Insight: We Can’t Fight Climate Change Without Attitude Change

Insight: We Can’t Fight Climate Change Without Attitude Change

Social and behavioural change holds the key to a more sustainable future for the planet

Over the last couple of decades the phrase "climate change" has become well-known and clearly visible in all manner of publications including science and medical journals, newspapers, online news articles, government publications as well as across global media and news channels.

Governments have invested billions and pledged trillions more in sustainability initiatives hoping for a greener future for our planet.

Private players too have been making equivalent efforts in terms of scientific research along with financial investments and projects to develop greener, less-polluting technologies and eco-systems that are clean yet profitable.

However, there is one very important area that has seen a glaring lack visibility, effort and public or private investment: Social and Behavioural Change.

Survey after survey has revealed the public attitude in general towards the perils of climate across countries range from concerned, to indifferent, to calling it propaganda and denouncing publicly available data and information on climate change as outright "fake news."

Moving forward, we will examine why in this highly connected, social-media savvy world with all manner of social influencers reaching billions of people on all kinds of hot topics, the subject of climate change has failed to become viral enough to bring about larger awareness and bigger changes to our day-to-day individual attitudes and behaviours that are adversely effecting the environment.

Simple things like turning off a light switch, being conscious of the amount of water we use, segregating garbage, or not using that disposable plastic bag, if implemented at a personal level will create a much bigger positive global effect on climate change and cost much less than setting up endless solar farms, windmills, etc.

Implementing these “simple things” in our day-to-day lives however, is not so simple.

The evolutionary challenge

Over a period of two million years, and across various stages of evolution, the human mind has been designed or incentivised to change behaviour for immediate rewards. Further into the future the rewards are perceived to be, the less likely we are to change our behaviour for them.

This is because even up to less than a thousand years ago, human life and survival in general, was very, very hard as compared to today and we have always tended to prioritise short-term survival rewards while more often than not, overlooking long-term consequences of our actions and future rewards.

Even today, we are unable to change this behaviour with our preference for immediate gratification even though we know our decision today is going to cause damage to us in the long run.

Overcoming this hard-wiring of the brain over thousands of millennia of evolution is perhaps, one of the biggest challenges to achieving a successful global response to climate change.

‘I cannot see the climate change’

The slow, gradual nature of the changing environment around us poses another challenge. The increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is invisible. We cannot see the ozone layer depleting or sea levels rising. We don’t even have any dramatic, viral-enough, videos of the polar ice caps melting.

Although, there are many people across the world gathering reliable and real-time data on the ongoing and damaging changes to our planet, they are not being funded enough, they are not getting enough visibility in the media space and many of them are left feeling they are doing a vital yet thankless job.

In fact, a large section of the global population views these people who are trying to create greater awareness on the threats posed by climate change, as alarmists making much ado about nothing while working on some secret agenda.

Bad Economics

The above-mentioned desire and preference for instant rewards, however, gets turned on its head when looked at from the prism of current economics. Today's stock markets, and even national economies, are all measured on carefully calculated future profit projections.

Ivan Radic

But this too poses its own challenges towards achieving sustainable economies and societies. More specifically, it disincentivises creating an atmosphere of uncertainty by spreading greater awareness and visibility on the negative effects of climate change for the planet and the global economy.

The old saying “no news is good news” would be very apt in our current situation. A comprehensive and scientific view on what the future looks like if we do not make enough efforts to mitigate climate change, does not paint a very pretty picture. And what’s more, nobody wants to see it!

Little wonder then that governments who acknowledge and make moving statements on the clear and present dangers of climate change at meetings like COP21, tend to tone down the negative rhetoric once they get home simply because its bad politics and not good for business.

The nature of realpolitik today does not allow any national leader to risk his or her popularity by painting a doomsday picture for the future of their country or the planet.

So, where’s the silver lining?

The human race has had a long history of overcoming many serious challenges to its survival and this could not have been done without our exquisite ability to be flexible and adaptable.

One prime example of this adaptability was the - by and large - successful global response to the recent covid-19 pandemic which offers us a glimmer of hope for positive collective human action in a time of global crisis.

Although the corona virus was an immediate existential threat and catastrophic climate change is still some ways into the future, key learnings from our response then, particularly in effective and widespread distribution of vital information, can outline a future roadmap for fighting climate change.

Meanwhile, climate change itself may help in accelerating an attitudinal change among people. Accelerating climate change and its effects on our day-to-day living is slowly but steadily becoming more visible by the day in the form of intense heat waves followed by tropical rains and floods, even in temperate climates.

To conclude, once again in evolutionary terms, human beings have two standard responses to any perceived threat: Fight or Flight? But in the case of a global climate disaster, we sadly have nowhere to fly to! So, the only choice left is to stand our ground and fight. And this fight can only begin in right earnest with a change in our individual attitude.

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