Investigating relationships to climate change in Australia
Presented by Dr Jenny Newell
Curator for Climate Change, Australian Museum Climate Solutions Centre
Recorded Wednesday 1 February 2023
Thanks, everyone, for joining. We appreciate you taking some time. And I also want to acknowledge that we're here on Gadigal land and I want to acknowledge the long and careful stewardship of this land by First Nations peoples, stewardship we all need to step up to. I also just wanted to acknowledge the passing of Professor Will Steffen on the weekend. He's one of Australia's most influential and sweet climate scientists. It's really sad to have him not with us anymore.
Thank you for joining. We're going to be talking about the Climate Solutions Centre. I know lots of you are wondering a bit about what it's all about and I also want to talk to you a bit more about the social research that goes into developing all our programs, exhibitions, and so on. At the Climate Solutions Centre, we're really about gathering powerful stories and using those to help people see the positive futures that we can create. We're advancing understanding and engagement with climate solutions in Australia and we're really wanting to make sure that the outreach that we create is really effective, as effective as possible. And to do that, we need to do substantial amounts of research of all sorts, to make sure that we're really going to reach those audiences we want to connect to. The Climate Solutions Centre advances the Australian Museum's mission and our corporate strategic plan. So, you'd probably all be familiar with this already, but just to flag again that a really superb part of our [AM] mission is to commit to transforming the conversation around climate change, the environment, and wildlife conservation. This is a wonderful part of the mission. I'm very excited that I'm able to really do something substantial to advance this really important aim.
The Climate Solutions Centre is also one of the key means by which we're delivering the corporate strategic plan, Stream 3, which is advancing action on climate change and sustainability. This is led by Russell Briggs, Zehra Ahmed, me, and with a team, of course, who created a suite of deliverables that's being advanced across the museum in four key areas of activity. I won't go into them now, but they're captured in the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, the new one, which is coming out shortly – so stay tuned for that.
What's the challenge that the Climate Solutions Centre is addressing? Tackling climate change, the major challenge of our time, needs action across all sectors of society. Four in five Australians are concerned about climate change. We know this from all the major surveys being done by the Sunrise Foundation, the Australian Institute and many other groups. However, not many of us know what to do about it. The gap needs to be filled between public understanding and the many exciting, brilliant solutions available out there for really engaging and trying to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergency. Climate Solutions Centre works collaboratively to engage more people in solutions. So, I'm working along with Natalia Granwal, who's the current Project Officer for the Climate Solutions Centre. And thankfully, there's two of us now in the Climate Solutions Centre. It's pretty tough trying to do it on your own, so I'm really grateful that we've got Natalia at the moment. The Climate Solutions Centre is supported by Kim and the rest of the Executive Leadership Team, all our colleagues across the museum, and the Climate Solutions Centre’s advisory group. This is 26 experts in climate science, in different types of climate solutions, many different sorts, experts in cultural knowledge and comms. I'll just show you a quick picture of just some of them – those whom I just happened to have their mugshots! I'm gathering all their mugshots to go onto the website, so that's coming, and they're fantastic. We meet regularly, and I'm also able to just get in touch with the members one-on-one if I need some advice, if I need them to respond to something I've put together for an exhibition, just to fact check or to give me some more ideas. And it's a really wonderful resource, and it’s very generous of them to be involved. So, the Climate Solutions Centre is AM-funded at the moment. Our partnerships and development team are working hard to see if we can find some extra external funding, and I've been applying for grants as well. That would be wonderful if that can come through, because that will mean we can hire more staff, we can bring on research fellows, postdocs, and really advance our programs much more effectively and on a much larger scale.
The spheres of activity that we've been working in: first of all, of course, is here at the AM. We work with colleagues across the Museum to create the programs, exhibitions and digital products, and also looking to connect more with AMRI and to be able to really get some more of those stories out. Also more messaging for staff going forward, helping people to see the sorts of sustainability and climate action that people can take to step up in that regard. So that's our first sphere of activity. And then, of course, our main focus is working to connect to the public. Third, I'm spending a lot of time working with peers at museums locally and internationally, and I have a wide range of research collaborations at different universities listed there, and independent research institutes like the Australia Institute. There are some examples of the kinds of peer projects I've been working on, things like convening the Sydney Cultural Institutions for Climate Action group, which started off as a bit of a coffee group meeting once a month, but we now are a bit more formal. We've got people from most of the cultural institutions in Sydney, and they're people who are either working on climate programming or on sustainability, and we're all a lot of moral support for each other, and as well as swapping ideas and inspiration. It's been just wonderful. Also, working on a lot of joint projects locally and internationally, including things like seminars and conference papers, and Zehra and I are writing some papers together and some book chapters. That's just something we do on the side. I also do podcasts, and I've been involved in various edited volumes and so on.
