Melbourne based blogger Andrew Norton was the first person I saw use the term ‘the real greenhouse denialists’ to describe people who accept the scientific arguments about climate change, but still aren’t prepared to try to make the major changes to their own lifestyles that would be necessary to meet the required emission levels.
I think this term encapsulates what I see as the biggest barrier to addressing the climate change threat – a lack of awareness of just how much we need to change our economic and personal behaviours, and/or a lack of willingness to do it (as well as the normal human approach of expecting ‘someone else’ to ‘do something’ when it comes to big problems)
As Andrew Norton put it last year
This is the greenhouse ‘denialist’ problem – not a few conservatives arguing that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy, but a public that accepts the theory but rejects the consequences of their beliefs.
There have been a couple more reports of late which reinforce this view.
The ABC reported recently on a survey done by the Australian National University which found that “Australians are deeply concerned about global warming but are only prepared to change their behaviour in small ways.”
A report in The Age details a survey of students from 57 countries by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and asserts that “Australian teenagers just aren’t ready to change their lifestyle to protect the environment”
Only one in 10 Australian teens strongly support the regulation of factory emissions that could lead to product price rises, less than a quarter strongly supported emission checks on vehicles as a condition of use and one in seven strongly supported cutting back on unnecessary use of electrical appliances.
Support among Australian teens for emission controls on vehicles and factories was the second lowest among the 57 countries.
Professor Sweet, an independent education consultant and former senior education analyst at the OECD, says the reluctance to make personal sacrifices to improve the environment might be linked to the conservative political climate the 15-year-olds grew up in.
The Australian teens started school when John Howard’s coalition government was elected and turned 16 last year when his government was defeated. “These students were not getting strong signals from the government,” Professor Sweet says. “If the country’s political leaders are not prepared to say we should make sacrifices and adjust our lifestyles, then it’s not surprising the attitudes of these teenagers are as negative as they are. The attitudes of the US students tend to be equally far down the league tables and the US government had a similar approach to the environment.”
One could blame a lack of leadership at the political level, and there would be some validity in doing so. But one can also say that most politicians are only willing to get a certain distance ahead of public opinion. If the majority of the public aren’t really showing any great willingness to make major change, why should politicians believe they are really serious?
However, there is still plenty of room for stronger leadership and positive encouragement for people to make greater changes, make it easier for people to do so and to show that it isn’t as hard or cause the sort of major economic disruption that is often feared.
Pressure needs to be kept on politicians to take stronger action, but just as much effort needs to go into convincing people to start making bigger changes to their behaviour than a few new lightbulbs.
As noted here (and here), I’ll be participating in a panel of speakers at a Common Ground forum on climate change in Sydney on Wednesday night, 26th November, following on from speeches by Bob Carr and Pru Goward (click here for full venue, event and RSVP details).
These forums are put on by the Centre for Policy Development. As the name suggests, the forums aim to explore common ground for action rather than polarised attacks. However, that doesn’t mean a big group hug. I expect there will be some differences of opinion, but differences shouldn’t be used as the reason to stop forward movement on the often substantial areas where there is agreement.
Unfortunately, this seems to be where we are heading when it comes to action at the federal parliamentary level, where despite broad agreement on the need for an Emissions Trading Scheme, short-term politics may well lead to the areas of difference getting in the way of any forward movement at all.
Which brings me back to the need to spend as much time as possible building greater public support for significant change, rather than focusing only on the politicians.