Youth Climate Communications: a pilot

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On 24th February, 12 young people, aged 15-24, headed to UWE Bristol’s Prototype and Play Lab, in the School of Engineering, for a training day in Climate Communications. Passionate about addressing the climate and ecological emergency, and eager to learn and connect with likeminded people (figure 1), the delegates came from across the Bristol area, with representation from five different schools/colleges and from the University.

Figure 1 Why the young people took part in the training.

The young people were recruited through the Avon Schools Eco Network, CCC-Catapult and through the researchers’ student networks, with the researchers full-knowing this was already a captive audience with some experience in climate communication (figure 2). While the training was free, with lunch vouchers provided and travel costs covered if needed, in exchange the young people were required to provide detailed feedback on the sessions. This feedback would then allow the researchers to adapt and evolve the training, so it could be replicated, converted into different formats (e.g., e-learning and guidebooks) and scaled to other youth groups and schools regionally, nationally and internationally.

Figure 2 The types of communication the young people have tried before.

The training emerged out of the collective interest of researchers at UWE Bristol, from the Science Communication Unit, FET, ABE and DGEM, keen to share their knowledge with and empower the younger generation. The first to live through climate breakdown since a young age, over half of young people experience some form of climate-related anxiety (Hickman et al. 2021). While some level of anxiety is a natural response to an external threat (Clayton, 2020) and can act as a motivator (Taylor, 2020), too much can be debilitating (Hrabok et al. 2020). To steer young people away from overwhelm, timely action, forethought and trust in science are needed (Manzanedo & Manning, 2020). And according to Climate Outreach, to resonate with young people we, as adults, need to validate their negative thoughts while avoiding overly optimistic communications, and provide resources that can alleviate their anxiety[1].

Drawing on this research, and the interests of young people, the Science Communication Unit shaped the programme of activities to build trust in the need for well-thought through evidence-based communications, tailored to audience that have the most power and influence to make impactful pro-environmental decisions.

Using the example of solar panels, Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers and Research Fellow Sophie Laggan explained that why one household may buy solar panels for environmental reasons, others will do so out of economic/energy security, while others still will do so because their neighbours did – because it is the ‘norm’. These different ways of viewing the world shape how we make decisions, and it is only through meeting people where they are at that we can forge meaningful dialogue and promote pro-environmental change.

The participants ran with this idea in a role-playing exercise where they tried to convince someone ‘not like them’ – and in a position of power and influence – to install solar panels on the roof of their school. With a bit of context about what makes their partner tick, the participants were able to tap into the other person’s values and use it to their advantage.

Following lunch and a tour of the Campus’s community garden led by a UWE Bristol student, the group returned for an engagement activity on passive houses with Dr Deborah Adkins. Each table were given a wooden replica of a typical UK house and asked to stick post-its on the areas they thought could be improved for sustainability, everything from solar panels to insulation and green roofs. The task was accompanied by a short presentation, allowing the participants to learn more about sustainable housing.

Deborah’s session was followed by a more depth explanation of the value of physical engagement activities, by Sophie, with the chance for each participant to prototype their design for an engagement activity based on the issue that mattered to them, be that local food or slow fashion. Their issues of concern were formulated in the opening session of the day – “Start with the why”.

The day was concluded by top tips by Josh Warren on filmmaking on a budget, before the young people were set to task on recording their own short film on a sustainability topic. The group enjoyed watching each other’s films and spent the last few minutes of the day reflecting on how valuable the day was for their activism and general understanding of people ‘not like them’.

Analysis of the before and after surveys, revealed some promising findings, which the project team will now monitor in future training activities. Perhaps most significantly, the young people’s negative thoughts (scared, angry, concerned, powerless, guilty, confused) all reduced following the training (except for mournful) and positive thoughts increased (empowered, hopeful, optimistic and determined) (figure 3).

Figure 3 How young people feel about the climate and ecological crisis (asked before and after the workshop).

Confidence in communication skills also increased. For instance, 100% felt confident/very confident in engaging their audience after the training, compared to just 11% (N=1) before (figure 4).

Figure 4 Before and after confidence levels in communication skills.

Nearly all participants rated the activities highly, with the eco house activity and ‘start with the why’ activity receiving the highest praise (figure 5). The average scores were attributed to either a lack of time to fully explore a topic or a lack of scaffolding to support the pupils to come up with good ideas.

Figure 5 Young people’s rating of the main activities. (None rated less than average (below 3 out of 5)).

Lastly, survey respondents were asked if anything was missing from the day. Suggestions included training on social media, graphics and poster design and engaging children, as well as time to provide more examples of communication best practice.

Next steps

Shortly after the training day the team found out they were successful in their bid to the HEIF FET-FBL Award. This now means that the training can be replicated again, in person, to different youth groups, with a focus on from more diverse backgrounds, and that they can create e-learnings and printable toolkits. This work sits under the umbrella of the Climate Action Hub at UWE Bristol, which acts as a space for researchers to connect with communities interested in tackling the climate and ecological emergency. To facilitate this exchange, the Hub is looking at setting up a Staff Network to allow staff the time to build these connections. If you are interested in connecting to the Hub in any way, or have ideas on how it should operate, then please contact Sophie.laggan@uwe.ac.uk.

In the coming weeks we will publish a blog written by one of the participants, who will share their experiences from the day.

This training was led by Research Fellow Sophie Laggan, Associate Professor Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers, Senior Lecturer Dr Deborah Adkins and Josh Warren.

By Sophie Laggan, Research Fellow in the Air Quality Resource Management Centre at UWE Bristol.

References:

Clayton, S., 2020. Climate anxiety: Psychological responses to climate change. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 74, p.102263.

Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R.E., Mayall, E.E., Wray, B., Mellor, C. and van Susteren, L., 2021. Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health5(12), pp.e863-e873.

Hrabok, M., Delorme, A. and Agyapong, V.I., 2020. Threats to mental health and well-being associated with climate change. Journal of Anxiety Disorders76, p.102295.

Manzanedo, R.D. and Manning, P., 2020. COVID-19: Lessons for the climate change emergency. Science of the Total Environment742, p.140563.

Taylor, S., 2020. Anxiety disorders, climate change, and the challenges ahead: Introduction to the special issue. Journal of Anxiety Disorders76, p.102313.

Climate Outreach, 2020, Britain Talks Climate, 18th November 2020. URL: https://climateoutreach.org/reports/britain-talks-climate/


[1] Britain Talks Climate, a research project by Climate Outreach, segmented the UK population into different categories according to their views on climate change. 13% of the UK population identify as “progressive activists”, to which a large proportion are young people.

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