The fourth sphere that I work on is at the government level, and at the moment I'm putting together, with some colleagues, one at the NMA and one in the Blue Mountains, and also with Zehra, to create a way of helping museums and galleries in Australia really recognise the responsibility we have to step up to helping our communities understand the climate crisis. This is something which we're actually all signed up to do through the Paris Agreement. Communication for climate empowerment, or ACE, is something that not many museums are aware of. In fact, it's not spoken about very much. At most COPs, there's just a focus on reducing emissions, understandably. That is hugely important. But at the same time, all our governments, all our institutions, and our educational institutions too need to be making sure that our communities understand the climate and biodiversity crises sufficiently to be able to respond effectively. This means more education, more training, more pathways for people to realise what they can do to take action to help tackle climate change, but also to adapt and deal with the impacts of climate change.
What sorts of things are we producing at the Climate Solutions Centre? As you'd all be aware, there are exhibitions, of course, a major museum mode of communication. I contributed to the Changing Climate exhibition when that was being produced back in 2020. That's of course getting a lot of traffic all the time. There are about 120 people an hour coming through. I've just done some small audience tracking exercises there. You can see some students here using it (and a dog as well. Always great!) Then we also have produced a touring exhibition, Future Now, which you can see at the moment in Hintze Hall. There's an online exhibition as well called Capturing Climate Change.
A lot of great online resources - our wonderful digital team enables us to bring some really fabulous things to our public. We've got lots of ways of exploring exhibitions. There's a virtual tour of Spark, and there's also a multilingual site for Future Now. It's available in four different languages. We have the Capturing Climate Change site where people can upload their own photographs and captions capturing what it is that climate change is meaning for them. We have our information pages, the climate change pages, which gets a lot of visitation. That's also thanks very much to Megan and her team really helping me with the SEO, making sure we've got the right words there. We're picking up a lot of those Google searches. Our climate impacts page is particularly popular. It's got an extremely high average dwell time of 17.3 minutes, which those of you who track this kind of thing is pretty amazing for the internet. I'm very proud of that. We are developing more resources for the website going forward and more capacity for people and groups, communities to input what it is that they're doing about climate solutions in their own places so that people can share and make those interconnections between each other to really learn from each other from what's happening on the ground. Social media is going from strength to strength. Thanks very much to Natalia. She's been doing great work in that regard as well as many other fronts. Our reach has really increased this past year. Engagements have gone up about double on the previous year. The great thing about those Instagram activations and the posts that our social media team put out based on things like the blogs and other information that we've got up online is that they help direct traffic to the website, to our climate pages, and to our new climate solution centre page.
Climate programs: we've got award-winning climate programming and some of those things you'd already be aware of, things like the Talbot oration. This is our annual climate and environment event. Mark your calendars for this year, 31st of May. The wonderful Dr. Anne Hoggett will be presenting on Lizard Island in this anniversary year. She'll also be talking to us about ways that we can all help to protect the reef, so it’s not to be missed. Of course, the Climate Solutions Centre contributes to many of the other types of programming going on in the Museum that are more broad ranging. We provide suggestions for speakers and help with moderating and so on. That's just another way we are working.
We have small but growing Anthropocene collection. These are objects that capture people's relationships to climate change and to their changing environment. We've got some artworks and we've got things from people's everyday lives that we've asked for to help us tell stories in our exhibitions.
There's, of course, lots of wonderful climate-related research going on in AMRI. Some of the key things that have been coming out most recently - Kris sent me through some of the details and I've included them on this slide. Of course, there's much more going on. This is just a tiny capture and there's a lot that we can be doing, I think, to make sure that quite broad audiences understand some more of these findings about the impacts of climate change on our natural world.
