The popularity of climate activism has ushered in a new paradigm, but attitudes are not changing where it counts, nor at the rate, they need to if we can expect to avert climate catastrophe.
It is important to understand attitudes matter only when they translate into action. Many are aware of pollution caused by fossil fuels but will continue to drive cars. For example, a net-zero city would require a drastic reduction in car use, including switching over to electric cars and focusing on shared transport. In the UK, transport is the largest cause of CO2 pollution. It’s hard to imagine a developed City like London committing to this fully- and the same goes for its commuters. Such a task would require major infrastructure change with cooperation from commuters, businesses, and city councils. What is far more likely is half-measures: targets that, like attitudes, see the need to cut emissions but will only go as far as to give the impression of making a difference. To give an indication of the level of change that would need to occur: presently, just 0.5% of vehicles in the UK have low-carbon emissions. In order to reach net-zero, this would have to be much closer to 100%, and with far fewer vehicles in total, considering that the production of electric vehicles still has a notable carbon footprint.
In most countries, the gap in attitudes can be attributed to the level of education, and in the case of nations like America, the issue is also partisan. Unless these very embedded rifts in society are fixed, it will be difficult to attain a unanimous response to climate change.
Changes in law would also have to go beyond sustainability measures and nudging industries into becoming greener. Attitudes must change not just about how we think but live, and the result will be uncomfortable and economically damaging in the short-term for many.