Ro Randall

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ROSEMARY RANDALL:

By the time you folk have finished university, and are maybe three or four years into your first job, that 10 years that has been spoken about is gone. So there needs to be a space where people like yourselves can feel safe enough to talk about what your fears and hopes are for the future, so that you can make sensible decisions about the kinds of jobs you want to work in, and the kinds of society you want to be part of, the kinds of priorities that you want government to have, the sort of people you would like to vote for. Or the sort of people you would like to be, that other people might vote for, if that’s what you want to do. So I think it’s really about creating a curriculum that’s focused on the fact that climate change and the news about climate change, changes everything.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

Hello everyone, thank you for tuning in to Bridging the Carbon Gap. My name is Gabriel Gitter-Dentz, I’m a senior at Hunter College High School and I’m from Manhattan.

ADAM RUDT:

My name is Adam Rudt. I’m a senior at Hunter College High School and I’m also from Manhattan.

KEVIN ZHOU:

My name is Kevin Zhou, I’m also a senior at Hunter College High School, and I’m from Queens.

ADAM RUDT:

So we know that in our schools, we don’t really talk about climate change that much, maybe you’ll get in a biology class, maybe you’ll talk about it at the lunch table, but there’s no real dialogue about it. So in partnership with City Atlas, Kevin, Gabriel, and I decided to go on a journey of making a podcast where we interview different experts and hear what they have to say about climate change. Our aim is to promote conversation about climate change among family and friends, specifically between young people who are the future of climate action.

KEVIN ZHOU:

On today’s episode we welcome Rosemary Randall. Can you introduce yourself?

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

My name is Rosemary Randall, I’m a psychotherapist. I’m now retired, but all through my life I have been interested in the social applications of therapeutic understandings in groups and organizations, and in social movements, and over the last 15, 20 years I’ve been particularly concerned with climate change, and with how people respond to it, and how we communicate about it. 

I’ve written about it. I’ve set up organizations from workshops and more recent trends during the pandemic, cause everybody I’ve retreated online have done webinars and some online workshops as well.  So my concerns are around these areas of communication and around the feelings which people have when they really understand what the climate emergency is because I think that’s a very difficult thing to deal with, and we have certainly seen increased numbers of people expressing all kinds of distress. About the climate crisis it’s sometimes referred to as climate anxiety or eco-anxiety but I always think that’s a rather narrow definition for something which actually encompasses a lot of different feelings.

ADAM RUDT:

When you talk about climate anxiety, is it often that climate change is the sole drive of someone’s anxiety, like you can diagnose something as climate anxiety, or is climate change is a factor that contributes to anxiety along with a number of other factors?

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

The way I would put it would be to say that it’s best described as climate distress, that’s the term I use because it comes up very specifically in relation to people coming to understand what climate- climate change is. So it’s a reaction to really knowing, and when people first realize that this is a big issue and this is very serious people describe feeling things like feeling shocked, feeling very overwhelmed, feeling very upset, feeling very small, feeling very powerless in the face of it. Often, feeling very angry–young people, in particular, I think feel very, very angry, and sometimes in all of that, also, a feeling of great despair, which comes with that feeling of being overwhelmed by something. So I think at that stage, people don’t necessarily feel anxiety they may feel fear, a lot of fear about what could happen, but at that stage they are not experiencing something usually which you would describe clinically, as anxiety. They’re in a state of turmoil about what they’ve recently come to understand. And so might be interesting just to ask the three of you the ways that ties up at all with the ways that you felt as you really come to face into what climate change is.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

I feel like, at least for me, I felt maybe some of those emotions, although not on like a very high level and I feel like, in one of your talks that we saw you talked about people having an epiphany moment of when they kind of allow themselves to be very scared or have some sort of more obligation to do something and I would, I would guess that I haven’t really had that moment yet.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

Is it a sense that in some ways you feel a little bit distant from it at the moment, perhaps. The thing that’s very often the sense with people, sometimes at first, they come to know about it intellectually as a lot of people know about it intellectually, but manage to hold it away from themselves as, as a kind of interesting problem, and then find that at some point it’s, it’s really hit themselves quite, quite hard with a feeling of oh well, this is me, this is my life. This is my future. This is going to happen in my lifetime, and this is awful.

