Where you at?

The concept of speaking to where people are at is a common one, in my experience at least, within behaviour change communications and activism. Put simply, it’s the idea that in order for a message to resonate with someone it should be framed in a way that’s relevant to their personal context and values.

When it comes to climate change, unfortunately, the high degree of polarisation means that messaging often speaks only to one group of people. For left-leaning groups or those that simply realise the pressing need to address climate change, messages around the threats of climate change and the technological and economic advances of renewable energy and energy storage are compelling.

For right-leaning groups or people sceptical of climate change, similar messages fall on more deaf ears when compared, perhaps, to messages about the economic contribution of coal and concern over the loss of coal mining jobs.

If we want to compel national and global action on climate change we need to be able to create widespread support by convincing people based on their values. A great piece of recent research by Cardiff University and Climate Outreach suggests a way forward.

The study of 2000 UK residents found that narratives of climate change and energy that focused on climate justice had a polarising effect, appealing generally to left-leaning individuals. Narratives, on the other hand, of avoiding energy waste and supporting renewable energy as a patriotic cause not only reduced scepticism amongst right-leaning individuals but had a broader appeal across the political spectrum.

The clear takeaway is that climate advocates need to adopt narratives of patriotism and avoiding energy waste in order to increase support for renewable energy and climate action across the political spectrum, particularly on the centre-right. (This Superbowl ad from last year is a great example of patriotic, pro-renewables framing).

I would even go so far as to say that advocates should adopt the narratives of economic growth and job creation so often used by centre-right politicians to oppose renewables or climate action. This is the promise of adapting to the inevitable low-carbon economies of the future. Stated in another way, it is about inspiring people with the promise of renewable energy to provide prosperity and health for a nation and its people. For those on the centre right, it is about activating a shared sense of optimism and pride in their country and people (the national character perhaps) based on this promise.

It’s easy to forget, or not even realise, that support for renewable energy comes in all shapes and sizes and for very different reasons (this piece I wrote on support for renewables in unusual places expands on this). If we want to tackle climate change properly and grow renewable energy then we need to bring as many people along with us as possible. This means convincing people that these are things they need to care about – in other words, speaking to where people are at.


PS. Off the back of the study, Climate Outreach has produced a guide to communicating climate change with people on the centre-right in post-Brexit Britain. Here’s a summary of tips but it’s worth reading the guide (which isn’t too long) for more explanation:

  • In the post-Brexit landscape amplify local, non-elite voices & the ‘will of the people’
  • Emphasise people and relationships, over places, and a shared sense of pride and optimism in the people
  • Frame new technology as preserving families and the environment (ie. not disruptive)
  • Stress continuity not change (ie. continued progress of the nation through renewable energy)
  • Emphasise simplicity and family activities/togetherness
  • Make climate change impacts tangible and local (ie. emphasise local environmental problems)
  • Nostalgia can be as powerful as a ‘bright future’ (ie. passing on the ‘clean’ world of one’s childhood to one’s children)
  • Focus on ‘balance’ (ie. the importance of providing balance)
  • Be humble about the claims of renewable energy’s potential.


(Photo at top: The Hamster Factor, Flickr)


In Defence Of Vegetarians (By A Meat Eater)

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Vegetarians get a lot of shit. From Australia Day ads featuring flamethrowers destroying a vegan hipster’s kale to politicians hijacking vegetarian campaigns, people who eschew meat in their diet have to put up with a fair amount of mockery for their choices.

This needs to change.

We should start recognising vegetarians for what they really are: trailblazers standing up for their principles, questioning popular assumptions and bravely changing the world for the better. Their tough choices and ideals demand not just our respect but our support and admiration.

Sure, a lot of this ribbing is light-hearted, but it speaks to an irrational distaste for vegetarianism that it’s time we got over. “But I’m not vegetarian,” my friend stressed recently after informing us that he would be ordering a dish of greens with his noodles. It was as though the very idea would have made me disown him on the spot.