I just want to talk to you a little bit about the social research that we've got going. We have small-scale social research, the sorts of things that I do myself or the things that I do with commissioned social researchers like FiftyFive5. They can be of the Australian Museum's audience or our members or of particular attendees to an exhibition or a program. Then larger-scale things that other bodies are doing and I'm able to tap into those larger-scale surveys. I'm just going to feature here one of them, which I've been finding particularly useful.
This is the Climate Compass produced by the Sunrise Project and FiftyFive5 with support from Rebecca Huntley. You can see here the findings for 2022. This is a tracking of when you ask people a set of questions, where they fall on a spectrum of concern about climate change, belief about the impact it's going to have on them now and in the future, and the capacity that they have to change anything about the situation. Depending on how people respond to those questions (there's a few more questions, but they're the core ones) you can see where on this spectrum they'll sit. We can see that the Australian population is very concerned, rather alarmed, and also alert. Alert is a particular subset of the concerned group, and they’re people who are so concerned they've given up and switched off and decided there's nothing that can be done about it. They're a group of concern for climate communicators like us. Then you can also see that there's people who are cautious and disengaged. They tend to be people who are cautious and disengaged about politics as well. It's all part of their general approach to social life. Then there's the doubtful and dismissive group. The dismissive group - they're the deniers, and they are a persistent percentage. The other portions of the climate audience in Australia are really all moving slowly over towards the alarmed end of the scale. We've seen in the last two years that there's been a growth of that alarmed category. Researchers are attributing that to particularly the impacts of the extreme weather we've been experiencing.
The great thing about the Climate Compass is that it really gives us a breakdown about those different segments and their particular values, their concerns. We get quite a lot about their demographics as well, because it does tend to fall into demographic groups. Because of the kinds of detail they're able to get from these surveys, the last one in 2022 is of 3,636 people, so it's a substantial, statistically significant portion there of the Australian population. We're able to see the kinds of things these audiences are concerned about and the barriers that they have to taking action.
We're really concerned at the Climate Solutions Centre to make sure that we're helping the people in that alarmed, alert, and concerned part of the audience to figure out what it is that they would like to do, what sort of action they would like to take, and also answering basic questions they have about climate change. Then we have the cautious, disengaged, and doubtful portion, which is much harder to reach, but that we're working on, and I'll tell you about that in a minute. The great thing about the climate compass is that there's quite a lot of detail there about exactly what it is that is affecting people's attitudes to climate change and their levels of engagement. You can see here the sorts of things that are increasing people's concern, so why people are more concerned now as a general rule. We get some information about the demographics, that it's more women and young people who are becoming more concerned about climate change. We get to see the sorts of impacts on behaviour; where they are in the attitude matrix is predictive of their behaviour. That's of course very important for us to be able to understand. We can see how attitudes are changing on particular subjects, such as use of coal, oil, and gas, and the changes there. We're able to see the kinds of barriers that particular parts of the audience have to particular issues. The other thing that we're able to get from these kinds of studies are really effective ways strategically planning how we're going to be able to address people in these different segments. This is really helpful as a guide to developing our content.
The other thing we're doing when we're talking to Australian Museum audiences with the surveys that we've designed is asking particularly about the kinds of programming and exhibitions that people would like. You can see some results here that people are very keen to hear more about climate solutions. Great to know. That's a relief! Also, just coming through always is that the need to know ‘what it is that I can do’. This has always been a perennial question, but it's still there. People still want direction on guidance on what to do. The Future Now exhibition has been directly designed to do this. Probably a lot of you have seen the exhibition. You know that it's a very positive focus and it really shows the kinds of places we can create. If we bring nature back in, we regenerate nature, if we go for clean transport, clean energy. We really focus in on some of the exciting bits of technology that are coming up. That's very exciting for children. That's very exciting for even people in the dismissive segment. The more climate denier end of the spectrum - they're still really interested in new technologies. This is a new way of getting people interested. What I'm using over and over again in the messaging around this exhibition, which is very accessible, of course, for people who don't have necessarily English as their first language, it's still there visibly. All these messages about how great these environments are. But I'm repeating words like clean, safe, affordable, and fair. We know that these are words that test very well, that appeal very much to people in that cautious and disengaged part of the audience. It’s an exhibition that doesn't talk a lot about climate change - it does appear in parts of the lower-level text, but it's not very up front. It's all about the benefits of living sustainably and regenerating nature. People have just been responding incredibly well. You often see people ticking off sustainable actions: ‘oh, yeah, we do that’. A lot of people are saying things like, ‘oh, I'd love to live there’. Kids and their grownups are often saying things like ‘I wish I was small and I could live in that city. It looks fantastic.’ It's just been really heartening seeing how people respond to that kind of capacity to see a positive future, a much more beneficial future for us all. It's not just all about what you have to give up. It's not just about things being tough. We acknowledge that there's major problems that we have to address fast, but if we do, if we scale up all these fantastic solutions, then we can really create environments that are much better for everybody, for us and for other species.
