Extinction Rebellion, Greta, changing language, an existential crisis and sir David…
These past few weeks have been choc full of climate activism of different sorts, from the extreme to the sedate, it’s hard to gauge the full effects that these “campaigns” have. Is it individual or cumulative, and may it in some of the more extreme cases be… shock horror… negative? The PhD of yours truly is about communication of environmental issues, and whether (and how) this actually impacts peoples behaviour – so this latest surge of media attention is particularly exciting.
Science tells us that climate change and biodiversity loss is indeed reaching crisis point, and an important question to pose is; is it simply in our nature to reach that point before any real urge to do anything about it arises?
Opinion on the more recent extreme tactics taken by Extinction Rebellion is extremely polarised (if the mood so takes you – follow some of the Twitter feeds – very entertaining). In an era where comparatively little has been done, do we almost need an act of rebellion, or are extreme tactics just off-putting (and in some cases, just plain disruptive) to the general public?
As with most environmental messages, there’s a very real danger of preaching to the converted, and there will always be an element of predisposition towards one extreme or the other, be it due to education level, political affiliation or good old-fashioned peer pressure.
Extinction Rebellion however certainly seem to be achieving their aim of getting as much media attention as possible, and have attracted high profile support from the likes of Emma Thompson and Chris Packham (albeit not always in the most positive manner). The Guardian has even purported to have changed the use of language around climate change in a effort to drive a more serious narrative.
Sir David Attenborough presented us with some stark truths in a (perhaps) more palatable package in the BBC documentary “Climate Change – The Facts” along with some of the more shocking scenes in his recently narrated documentaries. After all, scenes of that walrus mass semi-suicide were enough to shock even the most hardened of hearts.
Another relevant question is do we need an element of extremism to facilitate change? The more extreme of activists after all (to some) make those that are moderate seem like they are talking a lot of sense. The shock factor of plastic pollution as presented by the media, in addition to the hard on the ground work of organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society for example, has been enough to drive public outrage and thus business and policy change.
In addition the School Strike for Climate, figure-headed by the Swedish teen Greta Thunburg, has cemented climate change as the hot topic (pun intended) of the moment and it (I hope) is here to stay. If anyone is after some clarification of the facts, The University of York and Stockholm Environment Institute hosted an “ask a climate scientist” event at the 12th of April school climate strike, and answers from the Q&A can be found here.
The more I read, the more nuanced the effect of environmental campaigns and activism seems to become, however these are questions I hope to go some way towards addressing with my PhD… although the case study may or may not be climate change… watch this space!