The coming of age of the climate change debate?

Communicating climate change has never been easy.

Scientific observations of gaping holes in the ozone layer, melting polar ice-caps, increasing global temperatures, extreme weather conditions, coral bleaching, species extinction … all may command the news headlines for a brief dramatic instant, but the strange fact remains that, on the whole, dire warnings as to the threat that climate change poses for the planet, seem to be greeted with a devil may care shrug.

Scientific data, it seems, are not enough to prompt us to change our behaviour in any substantive way.

In the face of impending doom, and apparent inevitable catastrophe, we can be forgiven for thinking that it is all too late; For looking on in apathy and deciding “Well, what can I, a mere individual, do in the face of all of this horror?”

Climate change is a problem of such gargantuan proportions, that it simply overwhelms us, and rather than being spurred into action, we bury our heads in the sand, daunted and defeated.

Even for those who try to live a more eco-conscious lifestyle, we cannot seem to escape our “carbon footprint”. Simply by living our day to day lives, we each of us play an inescapable role in climate change.

Sub-consciously we no doubt recognise that our consumer lifestyle is unsustainable, and that at some point soon, painful changes will be forced upon us. But that is all in the future.

In the meantime we fiddle while Rome burns.

There’s that SUV to buy, that long-haul flight to some tropical paradise to indulge in, those tantalising electronic goodies to enjoy. Life’s little consumer pleasures which, let’s face it, most of us enjoy.

It’s an attitude that has so far served business and governments well.

If the general public feels disinclined to take heed of climate change warnings, or to even believe that climate change really is the result of human activity, then there is no need to realign your profitable business model or force through unpopular and painful legislation.

Let some other schmuck deal with it.

To date, those other schmucks have tended to be scientists and environmentalists or NGOs (Non- Governmental Organisations) – voices at the fringe of mainstream media.

So while the scientific data confirming climate change may be convincing, (the Kyoto Protocol aside) the message has not been treated with any great urgency nor has it apparently inspired people to take action and demand change.

Perhaps because the issue has been seen as something for scientists, policy wonks and environmental Cassandras, the general public has not believed that the momentum existed to deliver any real or dramatic change.

Recent events however, may indicate that the tide is turning.

The announcement two weeks ago by Richard Branson, that profits from his Virgin transport group will be syphoned into R&D on renewable energy, is not only a welcome example of a possible shift in attitudes, it may herald a new direction in action on climate change.

Businessmen like Branson are canny operators, and profit is their overriding motivation.

The fact that someone of Branson’s business calibre sees a profitable future in renewable energy, the fact that he recognises climate change as a threat, not only to the planet, but to his business, indicates that climate change is moving beyond the political fringe and out into the mainstream.

By publicly proclaiming his new direction, Branson may have inadvertently convinced us that climate change is no longer the preserve of a doom laden few, but something we really can engage in and act upon.

For if Branson is prepared to put his money where his mouth is and take climate change seriously, then why can’t government, why can’t business, why can’t the public in general?

If a business can reallocate profits into R&D, then it no longer seems so outlandish to consider a similar reallocation of taxes into governmental action on climate change.

Nor does it seem so politically disastrous to convince citizens to accept painful policies which enforce lifestyle changes necessary to overt catastrophic climate change.

The fact of the matter is, that climate change is not something that can be tackled by any one sector of society. It requires a concerted effort by all of us be we businessmen, politicians, scientists or environmentalists.

While the coming together of such disparate, and at times opposing factions, may have seemed unlikely in the past, we may now be witnessing the beginnings of a new cooperation to tackle the greatest threat to human security.

And not a moment too soon.

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6 thoughts on “The coming of age of the climate change debate?

  1. Happy New Year, Jen.

    I’ve mentioned your excellent site at H2G2. Thought it polite to leave the link.

    That site has many posters who are interested in environmental issues.

  2. Many thanks for the great link to Greenfoot, Jen. I’ve sent it to a friend.

    As for Rachel Carson, her book “Silent Spring” so frightened me that I even wonder about gas emissions from rotting vegetation when composting. I read it in the ‘sixties and can now see all the value of thinking sensibly about how one lives.

  3. Jen says:

    Hi Phil,

    As much as we all try to be part of the solution I’m as guilty as anyone of contributing to the problem.

    Okay so I buy low energy light bulbs, don’t drive a car, buy green energy from the energy utility company, use heating sparingly etc etc but any gains I make here I more than offset, I reckon, by simply getting on a plane and travelling.

    Then there’s my penchant for mangoes. Sounds silly, until you think that those fruits have been shipped in from India.

    I try to track the fruit and veg in the shops here and to buy local foods or at least food from nearby. I was prompted to do this after noticing that some rather delicious looking green beans on offer came all the way from Peru! Peru????! Crazy.

    So for me the future entails train travel and apples and pears. Not so tough I suppose, but still an adjustment….

    Hi Anouilh good to hear from you again πŸ™‚ Rachel Carson sure was an inspiration for so many people. Did she isnpire your organic garden? A former colleague of mine, Trina, has some fantastic tips on her website for green living – worth checking out

    Hi Yoda, An Inconvenient Truth received wide press coverage here but that didn’t translate into widespread distribution in cinemas. So I’m awaiting it coming out on DVD November 21st.

    I can understand that the “war on terror” would preoccupy the public attention. I’d say it’s pretty much the same thing here in Europe too – though press coverage definitely seems to be increasing and even my mum (the most apolitical person I know) knows what her carbon footprint is, so things are changing, that’s for sure πŸ™‚

  4. Jen, have you seen the recent documentary by Al Gore: An Inconvinient Truth? Its been screened in my university this coming week. Its nice to see a politician taking this issue up in a big way.

    Out here in the US everyone seems so focused on this “war on terror” thing that its really hard to take their attention away from that

  5. Just dropping by to say “Hello”, Jen.

    It’s good to see your thoughts on such an important aspect of survival. Rachel Carson influenced how I think and many of her ideas are now part of general thinking.

  6. Issues like these are rarely on the minds of the everyday Joe and Joans unless it affects their pocketbook it seems. It’s great that Branson is putting money into R&D. Time magazine had an interesting article this week on how Lloyd’s of London (and other insurance companies) are now interested in Global Warming and other weather realted issues because of how hurricane Katrina affected the US and how much it has cost insurance companies here. When it gets to $$$ profits, it’s enough to get people to do something about issues like this. Otherwise, many do not care.
    As always, great post Jen. You are part of the solution for sure.

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