First things first


Friday, 26 February 2010

Climate Change and Human Change

February 2010

There have been unambiguous warnings about the consequences of climate change during our lifetime from world climate scientists, the Royal Society, and Government Chief Scientific Advisers. But public opinion in the U.K. remains largely unconcerned about the danger and sceptical whether the problem is even human-caused. Meanwhile the government’s environmental policies have barely altered. Why?

Many of us stop paying attention to climate change when we realize there is no easy solution, and none without worldwide co-operation. The tendency for the self-interest of individual countries to deplete and destroy shared limited resources (atmosphere, oceans and land), despite this being in no-one's long-term interest, requires a globally monitored agreement. This could be based on the amount of energy used / carbon produced per person in the world.

The scale of the change required to deal with climate change means it can only be brought about by governments. They can alter the framework of rewards and constraints to motivate us to change our behaviour, either indirectly such as through individual carbon rationing, or directly such as by taxing cars more heavily and subsidizing energy saving in homes . But politicians in democratic countries risk being voted out if they go against public opinion. There is also political resistance to effective action from the fossil fuel industry and the economic growth lobby.

Climate change directly questions our culture’s dominant belief in perpetual economic growth, and convincing alternative economic models are still little developed. At present we define ourselves around our high-carbon consumption habits, especially loving our cars and flights and material goods. A more services-led economy that promotes personal growth and increases self-identity through closeness to other people and to nature would have health benefits for family and community life.

Dick Beckhard's equation states that any change will only happen when individual dissatisfaction with the status quo, plus the clarity of vision and perceived benefits, plus the availability of practical first steps, add up to a sum greater than the psychological and financial costs of changing. There is a natural tendency for the status quo to persist because that is the easy option, particularly if there are many difficulties to overcome.

We think we can ignore climate change because it will affect us at best in the future and we are too busy with solving the day-to-day family and work problems of the present. The danger is perceived as long term, is invisible and is caused by all of us, whereas our human risk response mechanism (fight or flight) is triggered by visible, immediate and personal threats.

We are not receiving the clear scientific message that we must act now. Repeated and accurate information about the threat and the solutions is essential for a change of public opinion about climate change. As individuals we use a denial strategy of trying to know as little as possible about reality. Few have read even a summary of the pivotal 2007 report. Instead, scepticism has grown because of a media distortion of the real scientific consensus about climate change, due to ‘balanced’ reporting which exaggerates small doubts about the evidence.

Denial of climate change may take the form of unlikely fatalistic optimism, for instance that ‘the government will deal with it’, ‘technology will solve it’, or ‘it is in the hands of God’. Humans have been growing up psychologically for a long time, for most of it feeling like children in relationship to the Earth and Universe, whose sublime nature we experience fully only on rare occasions. At some level we still believe that our ‘parents’ will again be there to look after us, provide for us and love us, whatever we do. The warnings about climate change are based on long-term scientific data comparing rising global temperatures with the levels of gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Human intelligence will have found this out in vain if human wisdom cannot quickly bring about responsible action by spreading accurate information to change public opinion.


Energy / planning subgroup. Meeting with Councillor Alex Grant and planning officers to discuss the regulations which disallow solar panels on front roof slopes in conservation areas. The main outcome is that you are advised to take any such energy saving planning applications directly to the planning meeting of councillors (via your ward councillor) rather applying to the planning officers (and then appealing when refused). We will be looking in more detail at how some councils are more flexible about energy saving measures.

Third Wednesday of the month. Wednesday 17th March. Informal meeting of Transition Westcombe from 6.30 – 8pm at Mycenae House bar

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