We need to be positive when we’re talking about climate change

Glasgow is hosting COP26 at the moment, with world leaders coming together to try to find a solution to the urgent issue of climate change and global warming. There is a tendency, particularly in the press, to focus on the negative – but is that a problem in itself? Writing the day before the start of the conference, Mel and Alex discuss how focusing on the positive could be a better way forward.

Mel Young: I live in Scotland and COP26 is about to take place in Glasgow. Like everywhere else in the world, the global conference has been at the top of the news agenda. But most of that news has been negative in Scotland. The media takes particular delight in focusing on everything in a negative light. 

They say it will be impossible to get around the city because of the security around the conference and possible demonstrations. They talk about strikes and unhappiness and this against a general media backdrop about how COP 26 will fail. 

But I take a different view. Isn’t it brilliant that all these decision-makers are coming together to try to come up with practical solutions to halt climate change and save the planet? This has to be a good thing. 

And the people I speak to in Glasgow, particularly the young people, are excited and proud that their city is hosting this global, potentially life-changing event! So, I am positive. Shouldn’t we all start talking in positive terms about this rather than following the media’s ongoing messages of doom, Alex?

Alex Matthews: Yes I absolutely agree. This is a great opportunity for the world’s leaders to create policies that will have a real impact on the future of the planet. While you and I have a lot to say about global leadership (and have said it in the past), now is a time for us all to get behind them and to let them know that the world is waiting for them to create meaningful change.

It is exciting for the UK and particularly for Scotland that we are hosting COP26, and it’s an opportunity for us – hopefully – to demonstrate leadership in this area. There are so many exciting environmental and sustainable initiatives in this country – from social enterprises, from young people, from communities and from all areas of society. How exciting would it be if the government looked at ways to support and elevate them, to bring their efforts and their impact together? We’ve spoken to some of these people driving change on the podcast – Patrick Holden, Tamzin Ractliffe and John Elkington, for example. I would love to see more of a spotlight on them and the thousands like them. 

MY: I think this is the right way to look at things. Political leaders can’t seem to resist pointing fingers, blaming one another and creating a negative narrative, all of which the media thrives on. What we need is a global vision that transcends borders. There are people around the world who understand how vital tackling the climate challenge actually is. We can create a change in the global system by changing the way we live – I agree with you that we should be focusing on people who have created constructive policies. People like John Elkington have been talking about this for years – they have solutions. We need to build on this and create a constructive and positive vision as we move forward. COP26 presents us with an opportunity and we should grab it right now.

AM: I think that’s the key – the constructive, positive vision you mention is so important. I’ve noticed that I am struggling to read any of the press coverage surrounding COP26 as it’s so negative, and it makes me really anxious – so I’ve stopped reading it. I’m ashamed to admit it as it’s so important to be informed on such an important issue – and it’s important that we know the reality of our situation. But I don’t think I’m the only one who has a block. It would be great to hear more about the people who are doing something already, who are already having a positive impact, who can inspire the rest of us to take positive action. At the moment, I feel paralysed and I’m sure many others do too, but wouldn’t it be great if we could be collectively inspired?

MY: I think that’s an important insight. I know other people who care deeply about the issue but who are getting turned off by all the ‘noise’ associated with this conference. It is as if people are all screaming at once and a lot of it is the usual political and media tribalism which is a complete turn-off. And the outcomes for the planet, unless we do something, are too awful to contemplate, so we are all becoming very anxious and also feeling powerless to do anything. We really need to focus on the positive initiatives which are creating genuine impact as you suggest. 

AM: Yes – so we need to listen to and be inspired by the people who are already doing something – and, importantly, we need to listen to young people. They are the ones who have been brought up being told that the wellbeing of the planet is the most important issue of our age, and they really understand the urgency of the situation. They are demanding change, and many of them – an obvious example is Greta Thunberg – are doing so in an effective, eloquent and powerful way. It might sound glib, but if I was a leader at COP26 right now, I would be tempted to set up a global ‘save the planet’ task force that would be empowered with the ability to create and implement policies, with an upper age limit of 30. Then we would start to see meaningful change. What do you think of that idea?!

MY: Why not? It is something constructive. There has been enough ‘blah blah’ – it is time for action. I’d have young people leading a task force like that. The politicians and the media are living in an old paradigm and we need to move into a new one!

AM: And, of course, that’s what we talk about at The New Ism. We’re hosting some exciting conversations with young changemakers in the coming weeks, which will be released as episodes of our podcast. We can’t wait to hear what they have to say on the planet and many other issues!

Image: Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

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