And so I think a lot of people perhaps do protect themselves by holding it at an arm’s length or keeping it in a particular part of their mind where it doesn’t trouble them too much. So it might be this in some ways your curiosity about this issue is sort of protecting you a little bit at the moment. Would that make sense? 

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

Yeah, I think that makes sense. 

KEVIN ZHOU:

Yeah, I feel the same way, maybe it’s just cuz we’re younger, but the problem, we know it exists and it’s very important, but I just feel kind of, far from it like it’s just something like not really tangible.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

Is that true for you as well, Adam?

ADAM RUDT:

Yeah, I would say I would feel–I feel helplessness, but not desperation. If you get the distinction between those. That it’s more like an acceptance that this is an issue that is really difficult to make a change on. 

ROSEMARY RANDALL: 

So, it sounds as if  the three of you, you’re in that state, which I think is very– it’s very, very common state and you probably find that a lot of adults who you know are also in that state, that when people say, say to them, well aren’t you worried about climate change, they will say oh god, yes. Isn’t that awful? Yeah, terrible problem.

But they don’t let it impact them so they don’t let it change their lives very much. They don’t let it really hit them so they go well, now I know this, I’ve got to do something, I’ve got to do something politically, I’ve got to do something at work, I’ve got to do something in my community, I’ve got to change my life to make it as low impact as I can. So in a way, you’re in that state where you learn about it intellectually, but it hasn’t really kind of hit you so that you know in your heart. 

You can sort of carry on in parallel, there’s one bit of you that knows perfectly well about climate change and everything that’s wrong, and another bit of you that just sort of goes on living life as usual. And it may be that what you’re describing is that kind of state where you’re still protecting yourself against it because it is a very painful thing to know about.

ADAM RUDT:

One thing that sort of struck me that your work is that when I think of mental health issues, or specifically like anxiety or depression, they seem to be triggered by events that are very personal, and close to an individual, as opposed to a very wide scale thing like climate change.

ROSEMARY RANDALL: 

You find that people will describe something like becoming phobic about dogs after having been bitten by a dog, for example, becoming very anxious about that, or having had a very, very difficult experience on an airplane and not wanting to get on again.

And that’s certainly one kind of pattern of anxiety. If you look at what’s happening when somebody really allows themselves to know about climate change, they are having what is actually quite a traumatic experience. It is traumatic to know that the world around you is going to vanish in the form in which you’re used to seeing it. So you guys live in New York. And you must have looked at the predictions of rising sea levels and how they’re going to affect your city, have you?

ADAM RUDT:

I think we know that, that there’s a possibility, we know that there’s a possibility that New York takes on water, I don’t know if we know the exact numbers but yeah.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

It’s kind of like, there are two ways to know that fact, aren’t there? You can know that one day New York’s gonna take on water. It sounds quite abstract or far away. London’s the same. London has big flood defenses and they’re failing. There’s an installation called the Thames barrage, which used to have to be operated quite rarely. It’s now operated many times a year, because we’re getting many more storm surges up the River Thames. And it’s not at all clear how long that system will continue to work, whether it needs to be upgraded or what’s going to happen. And it depends on which of the you know, the scenarios, which prediction you look at, at what point you think, well, am I going to experience this?

It sounds to me at that moment that you Adam that you are still at that point where you are like, I don’t really want to think about this very much, I don’t want to know which decade of my life this is going to happen in.

ADAM RUDT:

I would agree. It’s almost like there’s already so much stuff to think about apart from going on just in our personal lives and in general and COVID and everything that it’s hard to add one more one more stressor.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

There’s something which is referred to in psychology, which is called the finite pool of worry. And this is a theory which suggests that there’s only so much people can worry about, and so when you add one more thing, they just go, I don’t want to think about that.

I suppose in some ways, what’s going on here is a question about why you let one thing in to worry about, and you don’t let in another thing. Because at your age you may be worrying about, you know, finding boyfriends and girlfriends, you know, passing your exams, which university you might go to, whether you’re going to have to get another row with your mom and dad, or something. Or whatever. There’s lots of stuff which concerns you. But the question is, why are some things let in and other things kept out?

At the moment what you’re saying is that, yeah you know about climate change and you’re clearly all very concerned about it because you’re making these podcasts, but in some ways, it’s still held just a little bit outside of really letting it hit you. Yet there are certainly other people of your age who have let it hit them. 

