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Engaging on climate change with evidence and communication

  • by JW

Why the crazy 15-minute city conspiracy theory is no laughing matter.” [New European]

“We should change the discourse by replacing “net zero” with “stopping climate change” because he believes this would enable the case to be made more clearly.”


Things are progressing very slowly when it comes to ‘doing anything’ on climate change – with the county and Exeter councils having made commitments some four years ago, but not moving much since then:  We already know what to do about the climate crisis. We must get on with doing it as fast as we can. – Exeter Observer

There are two issues here which might explain why things are moving so slowly.

Firstly, there is the problem of arriving at a solid evidence base for many of the ‘sub-issues’ – for example agriculture in general and rearing animals for meat in particular: 

Livestock systems must progress on the basis of the highest scientific standards. They are too precious to society to become the victim of simplification, reductionism or zealotry. These systems must continue to be embedded in and have broad approval of society. For that, scientists are asked to provide reliable evidence of their nutrition and health benefits, environmental sustainability, socio-cultural and economic values, as well as for solutions for the many improvements that are needed. This declaration aims to give voice to the many scientists around the world who research diligently, honestly and successfully in the various disciplines in order to achieve a balanced view of the future of animal agriculture. The Dublin declaration of scientists

A second issue would be communicating not only the scientific evidence but engaging with people beyond those already interested or active: 

We should take account of the research finding that “the most consistently persuasive messages were all simple narratives of shared destiny or concern.” While climate breakdown has hit disadvantaged people hardest up to now, we will gain the much greater level of support we need by emphasising its terrible existential threat to us all. Effective communication needed to avoid tipping points on climate disaster — Chartist

One place where evidence and communication/engagement has broken down is in the increasingly fraught idea of the ’15-minute neighbourhood’, covered in these pages: The 15-minute city: the 15-minute town – Vision Group for Sidmouth and The 15-minute neighbourhood: valuing our places on foot – Vision Group for Sidmouth and 15-minute neighbourhoods for Sidmouth – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Image Sources: Image1_Concept_©Tree Hugger

CLÁR NÍ CHONGHAILE of The New European reports from Oxford, with a few excerpts from an excellent piece here:

The tip of the iceberg

Why the crazy 15-minute city conspiracy theory is no laughing matter

How on earth did an urban planning model – the 15-minute city – spawn the fantasy that a shadowy cabal is aiming to lock the populace in their homes, denying us permission to move around freely and monitoring our every second? And why have these fears about a concept designed to cut pollution taken root in the city of Oxford?

“We’ve seen a combination of people who have deliberately manipulated the situation and misrepresented the facts and have caused outrage among people… who have probably not realised that they have been manipulated,” says Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics. “The fact that (the 15-minute city conspiracy theory) is rising shows we are not doing a good enough job of engaging that fringe and they are now open to this kind of cynical manipulation… We have to be very careful not to ignore this because it can escalate and it can become very dangerous, and we should be tackling it.”

The 15-minute city conspiracy says that a decades-old urban planning concept meant to make our cities more liveable and less polluted is in fact an international socialist plot run by a capitalist cabal to create a surveillance society that will make George Orwell’s 1984 look like a fairytale. Behind this dystopia, the argument goes, is a shadowy elite determined to deprive people of their freedoms in the name of fighting climate change. The theory that we could create more liveable cities has been around for decades, but its latest iteration is the brainchild of French-Colombian professor Carlos Moreno, director of Pantheon-Sorbonne University’s ETI Lab, who conceived of the model as a way to reduce emissions. When Moreno laid out his idea to me in an interview for the New European last December, it didn’t sound particularly evil: “The 15-minute city idea involves developing more social interactions and economic integration, relocalisation of jobs, developing more quiet public spaces and transforming streets so they serve humans rather than cars.” 

It seems a no-brainer, but in February hundreds of people marched through the streets of Oxford to voice their opposition to this model, which has somehow become synonymous with traffic restrictions causing problems for some car owners in the city. There isn’t in fact a direct link: Oxford has said it hopes to be a 15-minute city by 2040, but as the fact-checking organisation Full Fact states: “The traffic filter scheme is separate to the ‘15-minute neighbourhoods’ proposal being considered as part of Oxford City Council’s Local Plan 2040, which won’t confine residents to their local area.” Authorities in Bristol, Birmingham, Canterbury, Ipswich and Sheffield have also said they hope to bring in a 15-minute city plan. It is also being implemented in cities around the world, including in Paris… 

The investigative journalism organisation DeSmog said Not Our Future was backed by “a network of high-profile climate deniers and conspiracy theorists based in the UK, Canada, the United States and Australia”. Founding signatories listed on Not Our Future’s website include Kathy Gyngell, a trustee of the Tufton Street-based Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s main climate science denial group, which also campaigns as Net Zero Watch; the veteran climate denier James Delingpole; the actor Laurence Fox, head of the Reclaim Party; and prominent Australian climate denier Peter Clack...

The problem is that in a post-truth political landscape, false narratives around net zero and other climate change-battling policies can thrive. Lewandowsky said: “There are a lot of vested interests and a lot of political capital that are unhappy about net zero because it cuts into profits or a way of life and they think we can’t afford it. It is impossible to anticipate whether they will prevail. Who knows. It certainly isn’t helpful to have this stuff going on.” Ward says we should change the discourse by replacing “net zero” with “stopping climate change” because he believes this would enable the case to be made more clearly. Otherwise, net zero could become a political football with potentially devastating consequences…

The tip of the iceberg – The New European