Matt Winning, Climate Strange

“The best thing you can possibly do for your children’s future is to not have any children”

We speak to environmental economist Matt Winning ahead of his Edinburgh Fringe Festival Climate Strange, which focuses on climate change.

Environmental economist Matt Winning focuses on climate change policy during the day – but he doesn’t always take it seriously. In August he’s taking his stand-up show, Climate Strange, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

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Tell us about the show…

This is my second attempt to do a show about climate change. The last one was an overview: the science, the impact, the politics and the technology. This one is from an individual point of view – it’s about what we can do about climate change and why we’re not doing it yet.

So what can we do?

A paper last year named the top four things you could do to reduce your impact, which included reduce your meat consumption, fly less and don’t drive. The number one thing was to not have any children.

So the best thing you can possibly do for your children’s future is to not have any children. It’s interesting juxtaposition, especially as my girlfriend and I are planning on having a child very soon. So what can you do? How do you offset having a child? I work in this area and I’m trying to reduce my carbon footprint and get others to reduce theirs, but also at the same time I do the same things and have the same aspirations as everyone else.

You talk about the psychology of climate change in the show. What is that?

There’s literature out there about why people ignore, deny or don’t engage with climate change. Over the last 20 to 30 years the tactic has been to tell people things, and if that doesn’t work tell them more, give them more facts. If anything, this backfires.

You get a newspaper headline that says ‘75 per cent of people don’t recycle’, then that makes us think ‘oh, well, nobody else recycles so I’m not going to bother’. There’s a way of framing it. If a hotel says three-quarters of guests hang up and reuse their towels, then most people start doing it, because it’s normal to want to be part of the consensus.

I think that the psychological and behavioural aspects are now the key to us trying to solve climate change from a personal perspective.

So are you employing these psychological tactics in your stand-up?

Oh yeah, of course! I’m trying to do as much as I possibly can. I’ll talk about the hurricanes or fires that happened last year, and the facts about solar and wind power that are coming in. Climate change can often feel like a distant subject, with a focus on what’s going to happen at the end of the century, but people stop dismissing it if you make it more present.

It’s a heavy topic – why tackle it with comedy?

It’s a way of engaging different types of people, which is really important. It’s heavy, and people often shut themselves off from it, but using comedy means people can enjoy themselves, and they’ll ingest some facts about it. And from a personal point of view, it makes me feel less depressed.

This is an extract from issue 325 of BBC Focus magazine.

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