I don’t have statistics for the United States on the numbers of people who suffer from what is now seems to be called climate anxiety and I don’t have them for the UK either, but I do have them for Finland, which I mentioned in that webinar which I think we looked at, and is quite high amongst young people between 15 and 30, so you know in a similarly developed country to a European country and to United States. When asked, 33% of young people said that they were, they were suffering from something which could be described as climate anxiety. So I would guess that you might find similar numbers amongst young people in the United States. But I think it may also be that perhaps in the United States, you’re also perhaps quite cushioned against it because, certainly, the United States has been much slower than some other developed countries to really take on politically the seriousness of the climate emergency.

I think you’ve seen a change of government recently with a new president, which means that the United States is now rejoining the climate agreement, and that may change things as well. But certainly it’s been possible in the United States for a lot of people to be able to say, the government doesn’t seem very worried, so why should I be? And I think that’s a very common factor, in meaning that people don’t always react as they need to the news of climate change.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

Going along more with this sudden realization moment, what would you say either personally for you, or maybe also just more in general, what kind of thing would spark this moment? Is it just kind of thinking about the problem, or does there have to be some kind of extreme tangible event, or something in the news? What can cause this moment, would you say?

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

People describe a lot of different moments. One person recently described to me hearing on the news, the prediction, two years ago, that there were 10 years left in order to turn emissions around, and beyond that, the kinds of tipping points, the kind of runaway effect of climate change, will be such that it will be extremely hard to do anything. So for somebody, it was just hearing that, that fact. And that brought it home very strongly.

Somebody else described, sitting down and watching the documentary which David Attenborough made about climate change, I don’t know whether that was available in the United States, but certainly in the UK that had a big effect on a lot of people. 

A number of people describe suddenly realizing who Greta Thunberg was and what she was doing, being absolutely caught up by either themselves, because they were young, about school strikes, or because they were older, by seeing somebody who was still a child trying to speak out about some things the adult world had failed to deal with, and finding that very shocking.

So those were the kinds of experiences, some of the experiences, people have described recently. Because for a lot of people that moment came, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago.

And for me, it was certainly sometime in the 1980s, long before you guys were born. When the news began to come through about what climate change was and if you were somebody who was interested in the natural world, that was a moment in which when you went, this is really serious. This actually changes everything. And I think it’s that sense that people get sometimes through a conversation with somebody else, sometimes through hearing something on the radio, sometimes through noticing something themselves. So people will describe something like noticing that there are no longer insects splattered against the windscreen, in the summer, when they drive. You folk probably have never seen that. It was something I grew up with, for example.

Noticing that the seasons are changing, noticing that things just seem wrong, the world doesn’t seem right. And so there are a lot of different ways this moment will come but it’s a moment, which–this changes everything. With that kind of moment where you think this is it my life cannot go on as it has, as it has done, as I thought it was, as I thought it was going to be, because of this, this thing, and that’s a very powerful, very powerful moment for a lot of people.

And it may be, you know that if you were to interview some of the people in your school, who are very keen on the school strikes, and the activism that’s going on, that you might find that they tell similar kinds of stories, and there was a moment where they thought they just couldn’t leave this alone anymore. They couldn’t not do something about it.

ADAM RUDT:

So, you wrote a novel in 2009 called Transgression, and the main character is Clara, right?

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

Yes, that’s right.

ADAM RUDT:

So, what was her moment?

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

Well, in the book. She describes a geography teacher, or her friend Ruby describes the geography teacher. Ruby is very rude about the geography teacher. She calls him a man with face fungus, whose been influencing Clara- and it’s clear, I think in the novel that some combination of what was in the news in 2008 and 2009, and contact with her teacher, and reading a book by George Monbiot, which she has, it’s like her bible, this book Heat by George Monbiot, this has turned Clara from a very ordinary high school student into a climate activist. And that period, which is history to you folk, was a period of intense climate activist action in a lot of parts of the world. It was huge in the UK, and there was a lot of action by young people who were desperately trying to get a new agreement of Copenhagen in 2009, and failed. And that failure was a very difficult moment for young people who were involved in climate action at that point. But yes, Clara’s  moment probably came from a number of a number of those things. It was very hard for some people, with any kind of political awareness at that point, to be young and to not know that something was going on.

