As I was starting my Masters at Durham last autumn I was presented with the incredible opportunity to present a TEDx talk.
The inaugural TEDxTeen London on October 11th 2014 brought together a collection of young people to share their ideas at the indigO2. The conference highlighted the stories of those who dare to be innovative and who strive to make a change.
I was fortunate to be one of those speakers and my message addressed the disruptive potential of climate change. I have worked to shape the way we communicate climate change since 2005. Over this time I have shaped UK government policy by getting climate change on the national curriculum, fronted a media campaign that reached over 3 million people and set up my own environmental enterprise.
Since being personally affected by severe flooding in North Yorkshire, in the summer of 2005, I made it my mission to raise awareness and education around climate change. This was a time before climate change was big news; most people hadn’t heard about it yet alone understood it.
I promoted scientific education of climate change; how it happens, why it happens, the greenhouse effect, atmospheric chemistry, glaciers, sea level and so on. I was certain that education was the solution to the problem. I believed that if people understood the issue they would understand the importance of it and do something about it. Very recently I had a realisation that I had been wrong this entire time.
As one comes to the end of a chapter in your life you often look back and reflect. This experience came to me as I finished my university geography degree last summer. My reflection on the past few years also involved reassessing my work on climate change and thinking ‘why haven’t we done more as a society to tackle this problem’.
I feel that now, after years of climate change stories in the media and on the curriculum, we perceive climate change to be a distant and abstract phenomenon, far removed from everyday life. The model of climate change communication has very much followed an information-deficit system, where knowledge and understanding flows one way- from the experts to the public.
This top-down production of knowledge has not had the desired effects. I believed that if people understood the science of climate change they would understand the importance of the issue and take action. Due to an increased awareness of climate change we have made simple changes to make our everyday lives more environmentally friendly, but we have not yet made significant changes to our lives or way of business. The overbearing role of science in public communications has a part to play in this.
The story that I wanted to tell at TEDxTeen was that we need to change the way we look at the problem. Climate change is not a remote scientific concept it is real and it is personal. It is a problem which will redefine our society and economy whether we like it or not and it will impact upon each of ours health, finances and security. It is one of the defining challenges of our age and we all must recognise our individual roles to play in the solutions.
I studied Geography at Durham for three years before embarking on my Masters. My experience at University really helped to shape my climate change work, but perhaps not in the way you would initially expect, by learning lots of facts throughout my undergraduate. But more so because of the incredible people I have been fortunate to meet at Durham who have helped and supported me in my climate activism.
The sense of community at Durham colleges in so inspiring and the friends that I have made and mentors I have adopted have been incredibly supportive. I’ve been fortunate to be part of two fantastic colleges while here at Durham, St Mary’s throughout my Undergraduate and Collingwood now during my Masters in Hazard & Risk. As a result I can safely say how outstanding and caring the Durham college system is and how these environment bring out the best in you!
I hope that this winning formula will continue into the future as it really makes the Durham experience stand out. As for my future, I am heading to London this summer to continue my climate change work and I will be returning to Durham in the autumn to complete my Masters.
You can view David’s TEDx talk, ‘Why I don’t care about climate change’ in full on the TEDx Teen website.