Sunday, 4 September 2011

What one thing could you do to save the planet?

Why is it so hard to get people motivated on climate change?

When it came to the hole in the ozone layer, people stopped buying deodorant with CFCs, manufacturers changed to less harmful propellants, international agreements were signed and now the chemicals most detrimental to atmospheric ozone have been effectively consigned to the history books.  By stopping CFCs entering the atmosphere, further increases in the size of the ozone hole are prevented, the atmospheric CFCs are relatively short lived and the results can be measured.

When out became apparent that the trade in ivory posed a very real threat to the survival of elephants and rhinoceros, campaigns to end the trade led to formation of CITES and a significant international effort to prevent poaching. It is still not a perfect system but out has made a significant difference and there is a much greater awareness of the consequence of buying produce derived from endangered species. By reducing demand through education and increasing the difficulty of obtaining ivory through protection measures, the number of animals needlessly killed has reduced. Again, this can be easily measured and the results correlated with the action.

But climate change is a different class of problem. The causes are pervasive, the solutions opaque and, due to time lags inherent in the system, the results of our actions will not be measurable for decades. It may even fall into that particular class of problems that have no solution; I sincerely hope not.

We could ask people to avoid aerosols that damage the ozone layer, we could ask people about the morality of killing a beautiful beast to make a trinket but what can we ask people to do to prevent climate change?
There are so many actions that we can take as individuals or as a society to reduce carbon emissions but do we know the impact of each action? Which are most effective, giving the best truth on investment?
The changes that must be made cover all aspects of our daily life: what we eat, how we travel, where we live, how we heat and light our homes, how we spend our leisure time and how we earn a living. Some choices are easy, some difficult and some impossible for most of us.

To give my tuppence worth, I believe that we need to break the task into smaller, individual human sized chunks where an individual's action can be directly related to a benefit for that individual, their friends, family or community. Given the high profile of climate sceptics and deniers, the motivation needs to be presented in other terms, such as financial benefit of using less energy, rather than reduced carbon emissions, or supporting local jobs by buying locally sourced produce, rather than talking food miles. In both cases, the promised outcome is more measurable than climate change and the action can be demonstrated as being effective.

What do you think? Am I being to simplistic in assuming that the general public are predominately self-interested and looking for instant gratification?

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post! No, I don't think you're being too simplistic ... I think that most of us are motivated by "self". Fortunately, there are many things which we can do to help the earth which end up helping ourselves. For example, using less energy helps the earth ... and costs us less money. Using Eco-friendly, natural cleansers tend to be cheaper than commercial products ... and they are kinder on our skin and in our lungs. An interesting thing happens when we start living green for "self" ... it seems to expand our awareness so that soon we're interested in helping the earth and not just ourselves. So yeah ... it would be nice if everyone did the right thing simply because it's the right thing but ... motivating people through self-interest isn't always bad ... it's just a different path to the same goal.

    I really like your blog and I'm your newest follower. I'm also going to put your blog in my blog roll. :-)