ADAM RUDT:

I just hear–I mean hearing that Clara is a high school student, I’m wondering how maybe we can take lessons from her, or what we can learn from her as a character? In terms of thinking about high school, like activism and climate change in high school.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

I think that period when you’re the age you are is a period where some, some people do become suddenly politically very aware. This is what happens to Clara, in the novel, and she becomes swept up amongst other young people who are also very politically aware, but her best friend Ruby isn’t having any of it. Her best friend Ruby just wants to get on that airplane, and go somewhere nice for the summer. And there’s a kind of falling out between the two friends in the novel because of it, and I think that speaks to something which very often happens to people as they become truly conscious of what climate change is, is that relationships with other people in their family, and their friends, can become much, much harder, because you’re living amongst people who don’t get it, and of course none of Clara’s family get it at all in the novel, and she finds herself moving into a completely different circle of friends, and of people, some of whom are good people and some of whom are not as the novel pans out. You discover that not everybody amongst a new group of friends is a good person.

So I’m not sure that quite answers your question. But I think this has a lot to do with your developing political identity as you grow up, and thinking about what it means to be politically active in a democracy, and what your responsibility is as a citizen. I’m sure these are questions you must be thinking about.

ADAM RUDT:

I think that’s really important, and that’s something we talked about before, is forming a political identity, and the crossover between tackling climate change and other disciplines and other subjects. How we could cover in a high school classroom for example, in social studies we can be talking about climate change, it doesn’t just have to be a physics class, it doesn’t have to be about ecology class, it can be even in an English class, we could read your novel. There are many, many different ways I think that issue can weave into a high school student, and high school curriculum.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

Well it’s a moral question isn’t it as well, it’s a question about what’s your responsibility in life, what’s your responsibility to society, what’s your responsibility to the natural world. What is the natural world giving you that you hadn’t realized you were given. And that can be quite a shocking moment to people. A lot of people describe that moment when they realize that they have been part of taking and taking and taking to do the ordinary activities in life, and that this isn’t possible, this is unsustainable. That can be a very, very difficult, difficult moment. But it’s a moral question. What does this call on you to do? What are you being asked to do by this emergency? What’s your place in this once you really understand what it is? Are you going to carry on exactly as you thought your life was going to pan out?

You know, if you go back to Clara, whose parents probably thought she was going to go to university, maybe she was going to be a banker maybe she was going to be a lawyer. By the time the novel ends she doesn’t even know she’s going to be at university. She has what she feels called on to do is probably something quite different from what her parents thought she might do. And she’s involved in all kinds of conflicts as a result.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

How do we get people to ask themselves this question about what nature has given them either maybe through having a conversation with someone, or through education. How do you effectively talk to someone and get this point or question across?

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

This is something I spent quite a lot of time working with people on, is how do we have a conversation about climate change. And I think one of the things which is important is that in some way, you have walked this walk yourself. You have gone on this journey. You have faced into this very difficult question, what is the climate emergency asking of me?

Because until you can answer that question yourself, it’s very difficult for you to be someone who can expect somebody else to face into it and answer it for themselves. And one of the things which you will often find is that people don’t trust someone who hasn’t walked that line themselves. So somebody who doesn’t know you wouldn’t want to hear about feminism from somebody who wasn’t a feminist, for example. You wouldn’t want to hear about racism from somebody who hadn’t actually worked through everything that there was to say about the subject.

You need to be there, so the first thing is you need to be there, you need to be living your life in a way that is as far as possible in alignment with what you learn with climate change, which means that you have come to take some probably quite difficult decisions about the kinds of work to do, and the kinds of places that you feel it’s okay to travel to, and the sort of day-to-day lives that you need in terms of your choices about consumption and diet and housing and so on. You will probably have gone somewhere that’s quite a tough road. So one thing is you need to be, you need to be in that place.

But once you’ve got there it’s often something very problematic that happens to people, because once you’ve got that you are just so appalled by what you have learned that you can’t wait to tell everybody about it, and the way that you go about it is typical, it’s like you’re standing there with a megaphone in your hand as you’re shouting, and of course, you may literally be doing this out on the streets on a demonstration. But metaphorically, a lot of people have a megaphone and they are shouting back at other people.

