Is it time to stop banging on about climate change?
‘Risk perception’ is the science of how we subjectively judge risks. And we are very subjective – a few years ago I went through a moderate phobia of flying but never worried about driving when the latter is much more dangerous. There’s a woman who cycles slowly around my neighbourhood wearing a helmet, fluorescent jacket and a lit cigarette firmly clamped between her lips. By any judgement her risk assessment makes no logical sense, but she’d rather take her chances with the fags.
There are all sorts of theories on what we fear and why, but basically we fear something less when it doesn’t appear to impact on us directly, it is intangible, and/or its effects are delayed and/or geographically distant. A bit like climate change. Very much like climate change, in fact.
The complexity of climate change science is vast. We can’t even answer a simple question like “Are these storms battering the South of England due to climate change?” without giving an lecture on statistics and weather systems. It is no wonder that so many fall for the intellectually vacant logic of Boris Johnson’s “if it snows, the world can’t be warming.”
On the other hand, the resource crunch is right here, right now. Every time you fill up your car with fuel, pay your utility bills or go to the supermarket you get walloped right where it hurts by high commodity and energy prices. You don’t have to explain any complicated science.
Now here’s the clever bit.
The solutions to the two problems are broadly the same – as they are two sides to the same coin. To tackle the resource crunch, we need to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Solutions to a shortage of other resources such as the circular economy also have a positive impact on carbon emissions. So apart from a few specialised areas, such as refrigerants, we can tackle both the same way. It’s just a question of how we sell them.
What I’m basically proposing is large scale Green Jujitsu. Instead of trying to explain a complex, distant and intangible problem to people, why not sell them the same problem packaged in a different way whose solutions can make a real difference to their quality of life here and now? We don’t have to ‘give up’ on the climate crisis, just use its sibling to get action going in the short term.
What do you think? Genius or idiocy?