With talks ongoing at the COP 21 in Paris this week, now seems like a good time to talk about one of the most pressing issues of our generation: climate change.

Indeed discussion of this issue has not been confined to Paris; November saw the annual Oxford Climate Forum – a student-run conference that invites leading thinkers, campaigners, journalists and academics to discuss climate change and its effects. The theme of the forum this year was ‘climate connections’, with a focus on why everyone should be thinking about this issue, not just activists. A range of people spoke throughout the weekend, from lawyers working for ClientEarth to veteran Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Juniper, to venerated diplomat and academic Sir Crispin Tickell. This conference brought together this disparate set of people behind a common banner of concern over our warming climate.

What was striking about this event was the sheer diversity of views on offer from the speakers. Considering that all the speakers had the same goals in mind, namely decreasing emissions and limiting the warming of our climate, there was a surprising lack of consensus. This debate isn’t over whether or not humans are causing climate change. For all serious scientists and observers, that question was settled long ago. Instead the discussion continues over what the best agenda for action is.

Kirsty Gogan, founder of Energy for Humanity, maintained that nuclear energy is vital for efforts to decarbonise our global economy and that we can’t rely on theoretical improvements in renewable technology to meet the growing demand for energy. In contrast, Tony Juniper, when asked about the nuclear industry, dismissed it as “irrelevant” without hesitation. He professed that it is too expensive and too slow to develop for it to be of any use. However, despite these differences of opinion, there are things that everyone agrees we could be doing now to try and meet the, possibly unsafe, target of 2°C warming. These include developing renewable energy generation capacity as quickly as possible and stopping the policy flip-flops that prevent progress in this sector. As Nina Klein, the coordinator of this year’s forum, commented, “I think focusing on the issues which are debated has allowed politicians and businesses to stall year-on-year. Now we are in a position where it is going to be a much more significant challenge to implement these changes soon enough and feel their positive effects.”

There also appears to be a polarisation of opinion regarding the rhetoric surrounding climate change. George Marshall, a co-founder of the charity Climate Outreach, insisted that much of the current dialogue surrounding climate change is unhelpful and actually drives people away from being interested or caring. Climate change rhetoric grew out of the environmentalist movement, but this wasn’t inevitable. It could have grown out of academia, economics or a range of other areas. Environmentalism is fundamentally tied to left wing views and opinions and the fact that climate change is so embedded within this movement has meant that conservatives have almost automatically been alienated. Without engaging conservatives, the movement has a much tougher job of forcing significant action in the UK and around the world.

The same goes for corporations and big business, especially the fossil fuel industry. Confrontational slogans which cast these organisations as the enemy only serves to push them further away. As the Forum committee put it, “we have to make the climate change story personal to different people based on their values so it engages them”.

George Marshall’s opinion showed a deep divergence with the viewpoint that Bill Mckibben revealed during his recorded video. He asserted that we need to ‘break’ the power of the fossil fuel industry and on more than one occasion thanked the audience that we were on his side in the ‘fight’ to save the planet.

For a movement that professes to be safeguarding the future of the planet and humanity itself, are these differences in opinion detrimental to the communication of their message? Just as divided political parties will struggle to get elected, surely divided activist movements will experience the same problems. It becomes very easy for governments and lobbies unsympathetic to the cause to cast those campaigning to make changes on emissions and climate change as confused and at odds with each other. It then becomes much easier to justify inaction.

The other major theme of the conference was the COP21 Paris Climate Conference that is taking place this week. The Conference’s attitude towards the talks was one of cautious optimism. Many were stung by the unmitigated failure of the international community to reach any kind of agreement during the last COP talks in Copenhagen in 2010. The disillusionment that followed has still not quite gone away among this community so it seems like they will not let themselves hope for a significant agreement lest they are disappointed again.

As the committee commented, “we believe the forum has helped raise a greater awareness of the effects of climate change, that it goes far beyond polar bears or a distant future and it is affecting real people all around the world today. We hope that holding the forum means that when the students go on to be the next generation of leaders we will one day have world leaders who consider climate change and give it the appropriate significance in their decisions and plans for the future.”