This is a surefire way to make sure that nobody listens to you, at all. You will get a very negative reaction. And I think it’s one of the unfortunate things that a lot of the environmental movement for years thought that the reason people didn’t act about any kind of environmental issue, whether it’s climate change or another one, was thinking they didn’t know the facts.

This was called the information deficit theory. And it’s the idea that the reason why people don’t act is because they don’t know something. So you have to tell them, and they go alright, now I get it, I’ll do it.

Of course it doesn’t happen, because it’s not the information that’s the problem. The information is all around you, if you happen to be willing to open your eyes and open your ears and take it in. The problem is that people sort of suss very quickly that this is uncomfortable information, this is inconvenient information, this is disruptive information, so they would rather just close down.

So, there are two things which I usually do with people when I’m trying to help them to communicate better. The first is that you’ve got to learn to have a complex conversation. You’ve got to learn to listen to other people. You’ve got to recognize that there’s much, much more going on in the conversation than just me telling you something, as I’m doing now.

It’s about becoming able to listen, to be curious about other people. And to hear in the conversation that moment where someone’s getting defensive. So if I was talking to one of you about climate change, as we were earlier on, right at the start of this talk. And you all very truthfully told me that actually you hadn’t really felt kind of punched in the stomach by this yet, you hadn’t had that epiphany movement.

And so what I’m seeing is that there’s something about this for each one of you that’s really so troubling that it’s really been really hard for you to go there. So in having a further conversation about that with you I’d be very mindful of the fact that there’s something about this that’s so deeply troubling to you, maybe about your careers and about the hopes that you’ve got, where you’re going to travel to, maybe about your relationships with your family and your friends. I’d want to be very mindful of needing to find out what makes you feel that at the moment you need to keep this at a bit of a distance.

And so one aspect of it is the relationship that you’re trying to create with somebody in which you can have a conversation about something that was really difficult.

And of course, that’s quite a slow business.

The other piece of work which I often look at, and which you might be quite interested to look at yourselves, is the work of Marshall Ganz, who’s a professor at Harvard. He was credited with training a lot of Obama’s volunteers during the 2008 presidential election in the United States with a message which he calls public narrative. And the essence of this is that it’s about telling a story. 

So when you’re trying to talk to somebody about why you care about something, supposing you get the floor for a moment and somebody’s willing to listen to you say why you care about climate change, [then] you don’t need the facts, you need a story.

And he talks about there being three aspects of the story. He talks about the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now. So the story of self is your story of how you came to care about this, and what it is that means that it matters to you. So if you were to ask me for my story of self, I would tell you a tale about how I grew up, of my time spent outdoors as a child and camping with my family. I’d tell you about the moment when this really hit me– I’ve talked about this a lot, it’s on a walk with my son.

And I would create out of that a story which you want to listen to. It has some kind of suspense in it so I’ve been telling you the story about how this came to mean something to me.

I would then talk about the story of us. And it’s always important when you’re talking about climate change to think about who you’re talking to, and who you’re in a group with. So I’m a member of multiple ‘us’-es, as each of you will be too, you know. My us-es, you know, the other old feminists like myself, who I hang out with. I’m also an age where many of my generation have grandchildren. I’ve been talking about thinking about the future for those people. I’m a citizen of a city I live in, in Cambridge. I’m also a psychotherapist. I’m a lover of literature. I can talk about people from that point of view. So I might say to the audience I’m speaking to, you know, as grandparents, I know that you will feel the same as I do about blah blah blah.

You guys, it might be that you’re part of the football team, or you act in amateur dramatics, you follow a particular baseball team or live in a particular neighborhood. You may be part of a religious community. You may be part of a faith group that matters a lot to you.

So you’re part of all of these different us-es that you can talk with, and by making your conversation specific to aiming at that particular audience thatyou’re part of you will always have more effect. 

The final bit of the Marshall Ganz’s puzzle is the story of now. That’s why this is so urgent now. That’s the easy bit, you can say in the sentence, why climate change is so important now.

So Marshall Ganz talks about these three stories that you learn to tell so when you get the opportunity to speak, you may be able to boil that down into a couple of sentences. You will come across much more effectively, and you will make somebody else curious. And once somebody is curious they may want to ask you a little bit more about what is it that you’re so concerned about. And then the conversation starts to build.

