Getting Real about the Climate Crisis

On Purpose Fellows Alex Watson, Jo Alexander and Tania Han are now Climate Reality Leaders, having attended a three-day training with Al Gore. They share their lessons for communicating climate change.

Why Climate Reality?

For Alex, it was growing up with a mother who is an architect focused on low-energy buildings. For Jo, it was to remind her about how to communicate the challenges constructively and that she isn’t alone with her worries about climate change, but instead part of a wonderful community of people that all care about this important issue. For Tania, it was worry and alarm about the apathy, lack of awareness and confusion around solutions amongst people she met. She wanted to have better conversations to inspire climate action and saw the training as an opportunity to learn how to do that.

Here’s what they learned.

1. We have to act now to prevent the worst case scenario

One thing that really struck us was that even if we manage the best case scenario of limiting warming to below 2 degrees, life on Earth will get harder. However, the consequences of not limiting our emissions will mean that the Earth might warm by as much as 4 to 6 degrees, and many parts of the planet will become uninhabitable for many. We must act quickly to ensure humanity doesn’t experience the worst case scenario. Even though none of the stuff we do will benefit us in our lifetime we must act for the love of the planet, our species, life as we know it and the greater good… and collectively we can make a big impact.

2. We’re well and truly on our way

The gap between what science tells us we need to do and what politicians have committed to is narrower than ever. Before the Paris Agreement we couldn’t even measure this gap because we didn’t have commitments from every country in the world. Many countries are going to exceed their targets because the dynamic of the process — and more importantly the political damage of missing their targets — means that countries want to set targets that they will meet or exceed.

What we found most inspiring was that by getting down on paper an articulation of what science tells us we need to do and what politicians say we can do, we set the context of what ultimately drives emissions and the political feasibility of achieving the targets that have been set. With this written articulation the information is available to business for them to make decisions about how they will make their money in the future. By ensuring this context is easily available to business we make it more likely that they will take decisions that support climate action.

3. We already have the solutions… and they’re often better for our health too

Insulating your home will lower your energy needs, and renewables, particularly wind and solar energy, have decreased so much in price that they are now competitive with fossil fuel sources, and scaling up rapidly as a consequence. Suppliers like Good Energy, Ecotricity and Bulb have made significant headway in the market with rates that are comparable to conventional energy companies’. In 2017, a report found that the top 20 meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases in the previous year than all of Germany (Europe’s biggest climate polluter). So it goes without saying that eating less meat and dairy will have a significant impact on reducing our carbon emissions and could lead to better health. Using mass transit, active commuting and transport sharing options could lead to less air pollution and carbon emissions.

4. Maintaining a sense of optimism is necessary

If we are to make the changes necessary to limit warming to 2 degrees within this century, we need to maintain our positive energy so we’re able to inspire others to act and support those who are facing despair. At our Climate Reality Training, Norbert Winzen, a mild-mannered community organiser, talked to us about his efforts to stop his 1,400-year-old village being destroyed to make way for a coal mine. He spoke about his elderly mother who had told him she wanted to die before the village is destroyed in four years’ time. We were all moved when Christoph Bals, of Germanwatch, asked Norbert to convey to his mother that he wished instead for her to to have hope that she would see the day that the coal industry is stopped in Germany.

5. We have to engage both hearts and minds

A lot of the presentations on climate change that we have seen in the past are very fact based and unemotional. Psychology researchers have found that emotions are more effective in persuading others than fact and logic alone. The training showed us how to balance the facts with stories that really engage people on how critical the problem is. Al Gore shared a deeply personal story, of how after a momentary lapse in attention, his little boy’s hand slipped from his and led to his son being injured. He drew a parallel to how we must not be careless by letting our guard down in our climate action and letting go of our planet’s hand. The story was authentic, moving and memorable. We must tell our stories too, and not be afraid of getting a lump in our throats or shedding a tear!

This blog represents three of the 30 acts of climate leadership that Alex, Jo and Tania have pledged to undertake this year. Others include setting up a climate reality pub quiz round, speaking to prisoners about climate change in Pentonville and hosting a climate-themed supper club. Please contact us if you would like us to help you design and organise an event for you and your team, school, workplace or community group. We would be delighted to hear from you. To register for updates about future Climate Reality Training, register at