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Climate Conversations - why are they so hard?

How many times have you recently heard 'what’s with the weather?' followed by 'hasn’t it been weird'?

Drought, flood, heatwaves, cold snaps – if, as we most often hear, the planet is ‘warming’, why are we having such extremes? Why aren’t we just smoothly rotating our wardrobes from jumpers to Hawaiian shirts?

As NASA’s video shows, understanding the global atmospheric system and separating natural climate drivers – like the earth’s orbit, solar radiation and volcanoes – from human greenhouse gas emissions and their consequences (global warming) is straightforward, simple science. Understanding how this warming impacts our climates is more complex and most complex again, is how that drives our weather patterns.

At the broadest level, what we can say is that we’ve moved out of the stable climate systems humanity has enjoyed for most of its short history, into increasingly unstable systems. We’ve entered a phase of ‘global weirding’ and ‘wonky weather’.

These wonky weather extremes muddy the waters around climate conversations, often being held up as examples of why ‘global warming’ isn’t real. It’s why we too often get bogged down and overwhelmed when trying to explain or understand 'climate change'.

We can’t be blamed for wanting to avoid uncomfortable conversations with the potential for conflict, but we’re not doing our communities any favours by not stepping up for that chat.

A 2018 Yale study found that 70 per cent of Americans accepted global warming is happening, but only 57 per cent knew what was causing it and, more worryingly, only 41 per cent thought it would harm them personally. A low level of public understanding of a changing climate and its associated risks to communities and economies has deep implications to the social licence of local governments to plan and act on their community’s behalf.

Improving the community’s awareness, understanding and acknowledgement of a changing climate is critical to not only building resilience to the negative impacts but, more importantly, identifying and grabbing the opportunities. That’s why the first step in the Q CRC program’s soon to be released Climate Risk Management Framework and Guideline for Queensland Local Governments is all about baselining awareness and communication. The Framework describes a 9-step process to preparing your council, community and key stakeholders to respond to climate risk.

It is possible to have productive and positive climate conversations; Changeology’s Les Robinson cautions against reliance on just ‘stats, facts and logic’ because they may imply the audience is ‘wrong’. He encourages framing a discussion around understanding what people care about, why they care about it and how a changing climate (inject the science here) might negatively or positively affect these values.  Bronwyn Lo suggests using our own stories or experiences to create a local narrative of change, adaptation and resilience.  

The last piece of advice consistently given by the experts, is to keep your community and stakeholders involved throughout the whole process, particularly engaging them in the creation of solutions and how they are to be implemented. It’s extremely important to explaining, justifying and motivating sustained action. And we will need sustained action, by everyone, to rise above this challenge.