Fear of a Green Planet
Despite the fact I’ve been working “in the environment” for over a decade, I still get surprised at how fearful people are of sustainable solutions.
To take an example, I subscribe to a mailing list of professional engineering consultants. A debate sprung up about wind power and intermittency – a valid and serious concern. I posted that we needed smart grids to balance supply and demand. The immediate response from one poster was that he’d never let an electricity company cut his house off from the grid. I had to quickly respond that no-one to my knowledge had ever considered this, but I was very surprised that an educated person would jump to the conclusion that this kind of intrusion would be the result.
There is a human tendency to fear change. And our media has a terrible tendency to play on those fears – witness the repeated exaggeration of the cost of Chris Huhne’s energy reforms: free market “think tank” says £500 per house per year, regulator Ofgem says £90 – which figure do you think gets repeated again and again? Is it a surprise that people fear the worst?
I think this fear is simply a desire to stick with what we know. And while it is a good idea to keep promoting the positives of tackling, say, climate change – energy security, cleaner local air, cheaper bills (in time) – experience suggests that a significant chunk of the public will still find something to fear.
Instead I think we have to look at societal revolutions that have happened – for example the internet. No-one ever argued for the internet becoming so prevalent in our lives. It happened because people liked it. They liked having all that information at their fingertips, they liked being able to download books and music, they liked being able to keep in touch with their relatives around the world without the dreaded Xmas letter.
So how do we do this with sustainability? The internet is providing some – music, movies and books shifted by electrons rather than atoms – people like the convenience. Feed In Tariffs make householders want to install renewables to generate some cash – people like that. The congestion charge and differentiated road tax encourage people to buy low emission vehicles – people like the access and the lower costs.
It is solutions like these where we offer people options, which are not obligatory but desirable, that will tip the balance in the sustainability direction. People have to want to do it – if you bear that in mind then much more effective solutions will follow.