With talks ongoing at the COP 21 in Paris this week, now seems like a good time to talk about one of the most pressing issues of our generation: climate change.

Indeed discussion of this issue has not been confined to Paris; November saw the annual Oxford Climate Forum – a student-run conference that invites leading thinkers, campaigners, journalists and academics to discuss climate change and its effects. The theme of the forum this year was ‘climate connections’, with a focus on why everyone should be thinking about this issue, not just activists. A range of people spoke throughout the weekend, from lawyers working for ClientEarth to veteran Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Juniper, to venerated diplomat and academic Sir Crispin Tickell. This conference brought together this disparate set of people behind a common banner of concern over our warming climate.

What was striking about this event was the sheer diversity of views on offer from the speakers. Considering that all the speakers had the same goals in mind, namely decreasing emissions and limiting the warming of our climate, there was a surprising lack of consensus . This debate isn’t over whether or not humans are causing climate change. For all serious scientists and observers, that question was settled long ago. Instead the discussion continues over what the best agenda for action is.

Kirsty Gogan, founder of Energy for Humanity, maintained that nuclear energy is vital for efforts to decarbonise our global economy and that we can’t rely on theoretical improvements in renewable technology to meet the growing demand for energy. In contrast, Tony Juniper, when asked about the nuclear industry, dismissed it as ‘irrelevant’ without hesitation. He professed that it is too expensive and too slow to develop for it to be of any use. However, despite these differences of opinion, there are things that everyone agrees we could be doing now to try and meet the, possibly unsafe, target of 2°C warming. These include developing renewable energy generation capacity as quickly as possible and stopping the policy flip-flops that prevent progress in this sector. As Nina Klein, the coordinator of this year’s forum, commented, “I think focusing on the issues which are debated has allowed politicians and businesses to stall year-on-year. Now we arein a position where it is going to be a much more significant challengeto implement these changes soon enough and feel their positive effects.

There also appears to be a polarisation of opinion regarding the rhetoric surrounding climate change. George Marshall, a co-founder of the charity Climate Outreach, insisted that much of the current dialogue surrounding climate change is unhelpful and actually drives people away from being interested or caring. Climate change rhetoric grew out of the environmentalist movement, but this wasn’t inevitable. It could have grown out of academia, economics or a range of other areas. Environmentalism is fundamentally tied to left wing views and opinions and the fact that climate change is so embedded within this movement has meant that conservatives have almost automatically been alienated. Without engaging conservatives, the movement has a much tougher job of forcing significant action in the UK and around the world.

The same goes for corporations and big business, especially the fossil fuel industry. Confrontational slogans which cast these organisations as the enemy only serves to push them further away. As the Forum committee put it, “we have to make the climate change story personal to different people based on their values so it engages them”.

George Marshall’s opinion showed a deep divergence with the viewpoint that Bill Mckibben revealed during his recorded video. He asserted that we need to ‘break’ the power of the fossil fuel industry and on more than one occasion thanked the audience that we were on his side in the ‘fight’ to save the planet.

For a movement that professes to be safeguarding the future of the planet and humanity itself, are these differences in opinion detrimental to the communication of their message? Just as divided political parties will struggle to get elected, surely divided activist movements will experience the same problems. It becomes very easy for governments and lobbies unsympathetic to the cause to cast those campaigning to make changes on emissions and climate change as confused and at odds with each other. It then becomes much easier to justify inaction.

The other major theme of the conference was the COP21 Paris Climate Conference that is taking place this week. The Conference’s attitude towards the talks was one of cautious optimism. Many were stung by the unmitigated failure of the international community to reach any kind of agreement during the last COP talks in Copenhagen in 2010. The disillusionment that followed has still not quite gone away among this community so it seems like they will not let themselves hope for a significant agreement lest they are disappointed again.

As the committee commented, “we believe the forum has helped raise a greater awareness of the effects of climate change, that it goes far beyond polar bears or a distant future and it is affecting real people all around the world today. We hope that holding the forum means that when the students go on to be the next generation of leaders we will one day have world leaders who consider climate change and give it the appropriate significance in their decisions and plans for the future.”