Now, before you get ahead of yourself, I’m not a vegetarian either (although I have recently started to reduce my meat intake). I’m not here to get on my high horse and I’m not here to tell you to give up meat.

Indeed, there are strong arguments that getting rid of meat from our diets entirely could have arguably worse impacts on animals and the environment through increased deforestation and animal deaths from agriculture. Also, by being meat eaters we have the power, through our choices, to promote sustainably reared meat and animal products.

But it seems we to need to start reducing our meat intake because, in Australia and the developed world, we eat too much. Australia has one of the highest rates of meat consumption in the world. In fact, on average we eat 111kg a year, more than four times the recommended 26kg a year.

Studies suggest that diets high in meat (particularly processed meat), eggs and dairy can increase the risk of various cancers and even diabetes.

While the debate about the exact amount of carbon emissions created by meat and dairy consumption continues (anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent in Australia) it seems clear that reducing our meat intake will reduce carbon emissions. (In fact, eating less of everything would really help reduce our carbon footprints.)

Then, of course, there are the animal welfare impacts of factory farming and live transport of livestock that put animal products on our tables but are often far too easily swept under a tasty, 24-hour, slow-cooked, pulled-pork rug.

This is why vegetarians are pretty cool. Almost all of us grow up eating meat and loving it. It’s such an ingrained part of our diet and culture that it’s hard to change.

But vegetarians and vegans have been persistently paving the way, leading to vegetarian meal options at more and more restaurants, developing and introducing us to vegetarian cuisine and making it easier and increasingly normal to eat less or no meat.

They’re also opening up discussions about the impacts of our diets. Campaigns like Meat Free Monday and Meat Free Week as well as diet alternatives like ‘flexitarian’ are emerging, encouraging people to reduce their meat-eating in a flexible way.

And it seems people are catching on.

While The Simpsons convinced us that “You don’t win friends with salad” it seems that, increasingly, in Australia you do. From 2009 to 2013, the number of Australians who identified as fully or mostly vegetarian increased from 1,608,000 to 1,935,000, or 10 percent of the population. That’s one in 10 of us. And New Zealand saw a nearly 30 percent increase.

We love it so much that Ben and Jerry’s recently launched four vegan ice-cream flavours.

Even former Mr Universe and The Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger is now encouraging people to give up or reduce their meat intake in order to reduce our impact on the planet.

And in case you were thinking that settling on a meat-free diet is the preserve of white, latte sipping, inner-city types, 2013 research from Roy Morgan found that it’s actually quite common among people from ethnic backgrounds.

“But hang on,” I can hear you saying. “Some vegetarians can be too much to take.”

Sure, when dealing with people with strong beliefs some can be quite forceful and they can suffer from the same biases and emotional responses that meat eaters can.

But reducing our meat intake is important for our health and our planet, and vegetarians and vegans alike have, through their choices, fearlessly promoted alternative diets and cuisines (often in the face of much ridicule) and opened up important and necessary debates about the impacts of what we eat.

As a meat-free or reduced-meat diet becomes increasingly appealing as we look for ways to reduce our impact on the planet and the animals who inhabit it, it’s our plant-embracing friends we need to thank and support more.

So throw another eggplant on the barbie and let’s salute our pioneering vegos.

Fuck plastic bottles

Check out these recent ads from Sodastream which use the tagline ‘Fuck plastic bottles’. I’m not endorsing the product at all but the ads are really refreshing, suggesting, as they do, that companies can push a clear environmental message in a humorous, irreverent and genuinely entertaining way. Saving the planet can be funny and cool.


In a similar (though non-commerical) vein, the website beanunfucker.com encourages people to adopt more environmentally friendly habits (by sharing simple, daily tips) with a cool graphic design-aesthetic made for social media (follow them on Insta). And they don’t shy away from colourful language which is part of the, somewhat cathartic, appeal.



