fbpx Climate and biodiversity: from Blah Blah Blah to Impact | Ecsite

Climate and biodiversity: from Blah Blah Blah to Impact

Screenshot of Jens Astrup presentation, mix of tweets and newspapers screenshot. Main message can read: life changes arent enough to save the planet: here's what could

As part of Ecsite's Environmental Emergency Action supporting member organisations in their environmental sustainability efforts, we encouraged speakers from #Ecsite2023 who discussed the biodiversity and climate emergency to share the lasting impact of their sessions with both Conference participants and Ecsite members.

Session convenor Brad Irwin wrote a must-read summary of their session on "Climate and biodiversity: from Blah Blah Blah to Impact" which aimed to provide recommendations for how to expand and improve biodiversity and climate communication. (Take a look at the session page, including speakers' details). The session slideshows can be found right after Brad' summary.

Climate and biodiversity: from Blah Blah Blah to Impact

As someone who is passionate about the role museums play in addressing the planetary crisis, I was thrilled to convene a session that wanted to get away from all the “blah blah blah” to really focus on impact and transformative change. The session had three brilliant speakers all of whom drew upon their experience of working within our sector; whilst offering useful tips on how to engage public audiences with what can be a truly overwhelming topic.

First up Franziska Lang, Program Coordinator for STEM Education at Experimenta shared the work they have been doing to engage young audiences with the climate crisis. This included their Wild Spaces event (which was a part of the #Ecsite2022 Conference) through to full day initiatives whereby students are able to engage in a variety of activities and tasks related to biodiversity. Key reflections from their audience research included:

  • Focus activities on positive emotions instead of alarmism – and re-orientate activities towards taking action.
  • Make sure your learners are experiencing the beauty of biodiversity as motivation to protect it/fight for it.
  • Reach individuals as well as groups of different ages, for example, school classes.
  • Dive into audience research to really understand experiences and needs.

Next, Jens Astrup the Audience Research Manager from the Natural History Museum of Denmark shared his latest research project which explored: Will a systemic message (around the climate crisis) make us want to take action? Firstly, he was really keen to point out that he was not pitting systemic vs. lifestyle actions against each other. He noted “With the mess we’re in, both will be necessary.”Key reflections from his research included:

  • When developing experiences, you must point to actions. Convincing actions. And make sure you highlight solutions.
  • Include all three aspects of our systemic message (for example when discussing the renewable energy transition you should highlight the relative importance, the sizeable price reduction, and available individual actions)
  • Advocate both systemic and lifestyle actions, but test!
  • Prioritize systemic approach if space is limited (but try to fit in that lifestyle actions are a valuable contribution)
  • Action-pointing messages should always be tested for their effect – you may achieve the opposite of what you intend!

A more detailed paper on this research project is currently in the process of being peer-reviewed; so follow Jens to find out when it is available.

And finally, Claire Pillsbury, the-Associate Director of Exhibit Content Development at the California Academy of Sciences drew upon her own research and a variety of peer-reviewed studies from psychology and the social sciences, reminding us that there is so much work out there already on how to improve climate communication and education. She started with a useful reminder – that we all learn differently and that we all have our own ways of thinking and understanding. Her key reflections on effective climate communication included:

  • This topic is too important to leave to the scientists, and that co-creation and collaboration with informal education experts are essential (Fischoff, 2011)
  • Resist the urge to de-bias by contradicting. Rather than contradicting to prove a point and urge them to revise their understanding, consider ‘nudging’ individuals to make climate friendly choices and incrementally shift their view (Lewandowsky et al, 2012)
  • When developing experiences test, revise, and test again. And launch into this process with the expectation that testing will lead to revisions and improvements (Parker et al, 2018).
  • Make interpretation easy to read. A font that is difficult to read, low contrast text, or a challenging graphic design can influence whether the content is judged as difficult to understand, less believable, or harder to act on (Song and Schwarz, 2010)
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Simple repetition is an important strategy to make concepts accessible (Schwarz et al, 2007)
  • We are in this together. Communication across “the divide” is a real challenge but we must have broad input and participation to devise, support, and implement climate solutions (McNeal et al, 2014).

The climate crisis is the biggest challenge we will face in our lifetime. And as museums are key places of public trust I think we have a real opportunity to inspire, inform and empower people to act. I thought the work and reflections shared by our speakers provided a clear roadmap of how the sector can orientate its work to focus on impact and action.

Public resource


  • session legacy
  • #Ecsite2023
  • climate
  • biodiversity
  • impact
  • communication