Book review: How to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference by Rebecca Huntley

Review by Phil McNamara

Have you ever avoided talking about climate change with your family, friends, colleagues or even strangers because it makes you feel uncomfortable? It has to be one of the most difficult subjects to talk about. It is complex, political and can be emotionally draining. Rebecca Huntley’s new book, How to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference, will help you understand why people feel the way they do about climate change and will equip you to talk about it with the people around you.

The essentials:

Title: How to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference
Author: Rebecca Huntley
Date Published: 2020
Published by: Murdoch Books, an imprint of Allen & Unwin
Genre: Non-fiction / psychology / climate change
Availability: Widely available both online and in stores

About:

This book is not intended to provide the facts about climate science but it does start from the stand-point, and rightly so, that there is consensus amongst climate scientists that our climate is rapidly changing due to human activities. It also acknowledges that the majority of Australians agree that more needs to be done to adapt and mitigate its effects. But there are barriers to this. What is the intention of this book is to give the reader a better understanding of the social and psychological factors that underpin our, mostly slow, response to climate change. It argues that talking about the science is not enough. In order to talk about climate change in a useful manner we need to understand the different emotional forces that shape our discussion: guilt, fear, anger, denial, despair, hope, loss and love.

Opinion:

Rebecca Huntley draws upon the findings of her research, and research from around the world, on the various emotions that affect the way we talk about climate change. She also draws upon her own emotional responses, and those of community leaders, school children, climate scientists, climate sceptics and, importantly, people already severely impacted by a rapidly changing climate. These reflections are tightly woven into each chapter and give context to the research she describes. This makes this book easy to read and easy to follow because we can always relate to the examples provided. There is also lots of well placed humour and the writing very often feels real because the author has lived those emotional responses herself.

How to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference was also surprisingly uplifting for me. Climate change is a topic normally drenched in negativity. I often have negative thoughts about the current and future impacts on our community, and get angry at the lack of local and global action. I am sure that most people, including climate sceptics, feel something similarly negative about the subject. As someone that doesn’t particularly like talking about climate change, this book made me see there is a pathway through those negative feelings. By understanding our own emotional responses to the issue, and the responses of the people we might talk to, we will feel more confident in having those conversations with our family and friends.

One of the surprising aspects of the book is how I found myself responding to each chapter. You’d think that chapters on guilt, loss and anger would send you spiralling into despair (which is another chapter heading). Similarly, you might think that chapters on hope and love would have some sense of positivity about them. As Rebecca Huntley points out, each of these emotions can have an upside and a downside to the way we talk about climate change. Context is everything.

A message about climate change that tries to inspire hope and resolve in one person may in fact provoke fear and anger in another, despair in their friend and indifference in their neighbour” (page 65).

There is no one way of delivering a climate change message.

The author clearly sees this book as one to help people advocate for action on climate change but I think it has wider appeal. Whether you are an outspoken advocate for doing something about climate change, disengaged from the topic, a sceptic or someone that sits back quietly wanting government’s to act, readers will benefit from understanding why they and others think the way they do about climate change. It may even dispel some assumptions you have about climate advocates, climate sceptics, politicians and religions. It is an engaging read that will help readers talk about climate change and help build community led pathways to action. This can only be a good thing for creating consensus on what we all want for the future of our planet.

About the author:

Rebecca Huntley is one of Australia’s most experienced social researchers and former director of The Mind and Mood Report, the longest running measure of the nation’s attitudes and trends. She holds degrees in law and film studies and a PhD in gender studies, and is a mum to three young children. It was realising she is part of the problem older generation that caused her change of heart and to dedicate herself to researching our attitudes to climate change. She is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Corps, carries out social research for NGOs such as The Wilderness Society and WWF, and writes and presents for the ABC. This is her sixth book.

The art of plogging

by Phil McNamara

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, plogging is a “new trend from Sweden where joggers stop to pick up rubbish along the way for the sake of the environment”.

I first came across the term “plogging” about two years ago when it was listed as a possible addition to the Macquarie Dictionary in a blog. From what I gather, the word is a derivation of the words “pluck” (or “plocka up” in Swedish) and “jogging”.

Since then I have tried to allocate one run in my weekly running schedule to plogging. It had its challenges at first but I quickly got into the groove as I refined my technique, including the equipment I use, how I collect rubbish along the way and what I do with it after the run.

Before you start

Apart from your usual running gear, all you need is a shopping bag – cotton rather than plastic because plastic can split – and a pair of gloves. I also use a GPS tracker on my mobile phone or watch so I can upload the run to a running app like Strava. It’s also a good idea to plan your route beforehand because some places are more plentiful in rubbish than others. Main roads are super plentiful, back roads can be good and bad, and there’s generally not much to find along park trails.

A lot less litter along park trails

During the run

One of the first, and most useful, lessons I learnt was that it doesn’t take long to fill up your bag. Sometimes I don’t get beyond a kilometre before it is full. I quickly learnt to leave plogging until the end of the run or at least until the return on an out and back course.

You also need to be choosy. Some rubbish is too big, like hubcaps and car tyres (yes, I have contemplated picking them up in the past) and some items are not safe to pluck, like used nappies and syringes, broken glass and dog-poo bags full of dog poo. And keep your eye out for spiders and other creatures. Though relatively harmless, I often find badge huntsman spiders (Neosparassus sp.) in soft plastic wrappers and milk cartons.

Coffee run

That leads me to a list of the most common items you can expect to find when you are out there:

  • lolly and chip packet wrappers
  • cigarette butts and empty packets
  • take away bags and containers
  • take away coffee cups
  • plastic straws
  • paper advertising / catalogues
  • wet wipes (these are made of plastic not paper)
  • aluminium, glass and plastic bottles
  • plastic bags
Badge huntsman spider (Neosparassus sp.)

After the run

At the end of a run, don’t throw your hoard into the landfill bin. It’s likely there will be items you can recycle and sometimes items you can re-use.

What I do is tip it all out onto a flat surface and sort it into the following categories:

  • 10c deposit cans and bottles (we have a deposit scheme in South Australia)
  • recyclables like paper, hard plastics and metals
  • clean soft plastics
  • compostables, and
  • landfill (everything else)
Sorted: landfill, recyclables and deposit cans and bottles

If needed, I wash dirty items that I can recycle. If it’s too dirty it’s better off in landfill rather than contaminate the recycling stream. If you are not sure if an item(s) can be recycled, there is a great website in South Australia that can help: https://www.whichbin.sa.gov.au/. And while it’s all laid out, don’t forget to take a photo so you can post it on social media with your run.

Upload a photo of your hoard to social media

IMPORTANT: remember to wash your hands thoroughly after plogging.

Benefits of plogging

By plogging I feel like I am not only keeping fit and doing something for the environment but also saying something to the people that live around me about the amount of waste we create and dispose of in our streets, in our creeks and in our parks.

I am always surprised by how much rubbish I find on my runs. I can even re-run a regular route multiple times and still find something new. A lot, I suspect, has been deliberately dropped or thrown out a car window but I also suspect a similar amount is inadvertently falling out the back of trucks, utilities and trailers where their loads haven’t been properly secured.

Good luck with your plogging. I’d be interested to hear about your own experiences, so feel free to comment.

Phil

Useful links

Check out my plogging runs on Strava (Phil McNamara Plogger): https://www.strava.com/

What can be recycled in South Australia: https://www.whichbin.sa.gov.au/

Plogging the Bandicoot Trail near Mylor, SA