What's the problem? - Why do people take little climate action
"Save the Earth!", "Protect the environment!", "There is no planet B!" - most of us are familiar with these expressions. From early childhood, we are taught to respect our surroundings. At some point, we realize that nothing is free and everything comes at a cost. However, being aware does not equal doing, so even though educating and informing are important, there is still a problem with encouraging people to actually do something. And considering the current state of Earth, "doing" is in short supply.
Needlessly to say, environmentalists are not the majority in society. So the question is, what is the issue? What challenges do people face that make them prioritise other things over the climate?
Bogota ranks as the most congested city in the world. Credit to Jose Miguel Gomez.
Imagine you are coming back from work. It's four p.m. You're exhausted, the temperature outside is 30 Celsius degrees, and you are wearing long trousers. You head towards the bus stop and find out 30 people are waiting for the same bus that is always overcrowded. To make things worse, when you enter the bus, you realize the air conditioner is not working. You are close to passing out, and there are no free seats. Thirty more minutes to go. Will you make it?
For many people worldwide, a car is a default choice. One needs it to commute, to send children to school and extracurricular activities, and many more. Most cars are powered by fuel engines, which contribute to air pollution. And even though we see the effects of choosing a car over public transport or a bicycle, many will not easily give up on their cars just because the air is polluted. They will ask themselves - why should I stop driving my car when thousands of people will keep driving theirs? Sacrificing is not easy, particularly when it comes to an issue as complex as climate change.
2. Focus on the present rather than the future
Actions speak louder than words. But in politics, it is not always the case. Politicians are less likely to address long-term, complex issues and challenges, as their main priority is to win the next elections and satisfy the present generation, not the ones that are yet to come. The future is unknown, but we sometimes forget that it is dependent on everything we do now, thus if there is an insufficient amount of climate action nowadays, the future will not bring good news.
3. Economic aspect
Even if governments are willing to take more climate action by imposing new regulations or transforming their national energy standard, they need to be aware of the implications of their actions. The green transition costs still remain large, and there are people in line. The most direct losers are concentrated in fossil fuel extraction and power generation. Citizens will also face new changes that will not necessarily seem good for them at first, which may result in fear of new ‘climate restrictions’. Moreover, politicians have to weigh the risk of hurting their countries’ economies, as unemployment could become a huge problem if with the reduction of job opportunities comes no other alternatives. That is why the process of becoming green should be considered thoroughly.
4. Lack of awareness
Some people are simply not aware of the threat climate change poses. Poor waste management, waste of water and buying products that are produced in an unsustainable way are just a few things that people do and that contribute to the worsening of the situation. There is an enormous need to raise awareness in societies worldwide to inform them of the effects of their everyday decisions. Moreover, just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, meaning that a relatively small number of fossil fuel producers and their investors could hold the key to tackling climate change.
5. Climate denial
Psychological research on climate denial tells us that much of the time, climate change is too large and scary an idea to understand. Long timeframes and uncertainty about impacts make it difficult for decision-makers - both the government and consumers - to understand the problem and find effective solutions. That is why people may use denial as a defence mechanism.
Australian protesters rally against a carbon tax in August 2011. Credit to Torsten Blackwood.
To conclude, living in a green way is perceived as a difficult task when it does not have to be, but changing people's mindsets is a long and challenging process. In order to solve the problem of climate change, we need to address the challenges faced by millions because if we don't, it will be impossible to make a real change.
Art Markman, A. (2018). "Why People Aren't Motivated to Address Climate Change", Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 2022, November 18, from https://hbr.org/2018/10/why-people-arent-motivated-to-address-climate-change
Blackwood, T. (2011). "Australian protesters rally against a carbon tax in August 2011" [photograph]. Retrieved 2022, November 18, from https://inthesetimes.com/article/i-went-to-a-climate-change-denial-conference-heartland-institute-trump
Gomez, J.M. (n.d.). "Bogota ranks as the most congested city in the world" [photograph]. Retrieved 2022, November 18, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/07/cities-congestion-brazil-colombia-united-kingdom/
Kamarck, E. (2019). "The challenging politics of climate change", Brookings. Retrieved 2022, November 18, from https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-challenging-politics-of-climate-change/
Kattler-Gold, M. (2021). "Why People Don't Care About Climate Change", Seaside Sustainability. Retrieved 2022, November 18, from https://www.seasidesustainability.org/post/why-people-don-t-care-about-climate-change
Riley, T. (2017). "Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says", The Guardian. Retrieved 2022, November 18, from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change