Some years ago 350.org, Bill McKibben’s organization, did a lot of work using Marshall Ganz’s method. I don’t think they still offer training in it but I think that remains a very effective lesson for teaching people how to do something other than just spout facts. So that’s two things. One is being able to know your story, tell your story. Another one is being able to listen with compassion and curiosity to somebody else when you’re trying to have this conversation, and that means having got to this place of walking this walk yourself.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

That kind of connects to something one of our other guests said, Alice Larkin, who also from the UK. She was talking about if she was at an aviation meeting, for example, how she would talk about climate change. And I guess what you’re saying is even though your values may be very different, to find some kind of a similar point. Like if they’re concerned about the future if they have grandchildren.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

No, I think that’s right. I mean people looking often put up these kinds of these really difficult situations, you know, where you’re talking to somebody from the aviation industry, or someone who’s, you know, someone who’s a banker or whatever it is. A lot of our interactions are actually with people who we actually have far more common with. But if you are lucky enough to have something in common with someone from the aviation industry because he’s your uncle or your best friend, well, you’ve got a great starting point. You know, we need people who have best friends and uncles who work in the airline industry, so they can really have those conversations.

ADAM RUDT:

Another connection that I’m going to make is, we had someone come on and talk about the effects of climate change on wine, and how it’s affecting the harvest and its taste. And so, that’s just another specific that’s a niche, that’s a group that for people who didn’t care about climate change but care a lot about wine, that’s a segue to get them to care about climate change.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

Yeah it’s a common point you know you can say as so that’s why, that as wine lovers we know that the California harvest has been really badly affected. We want to make sure that it doesn’t get worse.

KEVIN ZHOU:

I guess something we’ve talked about with our other people that we’ve interviewed is climate deniers who are the polar opposites of people who would be very concerned about climate change. I was wondering, have you had any experience with climate deniers, and how do you deal with them?

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

I think you’re talking about the extent to which things have become very very polarized which I think is particularly the case in the in the United States. I think there are lots of different kinds of denial. I was talking about earlier, you know this form of, you know, protecting yourself. Which in a way is a form of denial. It’s like saying, I don’t want to think about this, I’m going to deny it’s gonna affect me at the moment or that it’ll affect me really badly. And in a way many more people I think are in that state.

I think to some extent you yourselves are sort of putting, you’re taking baby steps into the thing into the whole area at the moment, but it’s hard to really let it hit it home. So that experience I think is the common one.

Actually outright climate denial I think is very difficult to deal with. Because there is often a determination not to hold a conversation, not to have what might normally be called a conversation. So I think that the only ways that you can deal with it, are, to stay curious, and stay in that state. Say you know, this was somebody for instance that I have grown up with the kinds of things I would be saying, I would say, Wow, you really think that and I think something so different, but we go back such a long way. 

How did you and I come to be so different? How do you come to be, you know, in this bit of public opinion, and I’m in the other one. I would want to try to get them to think about it. If they said to me, oh that’s just because you’re stupid. And my reply would be. Wow. You know I’m not stupid, we both went to a really good school, we both got university degrees, we both kind of done this that and the other. You know I’m not stupid, why do you want to see me as stupid?

I won’t even say, I find that really hurtful, that you see me as stupid. Because all through this conversation, I’d be trying very, very hard not to tell my friend that she was stupid. I would be wanting to understand how she got to this place, what it was that took her there. And in that conversation, I would not be expecting to convince her at all. I would just be hoping to make some contact, some connection with her, so that we could maybe, at some future date, continue the conversation. And I think it’s the same about any of these issues like climate change, like, like vaccine refusal. 

People who don’t want to have the COVID vaccine because they think it’s gonna inject little men from Mars into their bloodstream or whatever it is they think, and keep that part of my opinion to myself. Because what I really want to know is how did they get to this point, what’s happened to them. Because something has happened to that person to get them to that point and I think this with vaccinations is sometimes clearer because you can see that people have had bad experiences with the health service, they felt disregarded, they felt sidelined, they felt that their opinions didn’t matter. All kinds of things like that go on. And for some climate deniers, that’s also true. So your first move is always has to be you’ve got to treat people with respect. Because often what’s lying behind some of this is a feeling that they’ve not been treated with respect in the past, So that can be important, it can be helpful. 

