Everybody is worried about climate change. It’s just that a fair proportion is convinced it is a natural phenomenon, nothing to do with human activities. When a significant number of individuals see global warming this way a lot of energy can go out of the window in arguing over who is right – energy that is desperately needed to get natural resource management back on track.
Global warming is a scientific observation that is highly relevant to governments and the way they work. We have to differentiate between carbon reduction programmes promoted by governments mainly for big business and the public sector, and the whole raft of meaningful measures appropriate to the average individual or small business.
The UK Government has a goal of reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 which will be achieved through Climate Change Act 2008 whose main features are:
- setting carbon budgets to limit the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions
- using statistics, evidence, analysis and research to inform policy
- European Union Emissions Trading Scheme
- making project and policy appraisals account for their climate change impacts
- a “2050 Calculator” to help policy makers and the public explore emissions reduction options
The UK has admirably gone beyond other nations by enshrining in law self-imposed targets that go beyond EU directives on greenhouse gas emissions. But the fact remains, global warming does not mean much to most people. Despite all the publicity, to an individual the idea of reducing one’s greenhouse gas emissions is pretty abstract. It’s impossible to see, tricky to do and hard to measure.
Many of us have had a go at reducing our carbon footprint only to be confronted with a range of obstacles. Most of these obstacles have their roots in – at least one foot in – the production cycle, so that is where action for change should be focused. So we might leave the green grocer none the wiser about the air miles that avocado travelled to get to our doorstep. It’s up to the shopkeeper to provide the information.
Then we are faced with the narrative: “I know I should reduce my carbon footprint and I tried, but there was too much in my way and I failed. It’s a hopeless project”. Back to the “too hard” excuse (see my article “Non-sustainability – the top three excuses”) although “excuse” is a harsh word in this context.
But the production cycle always has two sides – a buyer and a seller. It’s no use blaming business when most of the time the better option is out there waiting to be purchased, for the sake of a little research. Consumer is king, and if we only realised it …
With a combination of education and making responsible choices consumers can have a huge impact on future sustainability – moving as quickly as possible to the responsible management of renewable and non-renewable resources so that what we leave for future generations is as close as possible to what they deserve, what we should be leaving. In fact, the real goal is even beyond sustainability, but there is no point in trying to run before you can even walk.
As soon as we take global warming into the public arena we exclude the millions, many of whom live in the USA, who don’t believe in it. This is a problem because it’s the USA we particularly need to engage. As long as we are discussing if it is an issue we are diverting vital resources from solving our urgent environmental issues.
Global warming means something to big businesses because it is forced to comply by governments. But how many do you know that are voluntarily interested and doing something? It means little to smaller enterprises (SMEs) because they are not forced to comply and have more than enough other things to think about. It means even less to the general public because it has little relevance to actions that are available to them.
By overemphasising a scientific argument we remove the problem from people. It becomes something they barely understand. What people would understand and should be educated about is:
- we are taking too many resources out of the Earth
- we are poisoning the planet with our industrial methods
- there is a lot that you, the individual can do about it
Carbon emissions and global warming are not real to most people. But buying clean products, using less and recycling are.
Clive has a Bachelor degree in Applied Economics, specialising in natural resource management. As a freelance consultant he uses his speciality areas of Business Intelligence and economics and flair for writing to help individuals and organisations map out a path towards a more sustainable future.
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