It’s great to see environmental comms and marketing adopting a more relatable framing, particularly one that cuts through and provides more appeal to young people.

The right language

Yes! We’re starting to use the right language and framing around renewable energy. Or, more to the point, John Kerry is at the BNEF Summit yesterday:

Clean energy is one of the greatest economic opportunities the world has ever seen.

He mentioned too, speaking earlier on MSNBC about renewable energy, that “millions of jobs could be created. This will be the biggest market on the planet.”

And with Tesla receiving over 200,000 orders in less than 48 hours over the weekend for its new Model 3 electric car (which won’t even be produced for another 18 months leaving some to claim Tesla has “just killed the petrol car“) it seems he’s right – renewables are our future in a huge and profitable way! So let’s start shouting it!


Here are some tweeted excerpts of his speech for good measure…

Who We Are

This great 30 second ad from climate advocacy group NextGen Climate which aired during Super Bowl 50 last week is exactly what I’ve been waiting to see! And we need to see more of it.

It uses a grand, positive, opportunities frame and simple language to communicate a pro-renewable energy message to American audiences all with a nice, clear (and admirable) call to action and target – Demand a Plan for 50% clean energy by 2030.

Give it a watch…

Notice how it reframes renewable energy and climate action as patriotic, distinctly American callings by linking them to American characteristics – not being “quitters”, facing “problems head-on”, innovation – along with imagery of farmers, workers, veterans and the iconic raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. The repeated use of the word ‘we’ also evokes a united and uniting cause, the opposite of the usual divisive connotations around climate change.

For non-Americans like myself it may seem a little cheesy but it’s this kind of talking to where people are, this kind of speaking to people’s core values, that is key to reaching people and changing their perceptions about renewables and climate action.

More of this please!


A couple of things I’ve come across this week really struck a chord.

First, this tweet from Martin Tye.

Second, this article from Will Hutton, and in particular its subheading:

Societies must learn to use economics to help provide purpose and fulfilment.

Both the hashtag #BetterNotBigger (actually the campaign slogan for the Sustainable Australia party) and the subheading are simple calls to action prompting us to think about what kind of economy we want and how it can better serve us and the environment.

They quite succinctly encapsulate what I believe is an important aspect of sustainability – creating economies (or an economics) with other purposes than growth, mass production and consumption.

That is to say economies that are smarter (using science, data, international coordination, policy and the market to more efficiently allocate limited resources) and better (providing for the greatest good in quality of life, civilisational stability and environmental sustainability).

We need to lose our obsession with growing bigger and having more and instead think smarter and build and use better.

An economic focus on mass manufacturing and consumption-based growth makes sense to a point to lift a country out of poverty but once developed, with an information and service-based economy, this focus should shift to providing us well-being, purpose and environmental stewardship as well as prosperity and economic stability.

This is one of our key challenges and opportunities in creating a sustainable world and these two messages are a simple and concise way of conceptualising this.

I Went To Canberra To Eat Delicious French Food And Raise Awareness About Food Waste

This article originally appeared in The Vocal.

I was let into the French Embassy in Canberra by Pierre, a young intern studying Public Affairs in Paris. He led me up to the main building at the top of a small hill next to Parliament House. I had jumped at the chance to travel down to Canberra from Sydney to take part in an event put on by the embassy marking the start of the COP21 global climate change meeting in Paris, being both a climate wonk and a curious outsider hoping for a brief glimpse into the secret life of Canberra’s public servants and diplomats.


Through the building – a typically Canberra, 1950s sandstone and plaster take on a modest French chateau – I emerged onto a beautiful, green lawn with glimpses through the gum trees over Lake Burley Griffin and the mountains beyond.

The oversized LED clock counting down on the patio behind me indicated that in just under two hours guests would be arriving and, on the other side of the world, COP21 would be getting underway.

