climate change

The 7 dimensions of climate change

For many people, including many politicians and journalists, climate change is still pegged as an environmental issue. A growing number of people know it’s bigger than that of course, but we haven’t quite escaped the idea that it’s mainly a matter for scientists and greens.

Climate change insinuates its way into the whole of our lives together. The RSA and Climate Outreach tried to map its tentacles recently, and they suggest that there are seven dimensions to climate change. These seven sides to the problem offer a much broader way of understanding the challenge we face, and help us to overcome cultural and political barriers to efficient climate action. They allow systems thinking, and encourage all sectors of society to see themselves as part of the solution.

Here are the seven dimensions:

  • Science – we are used to science presenting us with information, but we need activist scientists too, those who will campaign and lobby and push us towards solutions. We also need scientists dedicated to the most pressing problems we face. Some see this as a ‘new social contract’ for science, a tweaking of its traditional role.
  • Behaviour – as George Marshall writes, we’re more or less hard-wired to ignore climate change, so there’s a psychological side to it. What we know in our heads about the climate needs to filter through into lifestyle change.
  • Technology – some see climate change as a purely technological problem. It’s bigger than that, but technology matters and we need innovation around decarbonisation – from clean fuels, to energy storage, to ways of removing carbon from the air, technology has a massive role to play.
  • Democracy – democracies can get caught in a ‘governance trap’, where people expect the government to act, but the government doesn’t think people care. It’s a recipe for inaction that must be overcome by building civil society and widening participation. Community energy has been one powerful tool on this front.
  • Economy – the main challenge here is to drive the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, a big shift that will call on all the powers of the markets, the wisdom of governments, and the foresight of investors. Longer term, the question of endless growth on a finite planet remains unresolved, and there must be space for bold new ideas.
  • Law – ideally international climate targets would be legally binding in some way, calling us to account on the actions we know we need to take. Law also comes into climate change around limits to fossil fuel extraction and controlling emissions.
  • Culture – the challenge on the cultural front is that all the norms and expectations that are reinforced through advertising and the media are geared towards consumption. There is a real silence around climate change, and we need to make it normal to talk about it, care about it, and do something about it.

Presenting climate change in this broader way invites a wider debate. More of us get to be part of the solution, and it can break out of the environmental niche.

Read the full paper: The Seven Dimensions of Climate Change.


  1. ‘There is a real silence around climate change, and we need to make it normal to talk about it, care about it, and do something about it.’

    Perhaps I should not say this, but, I wonder Jeremy if you have brave optimism or naivety. Our global problems are enormous. Bigger than individual action and communities or our governments, or all the words on earth. Powerful people drive the world’s direction. We can’t wait for these things to ‘filter’ down and look to the ‘longer term’. What hope does this world have in the face of our actions towards our fellow man. I hope dear Jeremy that your tomorrow comes and that you are proved right, and me, wrong.

    1. I may well be both naive and optimistic, but that’s not necessarily the main motivation for doing things. I’m with Schumacher, who said “we must do what we conceive to be the right thing and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether we’re going to be successful.”

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