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By Lorna Gold, Head of Policy & Advocacy
THERE IS SOMETHING about climate change that still seems to turn most people off. It seldom appears on any list of “issues people care about when voting”.
Maybe it is the scale of the issue or the controversy around the science. Or maybe it is simply that, in our busy lives, other things get in the way of doing something about it. Or maybe it doesn’t affect us. Or maybe we just don’t want to contemplate it. Or maybe we believe someone else will take care of the problem.
Maybe it is a combination of all of the above.
Whatever the reason, this sense of disengagement is a big problem. Without an engaged public debate, we will all continue to behave as if we don’t care and send a message to our leaders that business as usual is grand.
We urgently need creative, innovative ways to find a way to energise and mobilise people to recognise that tackling climate change is possible and we can all do something about it. A good starting point is challenging the common excuses that prevent all of us from taking action.
1. “The problem is too big”
For sure, climate change is a big issue – perhaps the biggest of all – and there is a feeling that individual action is pointless. It seems a bit of a leap of faith and, let’s face it, a bit pathetic to believe that through switching off a light I am going to save the world! But what if all those individual actions of people, businesses and governments were added up? Over time, we could feel part of a bigger change. This is already happening: all over the world, people are recognising that they can harness social media to generate a global change from the grassroots up.
2. “It’s too controversial and political”
The science is about as controversial as saying smoking causes lung cancer. Scientist have 95% certainty now that pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere results in climate change. The solutions are political but the science is clear.
3. “It doesn’t affect me”
We can see the first signs of climate change are all around us. In Ireland, the effects can seem subtle, even pleasant at times. By and large our lives are cushioned by the comforts of relative prosperity. Yet for those who don’t have those comforts, or who live in vulnerable coastal regions, including here in Ireland, climate change is already very real indeed. The poorest are hit first and worst, but ultimately, it is everyone’s problem.
4. “Clever people will sort it out”
Technology will certainly play a role in the solutions. At a minimum, it will allow poor countries to leapfrog dirty technologies and adapt more quickly. But such a blind faith in technology is misplaced. Unfortunately there is no magic bullet – we all need to shift not just how we consume, but how much, and find ways to live more sustainably. That has to start from the bottom up.
5. “It will mean going back to the dark ages”
Deep down, what most of us fear is what dealing with climate change will mean for us in terms of our own lifestyles. Will it mean higher fuel costs? Fewer foreign holidays? Less of what we love? Yet as we know, material things often clutter up our lives. Maybe finding creative ways to consume collaboratively will re-energise our local communities? There could also be a positive side to living more sustainably.
In the end, this is about what we value most. It is about real people and about our planet. This weekend, there is a great opportunity for everyone to show they really care. All over the world, people are signing the biggest petition in history to send a message to world leaders, including our Taoiseach, urging them to listen and to be ambitious. In more than 600 cities across the world, including Dublin, people are meeting up to show they care.
Will you join us?
First published in the Journal on Friday 19 September 2014