Just the facts, please

Friends of the Earth talks to science expert Martin Cullen, who helped to make sure our new book on climate change was based on the whole truth and nothing but.

What was your role in producing How Can I Stop Climate Change?

I came to Friends of the Earth from a career in science, hoping to learn about science writing and communication, and to work for an organisation that I (mostly) agree with.

I started out reviewing the science in the first three chapters by checking key facts and concepts. Then I checked all the diagrams and finally ended up writing picture captions - they do like you to muck in here.

Why was it important for the book to have a solid basis in science?

If this book is to reach a wide audience, I think it needs to challenge perceptions that the science of climate change is disputed. It should do so by providing the facts, and the conclusions that stem from them, in an unbiased and accessible way. 

I believe it’s important to avoid preaching to the converted.

If we achieve that, then the subsequent parts of the book on what we can do ourselves, and what we should be doing together, have some kind of rational basis.

Also, understanding the science provides people with arguments that they can use to convince others. Hopefully this book will have an effect beyond the number of copies it sells.

What were the main challenges of explaining climate change?

One of the challenges – which we really struggled with – was to communicate the vast numbers involved in a global phenomenon. As a scientist, I’m happy to talk about billions of tonnes of carbon or whatever.

Giving readers a real grasp of the numbers and how they will impact on them individually is not straightforward.

On the other hand, I have a passion for explaining science, so thinking of how to get those numbers and concepts across to the audience was fun.

I should explain, my idea of fun is finding out that the total annual tonnage of carbon emissions globally is 20 times the weight of all the water in Lake Windermere – well, it seemed like a handy fact at the time.

Did any issue stand out as particularly worrying?

Even if we got our act together globally today and started to curb carbon emissions as best we could, all the stuff we’ve already emitted is probably going to cause major changes to life on this planet.

Which piece of advice from the book did you like the most, and why?

Firstly, there is so much practical advice that my gloom was lifted. There are so many positive things that can, and should, be done. 

But I can’t say, after several months of grappling with the minutiae of grammes of CO2 per km, that I could choose just one piece of advice.

I’ll probably have to buy the book…

  • How Can I Stop Climate Change? is on sale from 6 May and will be available at a special price of £12.99 (RRP £14.99) from our online Shop.