Solutions to Climate Change; by the People, for the People

5 March 2019


Banner Image by SueTot Creative Commons

Solutions to climate change; by the people, for the people

Jamie Ward, NERC Policy Intern, Centre for Science and Policy (January – April 2019)

In this seminar, Craig Bennett, CEO at Friends of the Earth, explains the importance of engaging and empowering the public in the fight against climate change.

Climate change has been repeatedly described as humanity’s greatest threat and action by government is generally considered unambitious and insufficient. Craig Bennett, CEO at Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), argues that solutions to the climate change challenge should come from and be done by the people, not to them. During this seminar, he describes how public engagement is missing from the climate change conversation and provides examples of the impacts this has had on government policies.

To listen to his talk, please click on the link below:

Craig began by describing how the climate change discussion often heavily involves graphs, statistics and concepts that are used to preach to the public that climate change is an issue they should worry about. He explains the public are usually told, rather than engaged, which means they have no ownership of the problem. Because of this, it can be harder to instigate changes that will affect the public without a negative reaction. Craig argues that the debate needs to be looked at from the perspective of the people, an aspect that has been neglected in the climate change discussion.

In recent history, there have been numerous examples of how vital public opinion has been for legislation change. For example, campaigns on saving the dying bee population, divestment and saving the Arctic have all had a major impact on the actions of the government and companies. Craig focussed on the save the bees campaign as a good example of making a complex issue accessible, and ultimately, being a driving force for change. By engaging the public with an issue they already had some knowledge of – the dying bee population – Friends of the Earth were then able to increase awareness of the need to increase biodiversity, for which bees play a major part. By generating awareness and aligning people with the issue, it became part of their persona and made action much more likely.

Craig also described how getting people to commit to something small, like putting a free sticker in their window, aligns them with the issue and makes them more likely to commit to something bigger in the future. With the bee campaign, a significant amount of time was spent engaging the people with the issue by using methods like handing out stickers, giving people free seeds to plant and even having an app dedicated to bees. By the time they were asked to write to their MPs, the response was enormous and because of this, changes such as a ban to bee-harming neonics have been put in place. The time spent building awareness and aligning people with this issue was vital to the campaign’s effectiveness. Craig explained that when this awareness and alignment is not present, i.e. when policies are introduced without consultation with the public, it can lead to backlash and protest, which hinders potential change. The yellow jacket protests in France and fuel tax protests in the UK are examples of this. In both cases, the importance of reducing fuel consumption in the fight against climate change was not communicated for long enough and, as a result, the changes have had a significant push back.

The lecture section of the seminar rounded off with a plea from Craig for climate scientists, social scientists and political scientists to increase communication and collaboration between them and consider the public’s perspective and their actions as part of the debate.

Questions were then taken from the audience with a diverse range of topics and a general theme of trying to get more and faster action from NGOs, the public and government. The main points discussed included: The importance of having diversity of action within a climate change movement; a need for NGOs to cooperate more in fields such as health and environment; the need to make any action required by people as easy as possible; and that climate change requires urgent action, so is there enough time to engage the public fully before instigating the required change?

Craig Bennett

The Wildlife Trusts