Imperial College London

Climate change needs a compelling story to turn thoughts into actions

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Climate change needs a compelling story to turn thoughts into actions

New research suggests that people need to feel part of a narrative about climate change and its solutions before they get involved with global action.

Concerted action will be required across the globe in order to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change, yet a substantial ‘action gap’ exists between recommendations and what is currently being done.

According to a team of researchers from Imperial College London and King's College London, disjointed messages about climate change confuse people, leaving them unsure what they can do.

We need to engage everyone in tackling climate change and make it part of their story

– Simon Bushell

Energy Futures Lab

In a new article published in Nature Climate Change, they call for a strong, coherent storyline that paints a picture of the valuable role people can play in achieving the shared goals of avoiding dangerous climate change, and unites ordinary people with policymakers, business and industry leaders.

“We need to engage everyone in tackling climate change and make it part of their story,” says Simon Bushell of Imperial’s Energy Futures Lab, one of the paper’s authors. “A great example is the cleaner working at NASA in the 1960s, who explained to President Kennedy ‘I’m helping put a man on the moon.’ ”

It is human nature to make sense of complex issues by building narratives that link events, actions and facts, which might otherwise seem unconnected. Research has shown that strategic narratives are an effective policy tool to galvanise support from the public and other stakeholders across industry, businesses and politics.

According to the article, a strategic narrative around climate change could create a sense of unity, inspire key actors to work towards a shared goal and act as a driving force for behavioural change and effective policy action.

“Climate change is a real and present danger and the world seems unable to form a coherent approach to tackling it,” says Bushell, “We believe that unless we can create a compelling, global, plan of action we risk alienating the public and compounding problems for future generations.”

Developing a strategic narrative would require input from a wide range of people in government, industry and society. While these groups might all have different motivations for preventing climate change, they all can contribute to the creation of a coherent, unifying message. Once in place, policies, activities and communications can feed into the wider narrative, building public support and motivating cohesive action.

“This is not a case of pulling everyone into a big room, bashing out an agreement and hey presto we’re done,” says Bushell “This is a long term iterative process based on common principles but with constantly evolving activities.”

"A unified narrative for climate change" (DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2726) was published in Nature Climate Change by Simon Bushell and Dr Mark Workman of Imperial College London, with Thomas Colley of King’s College London. It is based on work undertaken by Simon Bushell as part of his thesis for the MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures offered by Energy Futures Lab.

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Simon Levey

Simon Levey
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 5650
Email: s.levey@imperial.ac.uk

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Neasan O'Neill

Neasan O'Neill
Faculty of Engineering

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Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk
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Climate-change, Energy
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