The next phase of the Future Now exhibition is responding to all the feedback we received from the various audience surveys and talking to lots of students and so on. We're creating a new version, a few extra components to add to the existing models. That'll go out to the regions. We've been doing lots of consulting. We'll be adding some localizable components as well so that each place, whether it's Wagga or Orange or wherever, they'll be able to put in some of their own local content about sustainability and regenerating nature.
Now, just before I finish up, I wanted to flag two quick programs. I'll just do it very quickly, but this is a very important one, and very dear to my heart. It's called Survival Stories. It's all about creating connections to species and giving people pathways to take part in species conservation. The full title of this program is Survival Stories, Threatened Species and the Scientists Who Study Them. We're creating a suite of long-form content. Some of it will be videos, some audio, some text, some artworks, drawings, animations, and so on. It's hearing from AMRI scientists about the species that they study, the ones that are particularly important to them and that they know so much about. We're just presenting that in creative ways that will be, hopefully, really captivating for a general audience. Each of the stories, whether it's about monotremes or it's about fish or it's about beetles, we'll be able to ( or many others, don't worry, there's more than that), but each of them includes a section which has pathways for supporting species conservation, some hands-on activities and all sorts of things that people can share with other people. We're hoping that's going to be a really great resource for people at the Museum to use in workshops and programs, social media posts, and all sorts of things. That's really wonderful. I'm working with some external creative people on that, Zoe Sadokierski at UTS and Ceridwen Dovey, who's a writer and anthropologist.
We've been talking to AM Members and we've discovered that they are super alarmed about climate change. You can see here that 51% are alarmed and a lot are alert and concerned. I really wanted to also - hearing the sorts of questions they have - wanted to make sure that I was giving them a program that would help to give them a chance to talk about these kinds of concerns and have a safe space for finding a way through to taking action and to be listened to and supported. I designed a program called Coffee & Climate. It's a conversation program. It's a question-and-answer opportunity. It's a chance for people to just feel safe to talk about these often very difficult and confronting issues. It's been really successful so far. I've had our first one in January that sold out (it's free actually, so I shouldn't say sold out. It was booked up). The next one in February is also booked up and I haven't checked yet for March, but I'm sure it's going well. It's been a very warm and positive kind of conversation, but people really finding lots of surprising information coming out of that and also some fun activities to help them find out exactly what it is that's going to suit them best in terms of the action that they want to take and how they can upscale their power by joining in with collective action.
That's given you a quick whistle stop tour of the Climate Solutions Centre and our work and the research that informs our work. Just to let you know that we're based in the Malacology Department. Thanks very much to AMRI, to Kris, and to our lovely colleagues in the Malacology Office. I'm there with Mandy, Ian, and Anders, and Natalia and I are very happy there. We feel very welcomed. We're there on the ground floor if you ever want to come past to say hi. Thanks very much.
Large-scale annual surveys of the Australian population and recent polling of AM visitors reveal a growing level of concern about climate change. Also revealed in a significant portion of the public is a high degree of willingness to rework lifestyle and policies to establish solutions.
Tune in to learn how the Climate Solutions Centre (CSC) is using climate attitude research and segmentation tools such as the ‘Climate Compass’ to design exhibitions and programs to connect effectively with key audience segments. Jenny will highlight the concepts behind three of the CSC’s current outreach initiatives: Survival Stories: Threatened Species and the Scientists who Study Them (in development with AMRI scientists); the Future Now touring exhibition (currently in Hintze Hall to the end of Jan); and the new ‘Coffee & Climate’ conversation program.