects most lacking in the university context, as we see it.

The objective of “Refuse Refuse!” is to engage students to reduce, refuse or recycle waste properly; as mentioned above, we aim to shorten the disconnect between waste and how it’s processed through hands-on, memorable participation in an art installation. In the short-term, our goal is to build an understanding among students of waste management and recycling; in the long-term we aim to create social norms of waste reduction and good recycling practices. We want to lead the change for a sustainable future by encouraging students to see the impact of their actions on others and on the environment.

In short, our project will encourage people to “Refuse Refuse”!

An evening of repurposing, or let’s make a future we want

I recently read a blog post by Siiri Kärkkäinen, unfortunately only available in Finnish as far as I’m aware, in which my almost-namesake discusses the cleaning up ethos that focuses on throwing unwanted or unloved things away, made famous by Marie Kondo, and its ethically and environmentally deeply problematic nature. Having only just done a big clean-up, which included going through my wardrobe and creating bags of clothes to be donated to charity shops, this got me thinking about the lifecycles of clothes, and what message this lifestyle provides to our brains.

I acquire most of my clothes second-hand, from charity shops and from friends who no longer need them. I eventually pass most of them back to charity shops. Thus on the surface I don’t seem to create much waste or use many resources, if any, right? Probably wrong, unfortunately. This approach leads to diluting responsibility. The responsibility for the creation of the piece of clothing, the (probably poorly paid) labour, the natural resources, the transport emissions, thins between the person who bought it the first time but donated it and the people buying it again, until no-one feels the need to care. Charity shops do an excellent job at both reducing waste and gathering money for good causes, but they support the fundamentally problematic idea that we can constantly keep renewing our wardrobe without consequences. Someone working in a charity shop can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming not everything gets sold. Things get transported from one shop to another until they are deemed un-sellable and probably recycled. And for every thing that gets donated to a shop, something else is likely to be bought. Boredom over clothes remains a valid reason for abandoning functional things, new things are bought, and useable clothes go to waste because they weren’t fashionable enough right now.

While I take an issue with this, simultaneously I don’t want to build a sustainable future in which we can’t have nice things. Having to live with the same out-of-style, over-stretched, faded clothes for the rest of their life (or mine) is a bleak idea. So I turned to the 5 R’s of waste reduction: refuse, reduce, re-use, re-purpose (or reform, or repair) and recycle – a mantra with many versions but a shared core, to avoid getting new things and to keep using things you have as long as possible. In the name of reducing (not buying new nice things) and repurposing, I set off to Pinterest, the magic source of all things crafts. Following the excellent demonstrations / instructions here and here I spent the evening cutting things up and weaving things together. You can see the results at the end of this post – I didn’t realise to take before-photos, but both tees were originally those figure-hugging long-sleeve tee-shirts which I have no idea why I had – maybe as layer shirts for camping? Alas, my biannual camping habits don’t require three different-coloured tees – and definitely had no use for.

I finished my crafting session a few hours later with a somewhat renewed wardrobe, which lacked two long-sleeve shirts that had sat at the bottom of the drawer for months if not years, and included two nice new shirts. Nothing has needed to be carried around, displayed in a shop, or otherwise has spent energy and time in a loop that could have led to them eventually being recycled – a process which reduces the possible uses of the material and uses up energy. And I had fun; I love crafting and so instead of buying yarn and knitting yet another hat that I don’t need, I used the materials I had at hand.

I realise that while I’m generally pro-political change, these first few posts have focused heavily on individual changes. I think this is largely because I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment and so can make and document changes in my personal life. Additionally, I like documenting things I enjoy, because it addresses an issue I have with the mainstream environmentalist discourse: its general bleak and grim outlook. Sure, there absolutely are challenges, and at the lack of political action these will increase (my thoughts are with those suffering from the current floods and storms around the world), but a world of circular economy and sustainable food and low-carbon society does not need to be a sad place – if we act fast enough. It doesn’t need to be a you-can’t-go-anywhere-or-have-things world. We don’t need to feel guilty about being alive and doing things we love. But the more we learn to love things that are good for the planet around us, the better. Things like weaving funky sleeves and plaiting exciting necklines to originally boring clothes.

IMAG0765
Funky-sleeves top for outdoors summer days
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Long-sleeve crop top with plaited neckline – result of a few “whoops, this wasn’t what I meant to do – oh well I’ll roll with it” moments

On food

This is a post about food. It requires a bit of a preface as there are reasons why I like discussing food, meat, animal products and carbon footprints of foodstuffs, but also reasons why I hesitate to bring these up. The more I have engaged with environmentalism and climate change in particular, the more I’ve realised that these are ultimately structural problems, not the individual ones that they are often presented as. Climate change isn’t about not leaving your tap open when brushing your teeth; it’s about fossil fuel subsidies, plastic bag charges, unsustainable agricultural subsidy structures and poor bicycle lanes. Political action will change these things more than any individual action, but it is easy for politicians to focus on what people could do so that they, as well as big businesses, get off the hook.

However, there are a few things which are cultural and which won’t be changed by politics but only by individual and social decisions. One of the biggest of these is food.

I feel that food discussions end up being conflicts so often when they shouldn’t. Because of this, I’d like to start by saying that I am not telling anyone to stop eating meat or animal products (not even to myself – see below). However, it is a fact that the rate at which we eat meat in particular is simply too high, and if this is not acknowledged it will not be addressed. New approaches to food can include new creative recipes, new creative baking (I’ve had many amazing moist vegan brownies), re-visiting traditional recipes (just the other day made ratatouille which is vegan). Not all solutions need to be all-or-nothing, or focus on giving up things that you enjoy – when creating a sustainable future, it shouldn’t be a dystopia, but rather a world where we want to live in. So if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, and know people who eat meat with every meal because they don’t think veggie food is filling/tasty/interesting enough or because they don’t know how to cook vegetarian/vegan, invite them for dinner! Or if you fall into the latter category, shout out and I’m sure you’ll find friends who are happy to teach you delicious and filling meals made out of vegetarian/vegan ingredients.

As for me, my approach to food is that I have been ‘mostly vegetarian’ ever since I moved out of my parents’ house, so for about six years. I don’t like placing strict limits on anything I do really; this approach also suits my main reason for being a vegetarian, that is, planetary health. I eat meat when I travel, because I feel it’s a part of the culture I’m experiencing, and a small addition to the emissions I’ve already created to go travelling. I eat meat when it is offered to me or when it would go to waste. I also eat meat when I feel anaemia coming along, or, finally, when I really want to (although this last one I’ve been lately starting to limit, instead sometimes eating meat when I feel I deserve a treat). I don’t know how to cook meat because I’ve never regularly done so. I’ve heard “you’re a bad vegetarian” more times than I can count which is getting a bit old, but I find the term ‘flexitarian’ somewhat jarring to my ears, hence ‘mostly vegetarian’ despite the comments. I have cut probably about 95% of my meat consumption, so my conscience can deal with it most of the time.

Lately I’ve also been slowly cutting down non-meat animal products. I’m at an early stage of the process, eating more vegan meals, figuring out how to get all the nutrients, and testing alternatives to cow milk (which is a central part of my breakfasts which are a central part of my diet, I’m a morning eater). In my head this balances out that 5% of meat, which I don’t want to cut out because of the reasons above, and also because I don’t want my body to start rejecting meat; as a person with allergies, I feel I shouldn’t create any more things that my body cannot handle.

If you have any favourite vegan/vegetarian recipes, please feel free to add them in the comments! Here is the Ratatouille recipe I used that was mentioned above (link to a Jamie Oliver recipe page in case you are suspicious).