A Marshall Plan for Climate Action

George Marshall, Bob Hawkesworth
Bob Hawkesworth with George Marshall

George Marshall wrote the book, “Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”. With a title like that, you might think George is resigned, cynical or blasé about our prospects for taking meaningful action on climate change. Quite the contrary. George Marshall is very upbeat and optimistic. He gives the distinct impression that our prospects of tackling climate have never been better. In large part, it’s because he believes he now knows what will work to spur action.

George is a key leader and sparkplug at Climate Outreach – an Oxford think tank and research centre. Climate Outreach’s work on climate communications has been recognized internationally as pioneering and groundbreaking.

George Marshall’s 2014 book has also received positive reviews: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/dont-even-think-about-it-9781620401330/

The Shift

A big problem is that climate action has become polarized along political lines. This split is preventing meaningful progress. George contends climate advocates have used language and framing that has only alienated the political right. He believes this schism must be repaired and has made it a personal quest to figure out how.

George is adamant that everyone needs to be involved in finding solutions. No one should be left behind, especially the right: http://climateoutreach.org/resources/election-guide-video/

Plan B

The Marshall Plan could not be simpler: just listen. The most radical thing we can do is just listen to those who think differently from us.

This George Marshall TED talk explains his contention in more detail: http://climateoutreach.org/resources/tedxeastend-george-marshall/

How do we listen, especially to those with whom we disagree? A tool developed by Climate Outreach to enable industrial strength listening, is a “narrative workshop”. Narrative workshops have:

  • Rigorous research design;
  • A script and framework of tested questions that will be appropriate across linguistic, cultural and demographically diverse groups;
  • The look and feel of a focus group without the expense.

The Climate Outreach vision is that any organization, with little expense, will be able to convene narrative workshops with just about anyone, anywhere. Narrative workshops will be used in countries throughout the world. Indeed, Climate Outreach has just completed a test of these workshops in India.

Narrative workshop participants will identify, among other things, what makes them proud; what they believe makes a good person; the qualities, concerns, insights, values and frames that matter to them. As George put it, climate action groups will have what they need, “…to listen to the people they usually don’t speak to.”

He tells me to check regularly with the Climate Outreach website. The narrative workshop tool will soon be available on line.  http://climateoutreach.org/

Why is George Marshall so optimistic? He tells me that even the World Bank is now taking climate communications seriously. They have convened a task group (Alberta/BC/Ontario/Quebec are all members) to develop ways to better communicate carbon pricing policies. When the World Bank deems to listen, it feels a change of consequence has occurred.

Magdalen College Chapel
Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford, UK

George invites me to join him at Evensong in Magdalen College. We listen to the heavenly voices soar in that space as they have soared there since the 16th Century. It was easy to be transported to a place of contentment, gratitude and optimism.

If only listening to those with whom we disagree could also be so delightful!

That’s the hard road for Plan B* – being able to receive the gifts of understanding and insight from those who think differently from us.

We part with the hope that George Marshall might soon be able to visit Alberta. Our polarized debate could sure use his professional help. Alberta has a large right of centre political constituency that wants to play a constructive role developing climate solutions. They are not being engaged or well served by any political party at the moment. No one is truly listening to them.

Listen to those with whom we disagree. How hard is that? An Alberta Marshall Plan B* doesn’t seem all that radical after all. Or is it?


Magdalen College
Magdalen College, Oxford, UK

Adaptive Challenge – A Plan B* for the Church?

Bishop Bruce Ough,
Bishop Bruce Ough of the United Methodist Church, addresses delegates to the Moravian Church leadership retreat.











The Shift

The Christian Church has experienced a shift. Many people no longer see the gospel or the Christian message as relevant.

Bishop Bruce Ough calls this situation an “adaptive challenge”. That’s as good a definition for “shift” as any. A shift is a challenge that calls us to adapt.

Plan B*

Bishop Bruce Ough told delegates to the Moravian Church leadership retreat that the church must re-discover its purpose and calling in the world. Bishop Ough is the national head for the United States United Methodist Church. He also currently serves as Bishop for Methodists around the world: http://www.umc.org/bishops/bruce-r-ough.

He encouraged the Moravian Church delegates to:

  • Know where you are going;
  • Build a strong mission/vision leadership team to set the tone at the top;
  • Develop and nurture clergy and laity in a renewal of internal culture;
  • Invite the entire system into a life of prayer. Become a movement;
  • Invest in projects and initiatives that carry these renewed values of responding.

The mission of the church is no different than it was 2000 years ago. That mission is to be agents of God’s transforming love in the world. But many congregations have grown comfortable with the familiar and they prefer the ways of the past. While that is a natural human trait, holding on to “preferences” can stand in their way of responding to the shift.

In other words, implementing Plan B* requires culture change within the church.

Plan B* always implies giving up something familiar, rediscovering a meaningful purpose, and digging deeper to adapt.

Moravian delegates responded positively to Bishop Ough’s advice. Before the retreat concluded, they agreed to a process of discernment, prayer and engagement. Stronger links will be made from purpose, mission and vision of the church to its practices and ministries. In other words, they are creating a Plan B* to be more impactful living into God’s love for the world.

Plan B* implies, that in order to hold true to their purpose, the Moravians might be called to give up some familiar preferences.


Rev. Betsy Miller and Bishop Bruce Ough
Rev. Betsy Miller, President of the Northern Province, Moravian Church in America with Bishop Bruce Ough, United Methodist Church
Bishop Bruce Ough
Bishop Bruce Ough heads the American United Methodist Church and is President of the worldwide Methodist Council of Bishops