When a Conversation Inspires Action 2

In June of 2015, I invited a group of climate experts and creatives (artists, performers, writers) in Marseille, France, to come together over wine and food to have a conversation about inspiration and how we can inspire more action on climate change. It was an amazing and inspiring conversation and we will be having follow-up evenings to explore new, innovative ways to work together tentatively scheduled for November and January here in Marseille. I followed up this european inaugural "Jefferson Dinner" to hold one in Berlin in July and we have one scheduled for Paris during the international climate negotiations in Paris for COP21. You can read a bit more about this and about the work I have been doing with our partners in Paris and Berlin here: When a Conversation Inspires Action.

At our first <<Climate Conversation>> in Marseille, there were a group of 7 experts in communication (journalists, marketing professionals, sculptors, etc) and 7 experts in climate change (climatologists, lawyers, decision-making scientists, etc) to explore how we can harness the concept of <<inspiration>> to move more people to climate action. It was a very exciting conversation with diverse viewpoints and ideas. One of my goals for these conversations is for us to use our expertise to explore the concepts of inspiration and engagement and how we can apply them to the climate movement with a diverse group of experts in climate and communication

We began the conversation by sharing a “Story of Self”, where after personal introductions, we asked the table of 14 participants to start by “describing a time in their life where they felt the most inspired”. These stories varied, but some common threads between them, including that they were all very personal interactions and many of the experience had a moment of “self realization” of our own power and/or responsibility. In addition to this, inspiration around the table often came at times when we were actively participating in the event or moment, not just “watching” and the memories that were most strong as times of inspiration were times when we felt “our voice was heard”.

When talking about the connection between inspiration and action, we noticed that we had a common experience in terms of personal motivations for change: we are all influenced by people around us that we a) respect and b) with whom we identify. This directly speaks to what decision-making scientists tell us: sense of identity is one of the strongest factors in how we make decisions and what decisions we make. How does this relate to climate change and action? When we’re communicating about climate change, it’s important to understand the “identities” of our audience. For a stark example, if I’m talking to a crowd in Houston, Texas, about climate change who self-identify as political conservatives, I would be smart to tailor the conversation to talk about how much environmental conservation was started in the U.S. but Republicans and to maybe avoid talking about issues that would confront their sense of self or their sense of community. Interestingly enough, although this is basic conversation 101, most environmental groups and activists have not been applying the rules of conversation, argumentation, or even basic psychology to our communication and outreach materials.

Although the “self” or individual is extremely important, particularly in U.S. culture where we have a great pride and focus on the potential of the individual, understanding how we come together as a community and how we define community is also key to building a movement. Following our conversation about our own personal experiences of “inspiration”, we then moved onto the idea of exploring “A Story of Us” or to see what are the feelings, events, and experiences that tie us together as a diverse community. Some of the questions we asked included: What does ‘climate’ mean to you? How do we connect climate to other things in our lives? and What do we want to actually communicate to others?

Connecting climate to other issues in our daily lives was something that rang true for everyone in the group. When we talked about what things influence our decisions on a daily basis, it was rare for any of us to talk about climate change directly---even though half of us in the room work on the issue--but we were more likely to think about things more immediate in our lives like our health, happiness, well-being, and even issues of affordability or accessibility. From this conversation, we explored how linking climate change to these topics increases our interest, as well as the relatability of the topic of climate. In other ways, this allows us to also explore climate change, impacts and solutions, without always talking about climate specifically. And also helps us to see the broad-arching impacts that our daily actions have on the climate--both good and bad.

When we shifted to discussing what we want to communicate, if our end goal is to inspire more action on climate, four main issues arose: many people thought that tackling energy is number one. Knowing where our energy comes from and what the impact of it is is key. However, we also found that, for us, understanding the inequality of who has a voice in decisions was as important to our group. Along these lines, we thought the “approachability” of solutions is very important: we need to know that we can make a difference. And communicating solutions in ways that people both want to take part and feel like they can actually improve things resonated with us. On the other side, our group thought looking at the inevitability of adaptation as a very important, yet difficult, issue to discuss. For many communities, there are no good choices when it comes to adapting to the impacts of climate change, which also circles back to our desire to discuss the inequalities that climate change heighten globally. We asked each other: Do we have the capacity to adapt? If so, how are we going to do it?

In the third portion of the evening, we discussed our perceptions of today’s issues around climate change and inspiring action, “a story of now”. Initially, we looked at the idea of what is is that we actually need to get more people to take action. For the decision-making experts in the room, the answer was that we need to understand how we learn about or interpret our environment in terms of “risk or opportunity” as well as emotional responses to find trigger points, as it were, to motivate action. We also explored the idea of using examples of past actions to find ways to recreate moments, feelings, and inspiration that motivated certain groups in the past. We pushed beyond discussing the mechanics of how to get people to take action (ourselves included) and took a step back to discuss the idea around “knowing when you’ve won”, or---in other words---what does “success” look like for the climate movement? The overall consensus was that a future without fossil fuels is instrumental to “climate success”. In addition to this, participants highlighted the importance of diversity in decisionmaking and that the power needs to lie in places beyond parliament or the boardroom.

Of course, one conversation may spark an idea or action, but building community takes time and effort. To close the evening, we discussed ways we might work together and most were interested in continuing the dinners, as well as expanding the group to include others in our field and to diversify the conversation. Ideas for topics and ways to continue included having a short reading to discuss before the conversations, introducing a personal question at the beginning of our meetings, and swapping hosts so that we had different “conversation leadership” and styles at each event. Many ideas of project-oriented partnerships also grew out of the brainstorm, including developing an “art and climate” zine, hosting a climate “Pechakucha” night or salon event that is open to the public, and to develop the Human Impact Stories program of the Human Impacts Institute for Marseille. Because of this conversation, we did just that and launched the podcasts series, climate walking tour, and original artwork of Human Impact Stories Marseille with 14 people in Marseille only three months after our first “Climate Conversation”. Who says talk doesn’t lead to action? ​

Check out the amazing group of participants in the June 2015 conversation, as well as their great organizations and work below:

Tara DePorte, Fondatrice et Directrice, Human Impacts Institute

Marie Lootvoet, Coordinatrice, AIR Climat

Nicolas Haeringer, Chargé de Campagne (France), 350.org

Joel Guoit, Directeur, OT-MED (Objectif Terre - Bassin Méditerranéen) LABEX (Laboratoire d’excellence)

Xavier Giraud, Maître de Conférences, CEREGE (Centre de Recherche et d’Enseignement de Géosciences de l’Environnement)

Catherine Rétoré, Conseil Régional, chef de projet pour l'Air et l'adaptation au changement Climatique, Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur (PACA)

Marika Nanquette, Présidente, et Marie-Jo Gaudé, Chargée d’exposition, Association Portes Ouvertes Consolat / Galerie Andiamo, Marseille

Alexandra Schleyer-Lindenmann, Maître de Conférences en Psychologie , Directeur, ESPACE (UMR 7300)- CNRS / AIX-MARSEILLE UNIVERSITÉ

Marie-Laure Lambert, Maître de conférences, HDR – Section CNU: 02

Laboratoire LIEU + CEJU Centre d’Etudes Juridiques d’Urbanisme

Sarah Carrière Chardon, Coordinator, Pecha Kucha Marseille

Suzanne de Cheveigne, Directrice de Recherche, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique et directrice du Centre Norbert Elias

Thierry Botti, Responsable du CIPRES, Communication-diffusion des connaissances, Information, Patromie et REssources Scientifique, OSU Institute Pythéas

Thank you to Invoking the Pause, IMéRA, and OT-MED for inspiring and supporting this program.

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