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How do we thaw this freezing inertia?

By Emily Towers, Communications Manager at the CCC

“For those of us that work in climate change, the ‘cold snap’ in the weather last winter was just the start of a longer freeze in terms of public perception about the risk and seriousness of the climate problem. The snow, coupled with the failure by politicians to reach an inspiring agreement at Copenhagen, challenges from some on the science, and perhaps more significantly, a gloomy economic outlook, has led a freezing cold inertia to descend.

Despite the UK having the strongest climate change legislation in the world, and cross-party support for action from Politicians, people here remain more pessimistic than in other countries about our ability to solve the climate crisis.

According to research published recently by HSBC, people from the UK are amongst the least optimistic in the world about their chances of tackling climate change. Instead, it is those people in emerging economies, such as China and Mexico, that are more positive and upbeat, plus do more themselves to reduce their emissions.  Asia is the world’s most concerned region, with people in Vietnam and Hong Kong ranking climate change as their number one concern. In contrast, in the US, UK and France, fewer than 10% of people thought climate change was a number one priority.

According to psychologists at the University of Cardiff (Pidgeon et al, 2010), the percentage of people in the UK that believe that climate change is happening has fallen from 91% to 78% over the past 5 years. Professor Pidgeon, who led the Cardiff study puts this down to a combination of increasing concern about the economy rather than the environment, coupled with a loss of trust in politicians through the negative portrayal of climate change stories in the media.

So how do we tackle this inertia and galvanise individuals into action?


James Greyson, Head of BlindSpot think tank comments:

“One way to tackle society’s inertia is to end the inertia of international climate talks. These talks have been narrowly  framed around agreeing marginal emissions cuts rather than the wider question of how to quickly shift human society from negative to positive impacts. Unproductive haggling about emissions controls isn’t helped by more haggling, but could be be resolved by a more rigorous engagement with the potential of the human imagination and the global economy.

A good example is how to handle the worry about carbon controls hitting economic growth, which is a core obstacle to climate talks and effective action. Promoting different technologies or different attitudes to growth are inadequate answers. New market mechanisms could generate massive growth by phasing out externalities from carbon and all other resources accumulating everywhere as wastes. Switching markets to direct all resources into sustainable cycles offers a safe practical path to a rapid recovery of economies, nature and the climate”.

James invites feedback on his article about redesigning climate talks, Another climate summit missing the most important agenda item – why isn’t this working?