Pierre showed me to the kitchen where I got to work helping chefs from the nearby National Press Club as they prepared for the festivities.

Arriving guests were greeted with our canapes consisting of tuna nicoise en croute bursting with flavour and a light carrot flan with asparagus and a fresh, zesty pesto.


As the countdown clock reached zero and the speeches espousing the importance of meaningful outcomes on climate change at COP21 began, it was time for the mains. Picture melt-in-your-mouth beef bourguignon with Dutch carrots; handmade vegetarian lasagne with a delicious creamy bechamel sauce, eggplant and toasted pine nuts; braised barley with roasted fennel; potato gratin. And the pièce de résistance: a mind-blowing Grand Marnier Panettone bread and butter pudding with blueberries.

Asparagus, spinach, rocket and roasted almond salad and Carrot flan with breadcrumbs and zesty pesto

Why am I at such pains to describe the menu to you? Well because despite being quality food of the kind I imagined these guests would enjoy regularly, almost all of the ingredients used had been rescued from local supermarkets and cafes over the last couple of days by food rescue organisation OzHarvest; food that would otherwise have been thrown out.

If the idea of feeding politicians, bureaucrats and diplomats food that would otherwise have gone to landfill gives you a perverse sense of satisfaction, it shouldn’t (ok, maybe just a bit) because most of the food that supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and households throw out every day is perfectly edible and can be turned into top quality meals.

Beef Bourguignon with Dutch carrots.jpg

That’s why OzHarvest (and me, luckily) had been invited by the embassy to prepare the menu for the event as part of its Think.Eat.Save campaign. They wanted to show just how tasty food waste can be and that reducing the huge amounts of food we throw away or lose every day is important for lowering our emissions and tackling climate change.

Here’s an insane fact. Every year roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted. That’s 1.3 billion tonnes.

If food waste was a country it would be the third largest emitter of carbon in the world behind China and the US.

And, I’m sorry to say it Australia, but we’re some of the worst offenders. Food waste here costs us up to $10 billion a year and despite producing enough food to feed approximately 60 million people, 2 million Australians still rely on food relief every year.

How does this happen?

Supermarkets throw out heaps of fruit and veggies every year (20-40% in fact) before they even hit the shelves because they don’t meet strict cosmetic standards, despite being perfectly fine. We also tend to buy too much food and throw away what goes off. Indeed, Australians bin the equivalent of 1 in every 5 bags of groceries we buy.

So we waste a lot of food and it’s quite bad for the environment and climate but there are simple things we can do to reverse this:

  • plan ahead when you buy your groceries to minimise buying too much
  • avoid buying cheap 2 for 1 specials at supermarkets – only buy what you know you’ll eat
  • consider buying fruits and veggies from supermarkets that now offer discounted “imperfect” produce like Woolworths’ ‘Odd Bunch’ or Harris Farm’s ‘Imperfect Picks
  • try and use all the food in your fridge and freeze leftovers – consider it a challenge!
  • perhaps buy some of your fruit and veg at a local farmer’s market and learn about how it’s grown. Or even try growing your own at a local community garden, in your garden or on your balcony.
  • if you’re a food business with regular excess produce, get in contact with your local OzHarvest office to arrange a regular pickup. Or suggest to your local food provider that they work with OzHarvest to reduce their food waste.

For the past 11 years, OzHarvest has rescued quality food from outlets across the country and donated it to less fortunate Australians as well as providing food education and cooking qualifications for underprivileged youth. In one way, their goal is to run themselves out of business by helping eliminate food waste.

As I left the embassy later in the evening (having tried the dishes on offer – hey, you’ve got to know the product you’re selling!) Pierre told me how surprised he was that such a delicious menu could be prepared with rescued food. It was a sentiment echoed by a lot of guests.

Events like this one suggest perhaps that one of the most important things we can do to help reduce food waste is to change the way we think about food: to enjoy it but also to see it and treat it as the valuable resource that it is.