I think there’s another kind of climate denier, which is much more malign. And they are the kind of climate deniers who are working for secretive think tanks, and nobody knows where their money is coming from. But it’s coming from a few very, very wealthy people who really don’t give a toss about the rest of humanity. Those people just need to be–you’re not likely to be able to have a conversation with them directly–there are people who just need to be opposed and for it to be called out. They are peddling this garbage to all kinds of people who are susceptible to hearing it in the same way that political campaigns, in both UK and the United States have peddled lies to people who are susceptible to hearing them. So those people, whether they’re, they’re on television, it’s on social media, wherever they are, you just have to oppose them. There’s no point getting into those common little ding dongs but I think there are distinctions to be made between the people who lead these movements and those who follow them.

ADAM RUDT:

I think that’s a really important point that we can’t be passive in this time. That climate change is an issue that will continue to get worse if we do nothing about it and doing nothing about it is a form of denial. And you need ways to address, sort of the, the subliminal linings of climate denial, that are that are so common, like you said. Where certain organizations get money from, where certain people in the government get money from maybe. I think that could tie in to high school in making an effort in, in a formalized, high school setting, to make young people aware of where the traps are and where there’s common misconceptions.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

Well yeah I think understanding where ideas may be coming from is certainly something which educators can do, can do a lot about. How do you know something? Where did this idea come from? Can you follow it down to its source?  To where it’s really rooted? I think those are certainly things which educators can do a lot about.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

In terms of a high school education, how do you think that a high school education should look, keeping in mind a 1.5 or two Celsius, which might not even be a possible target? How do you think the high school curriculum should be adapted to meet the needs of the future?

ROSEMARY RANDALL:

Oh. Big one. Well, I think, in an immediate term, I think the way that people have conversations about climate change needs to change. If you just talked about the facts in a geography class or or let’s say a science class, without there being a space for you to talk about how you feel about this, and how this is going to have an impact on your life, and what the choices are that it presents you with, then, it’s very difficult to expect young people to do anything about it. 

So it has to be acknowledged that this is an issue which changes everything. Which changes the ways that young people need to look at their futures. Because if you were a 17 year old who thought you were going to go to university to study geology and work in the oil industry, you might need to think again about whether that’s really a good career option, or whether actually you might be better to study something else that will take you into working in the photovoltaics industry instead. Or something like that. What are the jobs of the future going to look like, what do you want the society of the future to look like?

Given that this world changing cataclysmic event is a few years away. By the time you folk have finished university, and are maybe three or four years into your first job, that 10 years and has been spoken about is all gone. So there needs to be a space where people like yourselves can feel safe enough to talk about what your fears and hopes are for the future, so that you can make sensible decisions about the kinds of jobs you want to work in, and the kinds of society, you want to be part of the kinds of priorities that you want government to have the sort of people, you would like to vote for. And, or the sort of people, you know, you would like to be, that other people might vote for, if that’s what you want to do.

So I think it’s really about creating a curriculum that’s focused on the fact that climate change and the news about climate change, changes everything. You know maybe it’s not surprising that for you, the three of you, it feels difficult to really let this hit you because you’re not at the moment, in spaces which feel psychologically safe enough to really let this penetrate.

And I think it’s a lot to ask people to let this penetrate when those spaces are not there, when it doesn’t feel safe to have a conversation. And I think this is somewhere which education needs to look at, again, very seriously, because without it, I think that people will come out knowing the facts, and knowing them in just one little box in their mind, because it’s too difficult to know them and allow this knowledge to change your life.

ADAM RUDT:

Thank you for being on the podcast today. We learned a lot and we hope that you, the viewers enjoyed it. And if you want to say one last thing to our listeners.

ROSEMARY RANDALL:  

Well, I think I want to say to anybody of your age in high in high school in America, which is a difficult country to be facing climate change in I think. It’s to see when you can create the spaces from safe to talk about climate change, and what it means for your futures, so that you can talk about what this huge issue might be calling on you to do so, so that you can shape a future which has meaning for yourself. But I think it’s about seeing how you can create that space that feels safe enough to speak, about all these feelings of emotions that lie beneath the surface, when we really let us think about what climate change means. So, to find a way of letting it change everything.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

So thank you everyone for listening and make sure to tune into our other episodes of Bridging the Carbon Gap.


Downloadable materials from the Carbon Conversations project for the discussion of climate change (produced by Rosemary Randall and Andy Brown).

Rosemary Randall at the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series (YouTube):