Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is this why people do so little for climate change?

For a long time I have tried to figure out the reason why people do so little to reduce carbon emissions and help stop damaging climate change. Sure it seems a lot of the answers are found on sites like how to talk to a climate sceptic, Climate Myth Busters, or Global Warming FAQ. But there was something more that eluded me, until now…

The enlightening moment came during a recent email conversation.

It all started with my request to make a sustainability event carbon neutral. I sent an email to the person in charge of sustainability outlining how it was necessary to 'walk the talk' and account for the carbon footprint of the event. The names of the event and person are withheld to protect their privacy.

Here is their response:


Thank you for your emails. In response:

1. [The] event - I believe the majority of our carbon footprint for this event will come from electricity. We also actively encourage participants to walk/ride/public transport to the event. As [we] already purchases 25% GreenPower for our high profile facilities... I don't think we'll need to spend more to further 'neutralise' the event.”

Can you see the answer? Do you start to see why people do so little?

I responded as nicely as possible, trying to mask my frustration!

“Hi xxx

Okay. But you see how hard my job is?

You can tell people that human carbon emissions cause damaging climate change.

You can tell them we have already emitted so much carbon dioxide that there will be unavoidable consequences.

You can tell them it is urgent that we do everything we can to reduce emissions to minimise the consequences.

And yet people, included those who work in the area such as you, believe that doing a little bit is enough. They don’t think that it is important enough to do everything they can.”

Is this why poeple do so little for climate change? Do most people believe a little bit is enough? Do most people think it is not important we do everything we can?


  1. I think it's a lot like the problem with donations to charity: by giving a little, we can effectively absolve our feelings of guilt, even though in reality our £2/£5/£9.50/whatever a month is a pittance compared with what's really needed.

    Having said that, yes, we all need to do more, and individuals doing a little bit is a good start. It helps to raise social consciousness (and conscience) about the issue. We all need to do more -- but on a 'higher level,' cooperating to be more effective.

    I can walk to my local shop rather than driving to the out-of-town megahyperstore to buy a lettuce, but I cannot control how far that lettuce has travelled before it arrived at the shop.

    I can insulate my home (and save on fuel bills too) -- but the carbon emissions from households are dwarfed by carbon emissions caused by transporting all the food (not to mention all the other stuff) we consume.

    The real culprits are not individuals; those at fault are corporations, every one of which is motivated by short-term profit. Given the choice of doing (a) what's right and (b) what makes most money, they'll choose (b) every single time and justify it by the need to remain 'competitive.' Action on this front can only come from outside; only governments have the power to change the way we live our lives, for the better.

    And until the person in the street believes there to be a problem, he or she will not push the government to do what's required.

    Hmm... did I just say that individuals have no say? Maybe I was wrong...

  2. I feel your frustrations! That's why I made the decision to do something about it.

    There is always the temptation to leave the solution up to someone else.

    As an individual you can get the feeling your efforts are futile.

    But that's not true. As more people become aware of the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, more people will talk about it, write about it, and act on it. The more people that spread the word and reduce emissions the more people become aware of the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions...and so it goes on!

    I see it this way. Governments will not do anything to solve the problem until the voting public shows its support.

    That support can show itself in many ways, such as:
    - making considerate purchasing decisions;
    - being aware of the energy you consume (electricity, gas, travel, etc);
    - joining initiatives such as

    Together we can make a difference!

    Keep up the hope!