Not me guv, or why Climate Change is always someone’s fault
I try not to spread doom as doom is demotivating, but last night I tweeted on my political twitter feed about the heat wave currently underway in the North Sea, just a few miles from where I live. I got this classic response:
Still no credible expert stating the obvious that over population & deforestation is the cause. Not UK emissions or UK use of fossil fuels! No one wants to confirm it’s Africa, Asia & South America that’s the real problem!
— Jazzer (Mark) (@jazzpool21) June 18, 2023
Leaving aside the obvious explanation for why no credible expert has made this claim, this is an extension of the usual attempt to blame climate change on China, despite China having lower per capita carbon emissions than many Western nations – and lower still when you look at carbon footprints rather than emissions (which puts China and the UK almost level).
Ah, but many environmentalists cry, wasn’t the carbon footprint invented by BP to shift blame from the oil sector to individuals? Well, however dubious their motivation, BP have probably done us a favour by making us all face up to our own responsibility. I have a carbon footprint and you have a carbon footprint, both of which include a tiny morsel of BP’s footprint. If we all shift away from consuming fossil fuels, then BP’s profits goes down the toilet and they go bust. If we all sit in a state of denial pointing the finger at a company whose products we are happily consuming, nothing will change.
I’m always reminded of a presentation by George Marshall of COIN that I saw about 15 years ago. He cited research that, if my memory serves, could be summarised as “Everybody wants something done about climate change, but are not so keen on the idea of doing something themselves. In fact they can get quite angry when you suggest this.” The rows over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are a great case study of this with even fellow Sustainability Professionals coming up with wonderfully contorted justifications for they should be allowed to rat run through residential streets.
The best ways that I have discovered to bust through this wall of denial are:
- Instead of saying “You must do X to tackle climate change”, you ask “How are we going to tackle climate change?”
- Remove all barriers to sustainable behaviour and add some to unsustainable behaviour – these could be physical (cycle lanes), economic (carbon taxes) or bureaucratic (you need the FD’s permission to book a flight, but not to book a train).
- Find a way for people to have an experience. My personal Road to Damascus was downwind of a Nickel plant in Russia where I could taste the acid in the air while surveying the frazzled vegetation for miles around – made me change my career. Other experiences include letting people try out an electric car for a while reduces the fear of the new.